We recently had the chance to talk with NBA legend Rick Barry, and it was fantastic! After the interview, I went out and shot 1,000 free throws and made 999 of ‘em!
Inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987, Barry 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. He’s the only player to ever lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring for an individual season. Check out the ridiculous numbers he put up.
Your performance in the 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?
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 one-seventh of my salary! That’s a lot of money in those days. Now, it’s irrelevant. So our games were incredibly competitive.
What happened to the true sharpshooters; guys like you and Chris Mullin?
I think Chris was more of a shooter than I was. I was more of a scorer; I found ways to score. I got better as a shooter as my game progressed. There’s still some amazing shooters out there. Like Ray Allen. Guys like that are shooting 40% from beyond the arc and that’s an amazing shot; it truly is. The NBA three-point shot is from a long way out. What you’re not seeing today is guys playing and utilizing the mid-range game like we used to. Now, it’s either inside post-up dunk or three point shot. I think they’re missing the boat in that regard. It’s fun to watch a team do that, which is why I like to watch San Antonio. Gregg Popovich does such a great job coaching his team to play the way I always thought the game should be played. Tough defense, move the ball around, set screens, force the defense to make decisions.
How did all of your sons who played professional basketball become such great shooters? And did you ever think that one of your kids would have a Slam Dunk Champion trophy in their possession?
To be honest, I was hoping one of my boys would be good enough to play division I college basketball, or to even play basketball if they wanted to, to get a scholarship. I have five now, four in the NBA. To have three of them has never been done before and who knows what’s going to happen with my youngest son. At this stage, he’s probably more skilled than the other guys. As far as becoming great shooters, having the confidence to make the shot when you have to is the key. And repetition, repetition, repetition. That’s a matter of putting the time and effort into it. But you also have technique, a pattern that you do. Whatever your routine is, you do it every single time, like with free throws.
Besides height, what’s the number one attribute that makes a successful basketball player?
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’s 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.
Tell me about the Ektio basketball shoe and how you got involved.
I was introduced a few years ago. I was impressed by the shoe. So impressed that my son, Canyon, wears them in his games for College of Charleston. It provides protection against the most prevalent injury in the sport today, the sprained ankle, of which there were 93 instances last year alone in NBA. I just don’t understand why anyone who is serious about the game wouldn’t want to be wearing the only shoe ever in the history of the game that can protect you against getting such an injury. I wish that one of the big shoe companies would come in and buy it so everyone would have an opportunity to wear a shoe that can protect them.
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?
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 written and I’ve never even met the man. People read things that other writers wrote and it’s 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.
How has the game changed between your era, your four sons who played professionally (Scooter, Brent, Jon and Drew) and now your fifth son who is playing division I?
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.
Are you more proud of your career as a player or what your sons have accomplished?
I’m proudest of my boys because they’re good kids. They haven’t done anything really stupid with their lives. I’m happy for them that basketball has been a good part of their lives, that they’ve made a good life for them and their families, so I’m just delighted for them. I’m proudest of them for all being good kids and not having done anything foolish with their lives.
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?
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.