When Rick Barry (see cover) first turned his attention from the basketball court to the judicial one, Abe Fortas still stood in unsoiled high regard, Haynsworth & Carswell sounded like a swanky men's clothier and efforts to impeach Earl Warren were in full swing. Barry, the high-scoring, high-salaried 6'7" forward who rarely has been seen on a basketball floor the past three seasons, has since spent so much time in court that he has become a figure with whom aspiring barristers, if not rookie basketball players, have had to contend. When the first-year students at Washington's Georgetown University Law School opened the final examination in their contracts course earlier this summer, the first question they read began with a summary of the facts in the case of The Washington Capitols Basketball Club, Inc. v. Rick F. Barry.
Any basketball fan among those students would have known that the outstanding decision in the case, as rendered earlier this year by a federal judge, was to grant the Caps the preliminary injunction they sought to prevent Barry from playing for the San Francisco Warriors of the NBA. Of course, these are the very same Warriors against whom Barry made his first court appearance three years ago. As a result of that trial, Barry sat out the 1967-68 season before jumping to the ABA's Oakland Oaks, and then, for the next two years, he spent most of the time sitting on the sidelines with an injured left knee. Meanwhile, the debt-ridden Oaks were purchased by Washington Lawyer Earl Foreman, who brought them, along with a reluctant Rick Barry, to his home town and changed them into the debt-ridden Caps. To add further complexity to the case, the Caps this season have been transferred to Virginia, where they will be called the Squires and will provide the Old Dominion with its first major league franchise.
As soon as the team was moved to the East last year, however, it became evident that Barry had left his heart in San Francisco. He signed a five-year, $1 million contract with the Warriors late last summer, but the courts have twice ordered him to delay honoring that contract in order to fulfill an earlier one with the OCS (Oaks-Caps-Squires) which runs through the 1971-72 season.
Even though a final round of court hearings in the case is scheduled to begin on Sept. 8, the last month has been filled with rumors of negotiations that would allow Barry to play for the Warriors without further court action. The rumors were indeed true, except that the talks have been spectacularly unsuccessful. This makes it all the more frustrating for Franklin Mieuli, the Warriors' bearded owner, who must sit on the sidelines. Mieuli is restrained by yet another injunction (the result of an entirely different case) from taking any part in the Barry-Foreman discussion.
The basis for the abortive negotiations was provided by a phone conversation that took place between Foreman and the player's lawyers shortly after Barry's most recent appeal against the Caps' injunction failed. "We were talking when one of them asked me, 'What will it take to buy Rick's contract?' " Foreman said as he reconstructed the conversation last week. "I replied, 'A can of worms,' or something like that. Then someone on the other end said, 'No, I mean seriously.' I said, 'Oh, I guess in the neighborhood of $200,000.' One of the guys on the other end said, 'I'm gonna be sick,' and I hung up."
News of the $200,000 offer leaked out in San Francisco, and when Foreman arrived there three weeks ago for further talks Barry, the Warriors and the fans were all hopeful of an immediate settlement. Foreman describes the San Francisco meeting: "We met for about five hours that night, and they were static. They wanted a cash settlement." Foreman counter-offered with a better contract with the Squires than Barry's present one for $75,000 a year. "At about 2 a.m. I got tired of it and told them. 'All right, the price is now $250,000.'
"He can't buy his contract now for $500,000," Foreman claimed last week, revising his price upward once more. "Barry is more important to basketball in the ABA and Virginia than any reasonable amount of money they can come up with. Down in Virginia I'm telling the people we have Rick Barry, Charlie Scott, Doug Moe and Dave Bing plus two No. 1 draft choices next year. I'm saying that they're getting a contender, not an expansion franchise. We're putting together a team that will be a contender when consolidation [they do not call it merger anymore] with the NBA happens in a couple of years. How can I say all that and then go out and take green money for Rick Barry?"
Foreman is correct when he talks of his team, and many experts feel that of all the college seniors drafted, Scott has the greatest potential as a professional. Virginia also has excellent potential as a franchise. Like the Carolina Cougars, who last year were the most successful first-season franchise in pro basketball history, the Squires will be a statewide team. Games will be played in trim new arenas in four cities—Richmond, Norfolk, Roanoke and Hampton.
Foreman's remarks about Barry might not be as accurate. He seems to ignore the player's very real unhappiness at having to play outside the Bay Area, nor does he admit that Barry—whose contract with the Warriors becomes binding as soon as his obligations in the ABA end—will not be available to the Squires after two more seasons. Last week a disgruntled Barry mocked Virginia: "My son Scooter is supposed to go to nursery school this year. I hate to think of the complications that'll cause in Virginia. I don't want him to go down there to school and learn to speak with a Southern accent. He'll come home from school saying, 'Hi yall, Daad.' I sure don't want that.
"I've been to Virginia once before, to a basketball tournament in Portsmouth. It seemed all right, but then I knew I'd be leaving right away," he adds. "That gives you some idea how I feel about the place. I could say a lot worse things, but I won't...yet."
Barry wants to stay in San Francisco mainly because of the life-style, which for him and his wife Pam and two young children includes an $18,900 Ferrari and a spectacular house on the side of a hill overlooking a valley east of Oakland. "I would never have considered going to the ABA if I had thought I would have to leave this area," Barry says. "Earl apparently thinks he can offer me enough money so that I'll be happy to go. I don't know if I'd be happier in Norfolk or wherever the hell it is even if he gave me $1 million a year. I'm very lucky, I live better than all but a very small percentage of people in the country now. How much better can I live?"
Barry is basing his one last day in court on the verbal understanding he claims he had with the Oakland ownership that he would not have to move with the team. Moreover, he feels that Foreman will sell him his contract for a reasonable sum (reports indicate Barry is willing to go as high as $125,000) when he realizes that Barry is unhappy and will definitely live up to his contract with the Warriors two years from now. Mieuli intends to see that he does.
"I know there are a lot of people around who think Rick's some cavalier," said Mieuli, using an unfortunate term—considering the word is often associated with Virginia. "He made a mistake at 23 and he made it out in front of God and everyone, not in private like everyone else makes theirs. He's been paying and paying and paying for it. He's been a very unhappy man. I remember one day when I was talking to him on the phone last year and I told him we had signed the girl Denise Long, whom we had drafted. 'She's a girl Rick Barry,' I said. 'The poor kid,' he answered, and he meant it."
Mieuli accepts Barry's desire to come back to the Warriors as an admission that he made a mistake in leaving at all. Barry is not admitting anything himself. Asked if he regretted jumping to the ABA, his only reply was that during the year he sat out before starting with the Oaks he had an opportunity to meet most of the people he considers his friends now, therefore it was not a mistake.
It is fairly certain that unless Foreman can find a face-saving excuse for selling Barry after promising the folks in Virginia a contender, he will not let him go. Barry is working hard at showing his unhappiness, and there is still one more chance at court. By now Barry should be very adept in both those situations.