JockBio Classic
Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry



For the only years of his pro career, Rick averaged less than 20 points and his rebounding stats sagged, too. Still, he had plenty left in the tank. He set a personal high for assists in 1978-79 with 502, and captured two more free-throw titles, including an NBA record of 94.7 percent. Rick’s deal with Houston expired in the spring of 1980. NBA general managers saw what appeared to be his drastic dip in production, and no one offered him a contract.




Rick Barry, 1979-80 Topps

 
JockBio.com:

Your points went way down and your assist went way up. How did that impact your career?

   
Rick Barry:

Everyone looked at my scoring numbers and said, “Rick Barry is old and can’t play anymore.” Are you kidding me? I filled in for Calvin Murphy at two guard one game and scored 37 or 38 points. But during my two years in Houston I was never an integral part of the offense—we ran everything through Moses at center, Rudy at power forward and Calvin at the two-guard spot—and it really hurt my career. I was a team player, I did what I was asked to do and it cost me a chance to continue to play in the NBA. I had a sore knee my second year that I had cleaned out after the season, but it wasn’t a significant injury. In fact, I felt better than I had in 10 years.

     
JockBio.com:

So why no contract for 1980-81?

 
     
Rick Barry:

The NBA cut rosters down to 11 the following season. The Celtics, Lakers and Sonics were interested in me, but they didn’t want to fill their 11th spot with a 36-year-old guy who supposedly couldn’t play anymore. The irony was that in the summer I ran a basketball camp and had Marques Johnson and Walter Davis come up. I had great success against those guys in scrimmages! And yet I never played again. They say everything happens for a reason. I accepted it and moved on in life, but the way I finished up my career was disappointing.

 
     
JockBio.com:

Did that drive you nuts?

 
     
Rick Barry:

I have the ability to bury stuff and not think about things. When people ask me if I miss playing, I say, “No,” then they look at me strangely. I explain that I don’t miss playing because I don’t think about it. If I’d thought about it, I would miss it terribly. Why would I want to think about something that is going to depress me?

 


Rick retired as one of the most enigmatic players in NBA history—not to mention one of the league's best ever. Bill Sharman once called him “the most productive offensive forward ever to play the game.” The statistics bear him out. Over 10 NBA seasons, Rick averaged 23.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists, while shooting an even 90 percent from the charity stripe. In the high-flying ABA, only Connie Hawkins and Julius Erving matched his all-around production. In both leagues, Rick was even better during the playoffs, where his competitive drive kicked into a brand new gear. Elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986, he was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary team a decade later.


Rick Barry, Hall of Fame postcard

 

   
JockBio.com:

When did you reconcile yourself to doing television commentary?

   
Rick Barry:

I had been doing games at CBS for years, so I already knew I was going into broadcasting. Once I realized I wasn’t going to play, I made the transition. Bob Wussler, for whom I had worked for at CBS, was at Turner, and gave me the opportunity to go there. That worked out nicely for me. I did games at Turner for a long time, but I was stupid for not asking Bob to extend my contract before he left. His replacement wasn’t a fan of mine. I figured I was doing the best work of my career at that point so everything would work out. But it didn’t.


A quick thinker and expert analyst during his playing days, Rick was a natural as a broadcaster. Network execs liked that he said what was on his mind. But his outspoken nature made him a target, too.

 
 
JockBio.com:

The relationship between sports stars and reporters is not exactly based on trust. They use the players, the players use them. What was your experience?

   
Rick Barry:

I used the media once. They screwed me many times. I don’t try to make sense of it. You have writers trying to stir up controversy and some of them didn’t like me. I don’t know why—I always made myself available to reporters. I was a reporter’s dream. I always had something to say and always had an opinion. That made me “controversial” because athletes were not outspoken in those days.

 
 
 
JockBio.com:

When was the first time you sensed that your relationship with the media might be problematic?

 
     
Rick Barry:

There was a writer in Miami named John Crittenden. During my senior year, he asked me what happened when I was out there and heard the crowd screaming for me to shoot the ball. I admitted that I heard them, and said, “As long as one of my teammates isn’t open, I’m going to look to score. It has nothing to do with them yelling, it’s just the nature of how I play the game.” The next day the headline is something like “Rick Barry: I Hear the Crowd Yell Shoot, So I Shoot.” It was unbelievable. Holy smokes, this guy took what I said out of context and used it to create the story he wanted to create. I realized right there that I had to be on my toes.

 


One source of tremendous distress was how his personal life was portrayed. Perhaps the most hurtful story was published in Sports Illustrated in December of 1991. Entitled "Daddy Dearest," it painted Rick as a disinterested, self-absorbed father and husband. He split up with his wife, Pamela, in 1979, and both emerged from the relationship embittered. Their four sons—Scooter, Jon, Brent and Drew—all dealt with the situation differently. But according to SI writer Bruce Newman, the scars of the divorce ran very deep.

 
 
JockBio.com:

Talk about the SI story.

   
Rick Barry:

That was such a travesty and did such a disservice to my family. It was the most despicable thing anyone’s ever written about me.

 
 
 
JockBio.com:

How did you react?

 
     
Rick Barry:

I asked the writer how he could possibly justify writing what he did. His response was that he only wrote what he heard. Baloney. I asked him if he ever asked my kids, “How do you feel about your father today?” He hadn’t. I said if you’d bothered to ask that question, you would not have written this article. I asked him if he was married and had children. He wasn’t married. I told him when he got older and had kids, he should re-read this article and then he will realize what he had done to my kids, my family and me. I told him he should be ashamed of himself.

 
 
 
 
JockBio.com:

So were you completely blindsided?

 
     
Rick Barry:

Absolutely. He said he wanted to write about the success my sons had, all four with Division-I scholarships. I thought that would be terrific—a story about my kids for a change, something that would give them recognition for what they’d accomplished. I joked that with my basketball bloodlines and their grandfather’s on their mom’s side, if they were racehorses, they would be worth millions of dollars. He used that comment in a negative way. Of course, I knew I was in trouble the instant I read the “Daddy Dearest” headline. My son, Drew, called me immediately and said he couldn’t believe what this guy wrote. People who knew us told me they couldn’t believe the story. It was as if Sports Illustrated had become the National Enquirer. Hey, you live and learn. To this day I refuse to do anything for a Sports Illustrated story.

 
 
 
 
JockBio.com:

Did that piece end up hurting you in the long run?

 
     
Rick Barry:

Yes it did. It helped to propagate this myth about me being an ogre. It damaged my credibility as a person and made it even more difficult for me to become an NBA coach. People are inclined to believe stories like that rather than getting to know me as a person, because they’ve gotten used to me as a media dartboard.

 

Today, Rick hosts his own talk show (from noon to 3:00 every weekday) on KNBR in San Francisco. He also pens a regular column for the San Francisco Examiner. Guests on his radio show have included some of the sports world's biggest names, ranging from Bill Walton and Sandy Koufax to Mike Krzyzewski and Barry Bonds. In his role as a journalist, Rick makes no bones that he’s a former pro athlete.



Rick Barry, 1992 Courtside

   
JockBio.com:

Now that you're on the other side of fence as it were, what are your feelings about sports reporting?

   
Rick Barry:
As a professional journalist in print, television or radio, you have no business trying to create a controversy where one doesn’t exist. At that point you’ve lost the meaning of what you profession is all about. You report on the story you’re covering and if you find a controversy, you investigate it and report on that. Go for it. I do that all the time on my sports talk radio show for KNBR in San Francisco. But I’ll be damned if I try to create one. When I was coming up, the idea that an athlete’s life is an open book was just starting. Also, when salaries began to climb, a lot of sportswriters started to resent athletes who made more than they did. They felt they had more talent. The more salaries escalated, the worse it got.
     
JockBio.com:

You are known as a journalist who leans toward the players. Has that caused you problems among your peers?

 
     
Rick Barry:
Yes, I take some heat for that. There was a time when Danny Forston, then of the Warriors, was upset about something and left the locker room. A writer went running after him and I said, “Danny, don’t say anything because you’ll regret it.” The writer got so pissed off at me. He said, “You’re a member of the media.” I said, “Yeah, but first and foremost I was an athlete and a Golden State Warrior. You were trying to take advantage of a situation and get him when he was upset to create a nice story for yourself at his expense.”
 


Rick is remarried. He and his wife, Lynn, have a son named Canyon. The family lives in Colorado. Rick is still involved in the lives of his four other sons. Scooter and Drew play professionally in Europe, while Brent is currently with the Seattle Supersonics and Jon with the Detroit Pistons.

   
JockBio.com:
How much fun is it to watch your boys play pro ball?
 
Rick Barry:

It’s always fun to watch your kids play. It’s nice to know that they are gifted enough to perform at that level. I’m happy and excited for them. It’s a joy, but it’s also painful because as a parent you don’t ever want them to make a mistake. You want them to make every shot, every pass, play great defense, screen their man off the boards every time, but that’s not going to be the case. I only wish that I had played in the era of million-dollar contracts, so I could afford to fly around and watch them. Unfortunately, I work harder now than I have at any other time in my life.

     
JockBio.com:
You have a lot of irons in the fire.
 
     
Rick Barry:

Yes, I’m involved in a great many things. Besides the radio show, I do insurance work for AFLAC and am a representative for Pre-Paid Legal Services, which is a great concept that people will be hearing a lot about.

I am also involved with a private label wine company, Draper & Esquin, in San Francisco. We have come out with signed and numbered Rick Barry limited edition bottles (2,424) of a Cabernet Sauvignon. The bottles have a special, art-enhanced label on the front, with a back label called “The Early Years.” It has pertinent stats from my first years with the Warriors. We also have generic bottles of a Merlot with the special labels. I hope to get other athletes involved in this area of the wine business.

I’m involved with Baja Fresh, which is looking like a great long-term investment. I also do some work in food distribution and have ownership in a company, International Soil, LLC, that has the solution to the hog waste problems.

In addition, I am an investor in a biotech firm called CytoGenix, which is very close to doing something very special. When that happens, I’m history—I’ll be able to watch my kids play ball, play golf, and enjoy life even more than I am enjoying it now.


Rick Barry, 1999 Upper Deck Retro

     
JockBio.com:
Does that life involve fishing? Aren't you putting together a fishing fantasy camp?
   
Rick Barry:
Well, yes, but that is something that I am putting together now. It is called Rick Barry’s Fantastic Fly Fishing Weekends. Individuals or corporations can join me and/or other sports legends like Gale Sayers, John Havlicek and Phil Niekro, to name just a few, at Arrowhead Ranch up in the Colorado Rockies. The fly fishing is incredible, with private lakes and five miles of river that runs through the property. It’s God’s country. How often does a fan get the opportunity to spend a weekend with a sports legend, especially in such an up-close and personal fashion?
     
JockBio.com:
All these years later, after some near misses and several disappointments, would you coach in the NBA if given the opportunity?

Rick Barry autographed photo
   
Rick Barry:

In a heartbeat. I have the desire and the passion to teach players, which makes it frustrating for me to watch other people taking over teams and not teaching the players the things they need to be taught. I see guys who are under six feet tall trying to teach big men how to play. How is a seven-footer supposed to relate to someone 5-10 who’s never played pro basketball? Meanwhile you’ve got a communicator like Clifford Ray available—a championship center—and he will be without a job this season. It makes no sense. I’m not saying that I’d be a great coach, but I know that I am a great teacher. I do believe that I am certainly qualified to coach, and the fact that I was willing to spend time in the minor leagues to develop my skills should prove that I am serious about the profession.

As with all jobs in life, you can’t prove your worth if you are never given the opportunity to showcase your talent. I don’t feel that the NBA or its teams owe me a job, but I do feel as though they owe me respect. Many people in the game have treated me very poorly and it has hurt my feelings more than words can express. I would never treat any former NBA player the way I have been treated.

The sad aspect in this matter is that I feel I have something of value to give back to the game I love so dearly and that has provided my family and me with a wonderful life. To be prevented from doing that seems like a waste of a resource at their disposal. I wish they would afford me the opportunity to spend some time with them so they could get to know who I am today. Perhaps they might discover that I’m not such a bad guy after all.

 

 

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