Sporting dreams come to life at fantasy camps

Jim Larranaga’s camp is one of many fantasy camps that attract leading executives who get to live their athletic dreams — at least for a few days.

10/12/2012 12:01 AM

10/12/2012 12:34 AM

Michael Ferdman could be anywhere this weekend. The New York digital media executive is very successful and has plenty of expendable income. He could be sunning in Hawaii, sailing in the Virgin Islands or shopping in Paris. This is a guy whose wife rented out Madison Square Garden for his 40th birthday party.

So, where has he chosen to be? At the BankUnited Center on the University of Miami campus, diving for loose balls, taking charges, shooting three-pointers under pressure, and then resting his weary limbs and aching joints in ice baths.

He is paying $2,500 for this privilege — a bargain by fantasy camp standards. Ferdman is one of 54 men aged 35 and older who signed up for Jim Larranaga’s Fantasy Camp. They traveled here from 13 states and Puerto Rico.

“Some people go anywhere to see the Grateful Dead; I’ll go anywhere for a fantasy sports camp,” Ferdman said, laughing.

He paid $17,500 per year to attend Michael Jordan’s Flight School camp in Las Vegas, the camp upon which the rest are patterned. He and 53 other campers forked over $12,500 to play in Dwyane Wade’s camp in August. Mike Krzyzewski’s “Coach K Academy” at Duke costs him $10,000. Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse camp went for $5,500, and Bill Self’s Basketball Experience at Kansas was $4,995.

His camp jersey was retired and hung from the rafters at Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium after his fifth camp there. His MVP jersey was displayed in a glass cabinet at the Jordan camp. This past April, with three seconds left on the Allen Fieldhouse clock at the University of Kansas, Ferdman swished a three-pointer to lead his team to a 47-45 win in the camp championship game. Earlier this year, he scored the game-winning goal in overtime at Mark Messier’s hockey camp at Madison Square Garden.

Ferdman, 45, has attended more than 20 fantasy camps over the past decade and spent a couple hundred thousand dollars in registration fees.

“It’s pretty addictive,’’ he said. “We get to escape everyday pressures, act like kids and pretend this is what we do for a living. In the process, I have met really interesting, successful business people who have become some of my closest friends. We’re all very, very competitive in business and in sport.”

Among the other campers this weekend are Jorge and Jose Mas, the Miami-based CEOs of MasTec; Rick Schnall, a New York private equities dealer; and Ric Elias and Dan Feldstein, the chief executives at Red Ventures, a national marketing and technology company whose Charlotte (N.C.)-area, 90,000-square-foot headquarters includes a full-length basketball court, putting green, yoga studio and gourmet cafe.

“You get a bunch of type-A personalities together, guys who are extremely successful in life, and who are passionate enough and dumb enough to play at these camps as if it matters,” Feldstein said. “It’s a tremendous amount of fun. You get your own locker with your jersey hanging in there. You get to play in famous arenas. You immerse yourself in a fantasy bubble for a few days.”

Of course, the chance to hobnob with famous coaches and athletes is a big part of the appeal.

“All of a sudden, I’m standing there in a huddle at the Michael Jordan camp, and Doc Rivers, who normally would be coaching [Rajon] Rondo and Kevin Garnett, is now talking to me and Feldstein,” Ferdman said. “That’s an amazing feeling.”

Feldstein had a similar moment at his first Michael Jordan camp.

“I’m a little jaded now, but that first time, Bill Walton was one of my coaches,” he said. “We’re in the middle of a game, and he’s quoting John Wooden to me in the huddle, about the pyramid of success. I couldn’t believe it. A legendary player is quoting a legendary coach to me, Dan Feldstein. I got a real kick out of that.”

Larranaga’s camp, like the others, opens with tryouts. The campers get swag bags and full uniforms. They are then drafted by the coaches in a closed room, NBA-style, with each coach having a minute to make his selection. Over the next 48 hours, the campers will participate in drills, scrimmages, film sessions, team meals, and the weekend culminates at noon Sunday with the championship game. The winners cut down the nets as the NCAA Tournament anthem, One Shining Moment, plays over the arena loudspeakers.

Camp veterans are easy to spot. For one thing, they’re usually in better shape. They train for weeks before camps. The Duke camp sends campers a nine-page workout regimen to get them prepared. Some veterans also tend to sandbag during tryouts so that several good players can wind up on the same team rather than all of them being selected in the first round by opposing teams.

Needless to say, the games can get heated (read: dirty).

“There’s a lot of testosterone out there,” Ferdman said. “And there’s some Napoleon complex, too. The games can get pretty physical. But it’s all in good fun.”

The camps also benefit the coaches who host them. Larranaga said Mas, whom he met at the Jordan camp, was instrumental in his getting an interview for the UM job. The camp also gives his program exposure with influential businesspeople nationwide, many of whom have made donations and become Hurricane fans.

“It’s really clear when you watch these guys go at it why they are successful in life,” Larranaga said. “I love watching them as much as they love playing.”

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