Rick Barry had driven down to Milpitas from San Francisco that morning in the rainstorm in his red Porsche 912. It rained all the way to Milpitas, which is where Miss Teen-Age America hails from but which is otherwise undistinguished. Like, if the Warriors are playing gin rummy and one of them gets a bad deal, he says, "Oh, have I got a Milpitas hand." But the children of Milpitas, unaware of such slights, had been standing under an awning just out of the rain, waiting for an hour for Rick Barry, as the representative of a washing-machine company, to show up at the new model homes. He called to them as he crossed the street, jumping over a river of water that flowed by the curb. "Hey," Rick said, "remember the times when it would rain like this, and you'd have Popsicle-stick races in the gutter? You'd even build dams to stop the other guy's sticks, remember?" He patted a kid named Eddie on the head and went inside to sign autographs for RCA Whirlpool. It is not hard for Rick Barry to remember such things as Popsicle-stick races. "You associate college with people very young," he said later, "but, look, I'm only 22. It's funny, I should still be in college."
At 22, Barry (see cover) is already an NBA All-Star, the league's leading scorer with a 36-point average, and a marked man in every game. He retains a touch of the teen-ager—a slight skin problem—that his teammates kid him about, but there is little else to mar his life. Recently a dentist, a fan, said he would do any work Rick needed for nothing. Rick made an appointment—and he didn't have a single cavity.
There was a lull in the autograph signing, and a recording man wearing tight corduroys and a turtleneck brought his machine over for Rick to make a commercial. Rick spoke his lines over and over, not fastidiously but just because he had the time and wanted to get them right. At one point in the dialogue he had to say, "Whirlpool portable," but the words ran together and kept coming out whirpoo porrible." He laughed at himself, but in the end he made it just right. When he was at the University of Miami and began to realize that he had an excellent chance to make the pros, he increased the number of radio-TV courses on his schedule. Now he has his own daily radio show and he handles interviews with the assurance of Eric Sevareid. He is 22, but he leaves nothing to chance. He took a Certs before he started signing the autographs.
"Most kids," says Bob Feerick, the Warriors' general manager, "when they come in the first time, they want to hedge. They want no-cut contracts, things like that. Rick just said something like give me the money and when do we start." By then, with the aid of his college coach and father-in-law, Bruce Hale, Rick had gone through a cram course to prepare for the NBA.
February 13, 1967
"Just after his senior year I decided to put him through a pro test," says Hale. "I put Stu Marcus, one of our biggest and strongest players, behind him, and Rod Godfrey, an assistant coach, in front of him, and myself on the side of him. Then I threw the ball against the board, and Rick had to bump through at least two of us to get the ball and make the basket. We put him on the deck a lot. I mean, we really worked him over, but after a while he was making monkeys out of all of us."
The great players, men like Baylor and Robertson, often make their final move a flip back away from the basket. Barry goes to the hoop, even better than Bob Pettit did. "I saw right away," says Alex Hannum, last year's Warrior coach, "that he was familiar with pro moves. Give Bruce Hale the credit for that. But I could also see that Rick was the kind who could be an outstanding stockbroker or doctor or anything. Or ballplayer. Right now I think Rick Barry will be the biggest name in pro basketball for years to come."
Hannum actually learned most of the things he needed to know about Barry during the previous year's National AAU tournament in Denver. "His team won its first game and lost the second," says Hannum. "This is the time to see a kid play, when things aren't going his way. Well, there was the high altitude and Barry hadn't really gotten much sleep out there but the worse his team got the more he tried. He proved to me right there he had the courage. And he was obviously a guy who could score and was determined to put the ball in the basket."
Barry averaged 26 points last year under Hannum, the most in NBA history for a rookie forward. Still, there were those who assumed he would score less this season under Coach Bill Sharman, primarily because Guy Rodgers, the team's playmaker, had been traded. The critics were wrong. Rodgers' absence changed the style of the Warrior attack, not its big weapon. Sharman called for more running. The ball-handling responsibility was spread around. Barry, working with the ball, began to shoot more and better from outside while retaining the skills he developed when Rodgers was running the fast breaks—moves that cut him loose at the proper instant. He scored in the 30s and 40s from the start. "At first," Sharman says, "they were guarding him as if he were just another good player. But in the last few weeks it's changed. Now they're all over him. And I've told Rick that if they're going to concentrate on him like that, we're going to use him more and more as a decoy. The thing is—and everybody knows it, too—he's also a good passer."
The handsy treatment Rick now gets has forced him to concentrate on controlling his temper, which is as volatile as that of most hard competitors. Still, he has gained something of a reputation for being a complainer. "Sure," he said. "I know that. So a little while ago I tried something. I went about seven games without saying one word to anyone. Not a word. Just raised my hand if they called a foul on me, and not a word. And all that happened was that I got clubbed even more and they called even less of what these guys were doing to me. You should see it. It's getting unbelievable." He was shaking his head as he talked, clearly upset just thinking about it. "The thing is," he went on, "everybody is getting to know about it now. They know what they can get away with on me, off the ball. And it's getting worse. It's really unbelievable."
If unbelievable is the word for Rick's problems as a player, it is also a reasonable description, in a different sense, of his life off the court—a Teddy bear's picnic, sugar and spice and everything nice, and no cavities. There is the Porsche 912 to drive to the beautiful apartment in The Marina, the Golden Gate and the Marin Mountains ghostly in the fog just outside the window. There is the lovely Mrs. Barry, Bruce Hale's daughter Pamela, who, six months ago, gave Rick a son and heir—Richard Francis Barry IV. And Rags, the old English sheepdog, minds the hearth.
As has been so extravagantly reported by the locker-room press, Rick actually indulges in $6 razor cuts. He also admits, with a wry touch of defiance, to the employment of hair spray. But then, there is little about Barry that has not been revealed to an apparently anxiously waiting world. In the last few months press publicity has made him an object of public fancy equaled this winter only by Jackie, Bobby, paper dresses and smog. No stone—or Barry himself—has been left unturned in this quest for what makes Rick tick. It is reliably reported by Mrs. Barry, in one of the more comprehensive accounts, that Rick "twitches like a hundred electric eels when he sleeps." Doubleday has inquired about the possibility of publishing a book on his life, and a half-hour TV special is nearing completion. This intrigues Barry for he would like to be an actor. Wouldn't he be too tall for a leading man? I could always be a monster," he replies. He finds a way.
One consequence of all this publicity is a rash of Barry-endorsed products, ranging from Snickers candy bars to Clorox, from sportswear to a savings and loan association to sneakers. Another consequence is the enmity Rick's popularity has engendered among the admirers of Nate Thurmond. Thurmond, as even Barry admits, just happens to be the most valuable player on the Warriors. The fact may be unknown to the casual basketball public but it is accepted without argument by anyone close to the situation. "It's very simple," Barry says. "The most important guy on the Warriors is Nate. You can't win in this league without a good center, and Nate is a great one now. I missed three games earlier in the year and we won all of them. If Nate misses any, we don't win."
No matter how valuable Thurmond may be, however, Barry attracts more attention. For one thing, he is more spectacular. For another, he is white. The situation is hardly new to the NBA (before Barry and Thurmond there were Cousy and Russell, West and Baylor) but it has become a potential team problem in San Francisco because of some remarks made by a Negro journalist named Samuel J. Skinner. After offering an admirable defense for Thurmond, Skinner fell back upon an unfair, searing attack directed at everyone white—particularly Barry.
Barry, it seems, is guilty on two counts: shooting too much and winning the racially inspired admiration of the "white folks." The nadir of Skinner's crusade occurred when an unidentified Negro friend, introduced in his column, sneered at Barry. "I hope he breaks his leg."
As long as he scores 30, 40, even 50 points a game, Barry must be prepared to face accusations about gunning. Sharman, who was a shooter himself, defends Barry. "Selfish?" Sharman says. "They always say the shooter is selfish. That's his job—to shoot. Did they ever say Russell was selfish for taking all the rebounds?" It is a false charge anyway. Barry is, as noted, a fine passer, and the Warrior offense is a fluid one that is not set up especially for him. "He gives the ball up real well," Thurmond says. And Nate, who has played with Chamberlain, adds: "There is a great difference between Wilt making 40 and Rick making 40."
Barry is making the 40 not only because he has the ball more but because, simply enough, he is a better shooter. "This year, you've got to go out to him," Chicago Assistant Coach Al Bianchi says. When Rick arrived in San Francisco it was surprisingly apparent that he really was not much of a shooter at all. He had scored 973 points in his senior year at Miami to lead the nation with a 37-point average, but by NBA standards he had a lot to learn. So Rick hustled off to Hawaii for his honeymoon, then returned to San Francisco and started lining up games every night. Soon he took off for Squaw Valley and the camp headed by Feerick and University of San Francisco Athletic Director Pete Peletta. "He'd play all day," Peletta says. "A little horseback riding, but the rest of the time he was on the court. And, you know, just about everyone there could beat him shooting a game of spot."
Feerick went in to Barry and implored him to go home to his bride, but he would not leave till camp was over. "He reported in tremendous shape," says Hannum. "The way to tell if a guy is in shape the first day is to look at his feet. Rick's were covered with calluses. There weren't three days in preseason training that I didn't know he was going to be one of my starting forwards. There are others in the league who rank with Barry in shooting ability, but none of the others have that quickness and size he's got. He's six-seven and moves like Havlicek to get open. And, don't forget, he's one of the great free-throw shooters. He was quick to learn that the way to be one of the top scorers is to go to the hoop. If you go to the hoop and get fouled 10 or 15 times, there's 10 or more points."
Rick's first coach was Richard Barry Jr., who taught him at St. Peter and Paul Grammar School in Elizabeth, N.J. The family moved to Rozelle Park, N.J., where Rick was young for his class, did not like his coach and was hardly a star till his senior year. Even then, he did not make All-New Jersey. He had an alternate appointment to the Naval Academy, but already he was taking his temper into account and figured, "I'd probably punch someone who told me what to do." Of the few other offers, he liked Miami best—mostly because of Bruce Hale. Rick did not, it should be made clear, know Pamela Hale at the time. He met her soon enough but, as befits a young man who had grown up inculcated with the basic American belief that only toadies play up to the boss's daughter, Rick "dunked her in the pool and chased her around." Barry calls this strategy "reverse psychology." As soon as he made the varsity, however, all bets were off, and he immediately began to repair the indignities he had made her suffer. A few years later Pam was touring the country as a "synchronized swimmer," working at such places as the Billy Rose Aquacade at the World's Fair. She does not swim professionally anymore. Rick says, "I called her up and told her, 'You've had your fun. Come on home.' " They were married a few months later.
It was Bruce Hale who was largely responsible for decreasing the volatility of Rick's temper. It still frightened off several potential NBA employers, however, such as Ned Irish of the Knicks. He called Barry "skinny and a flake." Irish has made some spectacular draft blunders over the years, but in this instance he was hardly alone. Most scouts figured Rick to be not only an angry young man, but too fragile to last the long pro season. Feerick—who had roomed with Bruce Hale at Santa Clara—guessed that Barry would be strong enough, though, and Hannum agreed. That settled, Warrior Owner Franklin Mieuli promptly tried to trade Barry to Los Angeles even up for Gail Goodrich, the high-scoring little UCLA guard who was to be the Lakers' territorial choice. But Mieuli, who has been known to suffer good fortune, was turned down flat by Laker Owner Bob Short.
Barry has proved to be not only durable but able to take the kind of complimentary battering few players are ever honored to receive. His frustrations, however, are more ample than his bruises; he controls his feelings fairly well, but "the grimace," as Sharman calls it, still remains clear upon Barry's face, suggesting a sullenness that does not always endear him to all observers. Such as referees.
When provoked, Barry may still respond aggressively. Trying to get past Tom Hawkins of the Lakers in a game last month, Barry slapped out at Hawkins' hands. Hawkins, hitting back, was caught and thrown out of the game. A couple of weeks later Barry and Dick Van Arsdale of the Knicks got into a pushing match. While both were being restrained, Barry says, the Knicks' big center, Walt Bellamy, decked him with a neat right cross. Thurmond promptly cautioned Bellamy against future indiscretions—and the Warriors went on to win by 21 points as Barry took down 14 rebounds. The next day all the newspapers talked about how Van Arsdale had "held" Rick to 22 points.
Barry has some views on that subject, too. "They're making a lot of defensive geniuses these days out of guys who don't score," he said recently. "But they don't stop you in this league. There are a lot of guys who work hard at defense, they play you close and they make you work for every shot. But it all comes down to whether you can put them in or not. In the final analysis, it is not them stopping you but you missing it." He kept talking in the second person, but as he went on and expanded, the "you" seemed to contract more and more from the general to the personal.
"There is nobody—nobody—that can really stop you in this league," Rick Barry said.