Rick Barry is one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of all-time and is arguably the greatest scorer the game has ever seen.
He’s the only player to ever lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring for an individual season.
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987, Rick Barry’s accomplishments are too numerous to mention in this piece, but here is a feeble attempt.
He won an ABA title in 1969, an NBA title in 1975, was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1966, and was named the All-Star Game MVP in 1967. When you’re wasting time at work today, check out the ridiculous numbers he put up.
I-80: Your performance in 1966-67 All-Star Game is one of the greatest single game performances ever. You dropped 38 points and led your West squad to a victory over an Eastern Conference team that featured Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and was coached by Red Auerbach. And you did it when you were just 22 years old. What are your memories of that game?
Rick Barry: It was a remarkable game. You look back and see how many players who played in that game were named to the 50 Greatest NBA Players team. In addition to who you mentioned, they had Jerry Lucas and Hal Greer as well. We had Nate Thurmond, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West; it was a remarkable array of talent. I got the MVP but in all honesty I’ve always thought the NBA All-Star Game should have a Most Outstanding Player (MOP) and a Most Valuable Player (MVP). In this case, I would’ve won MOP for a great offensive output but the MVP was Nate Thurmond and how he helped negate that incredible front line of the Eastern All-Stars.
The other thing that is amazing is it may be the only NBA All-Star Game ever where a coach got thrown out! Red Auerbach actually got thrown out of the game! That would never happen now because competition has changed. When I go to the All-Star Game now, fans go to be entertained; it’s entertainment. There’s not super competition. As a purest, and someone who loves the game, I’m always hoping it’s going to be close in the fourth quarter because then they play really serious and pride will come out and they want to win. Otherwise, the stuff that they’re doing now isn’t true competition. For us, the winning team got a $2,000 dollar bonus; two grand to me was almost a 1/7th of my salary! That’s a lot of money in those days. Now, it’s irrelevant. So our games were incredibly competitive.
One thing that drives me crazy is when the NBA started to allow zone defense.
Rick Barry: Yeah, I’m not a big believer in that. I hated when they did that. Zone defenses are a joke as far as I’m concerned.
It doesn’t teach you how to play the game, it doesn’t help learn how to be a good defender and do help defense. If you play help defense the proper way, it really is a zone defense. It’s not something that I find enjoyable.
I remember when hand-checking went away what a big deal it was. Now, nobody remembers it! You were putting up 30 a game when it meant something!
Rick Barry: I saw a highlight the other day of me being guarded by Sidney Wicks and he’s got his freakin’ right hand on my hip! And of course, I would just push it off with my fist. My god, if I were playing today I’d be shooting 25 to 50 free throws a game. By the way, how about body checking, shit. Anytime you went across the lane you’d get a forearm across the chest or throat. I’d be going to the free throw line every time I touched the ball.
Besides height, what’s the number one attribute that makes a successful basketball player?
Rick Barry: If you don’t have great natural skill and ability that you’re blessed with, you have to have great fundamental understanding of the game; it is so critical to be able to do the proper things on the court. Now, if you’re blessed with natural skill and ability and fortunate enough to have somebody teach you and lay the foundation of the fundamental principles of what you’re doing, then the bigger the foundation, the taller the building. If you have a great foundation you have the opportunity to fully maximize your potential. Without that, it isn’t going to happen.
There are guys playing in the NBA today and I’m not going to mention any names, who are there strictly because they’re amazing athletes. But they are never going to be as good as they should’ve been or could’ve been had they been taught all the fundamental concepts. The one other differentiation is if you have the skills and fundamentals, or you have the natural ability is that you have to have a natural feel for the game. It’s something no one can teach; you either have it or you don’t.
I’ve always admired your sense of humor, personality and the way you articulate your thoughts on basketball, as an announcer or in an interview. I think you’ve said a lot of funny stuff that you’ve gotten a bad rap for, for whatever reason. Do people just not get your sense of humor?
Rick Barry: I can’t worry about whether people like me or not. The people that know me know the kind of guy I am. People like (ESPN writer) Bill Simmons for some reason has a vendetta against me with some of the things he’s wrote and I’ve never even met the man. People read things that other writers wrote and its really kind of sad in a way because I had a lot of NBA people talking about me when I tried to get a job as the coach of the Warriors and one of the GMs of the time said, I’ll be in the grave before Rick Barry ever gets the chance to coach here. Like wait a second; I don’t even know this guy. People have formed an opinion of ME based on something that was written by other people. But really, you can’t worry about that stuff.
Does it hurt? Sure, sometimes. It’s disappointing and it’s hurtful. But, I’m not going to be able to change it. The damage is already done. The people I love, family members and friends, know who I am as a person and they know I’m harmless. My wife says, Honey I love you because you’re honest but the problem is that you’re brutally honest. We’ve got to get the brutality out of your honesty. The bottom line is that it’s true. Most people cannot handle the truth. If you ask me a question, it is wrong for you to get mad when I give an answer that you don’t agree with. So people get mad for you not agreeing with them. If you ask a question and I give you an answer that’s contrary to what you believe, some people get mad. But at the end of the day. it is my opinion. We’re all entitled to that.
You’ve been a celebrity for over 50 years. How has that changed the way people interact with you?
Rick Barry: I don’t consider myself a big celebrity. I consider myself someone who is known for doing something well. It pretty amazing to me that at my age, people still remember who I was as far as a basketball player. That’s a nice feeling but I don’t feel any entitlement. I think that’s a problem with some celebrities in the world today, especially some of the young ones, that they feel entitled. Because why would I feel entitled? I’m entitled because I played basketball well?
I was at a function recently and someone told me they enjoyed watching me play. And I said, ‘As much as you enjoyed watching me play, I can assure you, I enjoyed playing well even more. I appreciate the fact that you enjoyed watching and thank you for that.’ I’m not owed anything. I’m really not. I was brought up to think that the only thing you are entitled to is what you earn.
How has the game changed between your era, your four sons who played professionally, and now your fifth son who is playing division I?
Rick Barry: I don’t like the way the game is played in some situations. I think it’s too much one on one. The officials are not calling the game as far as the rule book anymore. Like the shot Ray Allen hit against the Spurs. I was appalled when the NBA came out and said he was allowed a step to gather himself. Unless they changed the rule, that IS a travel. Ray Allen traveled on that shot. The Spurs should’ve been the champions of the NBA but they blew the call. Any official’s jersey should be drenched by the end of the game if they’re doing it properly- drenched. They should be moving at all times, doing stuff.
Hearing you talk about basketball reminds me of how much I miss you as an announcer.
Rick Barry: Well thank you. It’s just unfortunate you aren’t friends with any network executives (laughing). So many announcers are just masters of the obvious. There are good ones out there, but most of them aren’t. Some guys I just turn the sound off and figure it out myself.
The NBA wouldn’t like me in the booth because I’d talk about moving screens and how they let people travel all the time. Forgive me, but I think the job of an analyst is to analyze.
In a lifetime of achievements as one of the greatest basketball players ever, what’s the best feeling you ever had pertaining to basketball in your career? What felt the best?
Rick Barry: When we won the championship in 1975. It was a miracle year, totally surreal. It was the biggest upset in the history of the Finals, ever. Tell me any other major sport that there was as big an underdog to start the season actually come through, pull off the upset and win the title. We swept the team that was supposed to sweep us in The Finals. Nothing else even compares to that. And it was such a great group of guys, it was the way the game always should’ve been. Everybody cheered for each other, it was more like a college atmosphere because we went to movies together, we ate together, everybody pulled for each other.
To this day, that’s my fondest memory. The only ring I ever wear is my championship ring. Not my top 50 NBA Greatest Player ring, not my Hall of Fame ring, but that one. That’s the greatest championship in the history of the NBA.