Golden Boy Rick Barry May 25 2016, 1 Comment
Years before Steph Curry ruled the Bay Area there was another star that ruled the bay area basketball landscape. During his era he was one of the best scorers to ever touch hardwood, the enigmatic Rick Barry. His off court behavior effected people’s opinion of his game more than anyone in basketball history. A number of players did not find the experience of playing with him pleasant. “You’ll never find a bunch of players sitting around talking about the good old days with Rick. His teammates and opponents generally and thoroughly detested him.”—former Warriors executive Ken Macker
People simply ignore Barry’s basketball pedigree because he's perceived to be an asshole. Take a look at Tony Kornheiser's famous sports illustrated article titled A Voice Crying in the Wilderness. Bill Simmon’s assessment of Barry’s career in his Book of Basketball is not much better, ranking him behind John Havlicheck in his list of all time players. Barry got into fights with family, friends, coaches, teammates, media members, owners, commissioners and fans. Among his biggest blunders could be the racial remark he made to Bill Russell on live tv. Or it could be the time he told the people of Virginia he didn’t want his kids growing up sounding like hillbillies with a Virginia accent. Who could forget the horrible toupee for an entire season. In his book titled Confessions of a Basketball Gypsy, he even admitted to once punching a nun. And then of course there was the 1976 playoffs in which Barry was accused of refusing to shoot because his teammates didn’t back him in a fight.
Rick was an unbelievable scorer during his day, in fact he lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring (the only player to do that). The smooth forward was known for his underrated athletic ability, great offensive IQ and quick feet (check his full reel of highlights here). The small forward was a legendary free-throw shooter employing an outdated underhand “granny shot”. Barry was born the son of a basketball coach. He attended Rosselle Park High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey and quickly displayed his basketball talent. He was good enough for the University of Miami to offer him a full basketball scholarship. Under future father in law Bruce Hale, Barry led division 1 in scoring at 37.4 ppg.
In his first NBA season Barry dominated to average 25.7 ppg, he was named Rookie of the year and was named to the All-NBA team. His second season Barry averaged 35.6 ppt and led the league in scoring. Only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Elgin Baylor have averaged more points. He took home All-Star MVP honors in front of his home crowd with 38 points in the game. That season Rick led them all the way to the NBA finals where the warriors faced Wilt Chamberlains Philadelphia 76ers. The series was pushed to six games with Philadelphia celebrating a title on their home floor. During the series Barry averaged an NBA finals record 40.8 ppt during the series. Which included a 55 point game and games of 43,44 respectively. Barry's points per game during an NBA finals was only passed by Michael Jordan in 1993.
After 2 seasons in the NBA Barry decided to jump ship and play for the newly formed ABA. He signed with the Oakland Oaks and his father in law Bruce Hale. The ABA came after Barry aggressively, they offered him ownership and a bigger contract. He was the first NBA star to sign with the renegade ABA. Barry was court ordered to sit out his first year for the Oats before returning to action in 1969. He played in the ABA for 5 seasons, although is talent largely went unnoticed playing in what most thought was a lesser league than the NBA. Only a handful of people were able to see Barry play in his prime as the ABA went without a national television deal. His league-jumping was perceived by fans as money driven, even though other players were taking advantage of the financial opportunities provided by the ABA.
The swingman made an immediate impact in the ABA, leading the Oaks to the ABA Crown in 1969. After scoring 34 points per game he finished second to Indiana’s Mel Daniels for league MVP. After 1969 Barry found himself in court after he tried to jump back to the NBA. He went on to play three more seasons in the ABA with the New York Nets and Washington Capitols. Barry admitted “If I had to do it over again, i’d wait for some other fool to do it.”
Barry was back with the NBA and the Golden State Warriors for the 1972-1973 season. Playing with lesser talent in the ABA forced him to improve other areas of his game. His defensive effort and technique improved. As did his ball handling abilities and passing skills .
During the 1972-73 season, he scored 22.3 points per game and earned the first of six NBA free-throw titles. He teamed with hall of fame center Nate Thurmond to beat Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Milwaukee Bucks in six games of the first round. However they were eliminated in the conference finals by the Lakers in 5 games. Barry improved his scoring average to 25.1 points per game in 1973-74. He had his greatest scoring night on March 26, 1974, against the Portland Trail Blazers. The small forward had a legendary game putting up 64 points, 45 of which he scored in the second half. Rick continued to show the development in his game, finishing among the NBA top 10 in assist with 6.1 per game.
Barry arguably had the finest year of his career in 1974-75. He led the Warriors to the NBA title, averaged 30.6 points (second to the Buffalo Braves' Bob McAdoo), and led the league in free-throw percentage (.904) and steals (2.9 per game). He ranked sixth in the NBA in assists with 6.2 per game, the only front court player in the top 10. Golden State's 1974-75 roster included NBA Rookie of the Year Keith Wilkes (known later as Jamaal Wilkes), a smooth, athletic, defensive minded small forward. Wilkes was the second leading scorer with 14.2 points per game. The rest of the squad was a collection of hardworking role players. Barry led the team to a 48-34 regular-season record. The Warriors led the league in scoring, with 108.5 points per game average.
In the 1975 NBA Finals, the Warriors shocked the world by sweeping the favored Washington Bullets in four games. How big of an upset was it? Nobody had expected the Warriors to go deep into the playoffs, the arena in Oakland had been booked for another event. The NBA Finals were played at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. Barry was named NBA Finals MVP with averages of 29.5 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists (heres the tape). The only member of an NBA championship team to have posted a higher regular season scoring average at the time was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who poured in 31.7 points per game for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971. It is often said that players do not win championships unless there are other great players on the team (they mean All-Stars). The 1975 is one of only a few teams to win a championship with just one All-Star on the roster (the others being the 1978 Bullets, 1994 Rockets, 2003 Spurs, 2004 Pistons and 2011 Mavericks).
In the 1975-76 campaign Barry shouldered less of the scoring burden, averaging 21 points while distributing 496 assists. He recorded 19 assists in one game in a game in 1976, then a record for a forward. The Warriors won 59 games, good for first overall seed. However things turned sour in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns. In game 7 rookie Ricky Sobers tried to fight Barry, few of his teammates helped. The Warriors were up at halftime as Barry led the team with 14 points. However in the second half he scored only six points falling to Phoenix 94-86 at home. Many critics pointed to Barry, accusing him of intentionally throwing the game because of the lack of support he received from his teammates during the fight. The Suns’ Dick Van Arsdale said afterward that “Rick seemed disenchanted,”. Barry has his own account of what happened. “Anybody who knows me knows that there's no way in the world I'd intentionally do something that would jeopardize an opportunity to win a ball game, especially when we had a chance to win a championship. There's no way in the world I'd do that. I didn't pout. I didn't try to prove a point. It means too much to me to win."
In 1976-77, Barry averaged 21.8 points, as the Warriors fell to 46-36 and lost in the conference semifinals. In his last season with Golden State they failed to make the playoffs as he averaged 23.1 points, 5.4 assists and 5.5 rebounds per game. When his contract was up in 1978, he signed with the Houston Rockets. Rick played along side Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich in Houston. He dished out a career-high 502 assists (6.3 apg), while his scoring average fell from 23.1 to 13.5 points per game. In his last season Barry’s averaged dropped to 12 ppg.
During 14 seasons of professional basketball, he averaged 23.2 points in the NBA and 30.5 points in his 4 ABA seasons. Barry totaled 25,279 points, which ranks him among the top scorers in basketball history. The swingman was also efficient shooting over 45% for his career. He averaged more than 30 points per game four different times. He was named to 12 All-Star teams, 4 All-NBA First Teams, and 5 All-ABA First Teams. At the time of his retirement, Barry's .900 career free-throw percentage was the best in NBA history. In one season, 1978-79, he missed only 9 free-throw attempts. In the playoffs he was even more prolific, scoring 24.8 points per game in his NBA postseason career and 33.5 points per game in the ABA.
The best explanation of Rick Barry came from his former Golden State teammate Al Attles "Rick goes his own way. Superstars always do. They all think differently. If Rick has a drawback it's that he is not very patient. He can't understand why a guy can't play the game the way he does. That is a fault of all superstars. You may say of these people that they aren't regular guys. Well...they aren’t." . All of his exploits have gone well documented and perhaps he is an asshole. But don’t let his exploits blind you of his basketball genius. His basketball ability is underrated and overlooked in the history of basketball.