For Rick Barry, scoring came naturally. As a senior at the University of Miami (in Florida), he led the nation with 37.4 points per game. In his second year as a professional, he paced the NBA with 35.6 points per game. Two years later, after jumping to the fledgling American Basketball Association, he averaged a league-best 34.0 points per contest. As the self-assured Barry often boasted, no defender could stop him.
A graceful, 6'7" forward, Barry mastered the nuances of driving and understood the importance of getting to the foul line. In college, he did much of his scoring close to the basket (he could hook with either hand). Later, he became renowned for his smooth jump shots and uncanny aim from the foul line. He shot free throws underhand, flipping the ball at the rim with a feathery touch. In the 10 years he played in the NBA, Barry made 90.0 percent of his free-throw attempts, the second-best accuracy mark in league history.
Good as he was, Barry never won popularity contests. His personality grated like fingernails on chalkboard. Early in his career, he fought with opponents, griped at officials, and acted like a spoiled brat when faced with adversity. He matured gradually, though he never stopped harping at the refs.
The son of a former semi-pro basketball player, Barry was born March 28, 1944, in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and grew up in Roselle Park. At Miami, he was coached by Bruce Hale, who became Barry's mentor and, later, his father-in-law. Though Barry averaged nearly 30 points per game during his three varsity seasons, the Hurricanes never went to the NCAA Tournament.
While the pros coveted Barry, some scouts considered him too angry and too skinny to make it big. After selecting Barry with the fourth pick in the first round, the San Francisco Warriors tried to trade him to the Lakers but were turned down. Barry went on to average 25.7 points per game in 1965-66, the most in NBA history for a rookie forward. The next year, he won the scoring title and San Francisco advanced to the NBA Finals against Philadelphia.
The Warriors were denied the championship, but as they headed into the summer of 1967, they looked like a future dynasty. But chaos ensued when Barry signed a contract with the ABA's Oakland Oaks, whose owner, pop singer Pat Boone, already had hired Hale to be his coach. The Warriors sued, claiming they still held rights to Barry. The courts granted a restraining order that forced Barry to sit out the 1967-68 season, but he was now property of the ABA's Oaks.
Without their hired gun, the Oaks finished in the basement. The next season, with Barry healthy for just 35 games because of a knee injury, they breezed to the ABA championship. Barry was the league's scoring champion with his 34.0 points per game. But when the franchise was sold and moved to Washington for the 1969-70 season, Barry announced that he wanted to stay on the West Coast and signed a new contract with his former team, the Warriors. Again the courts intervened, forcing Barry to honor the remaining three years on his ABA contract. After one season with Washington, he was traded to the New York Nets for a first-round pick and cash. Two seasons later, completing a most unusual circle, he returned to the Warriors.
Barry's crowning moment occurred when he led the underdog Warriors to a sweep of the Washington Bullets in the 1975 NBA Finals. He was named MVP of the championship series. In 1978-79, after signing with the Houston Rockets as a free agent, he set a single-season record for free-throw shooting (94.7 percent). And in 1980, he set an NBA record with eight 3-pointers in a game.
Barry retired following the 1979-80 season with 25,279 professional points and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986. Two of Rick's sons (Jon and Brent) became NBA players, and two others (Scooter and Drew) played major college basketball. When Brent won the NBA championship in 2005 and 2007 with the San Antonio Spurs, it marked only the second time that a father/son duo had won a championship as players.