Rick Barry is a basketball legend. He is internationally known and has played all over, including a couple stints in the Tri-State area. (He played his high school basketball at Roselle Park in New Jersey, and he spent three seasons in New York playing for the Nets.) Barry’s professional resume is a mile long and includes a Hall of Fame induction, five All-NBA First Team appointments, Rookie of the Year honors, an All-Star MVP title, and much, much more. He will always be remembered as one of the game’s greats. Read on to catch a more intimate glimpse of Barry and to find out what he has to say about everything from memories of his playing days, to what he’s up to now and what he thinks of today’s basketball superstars.
Q: Barry played for the (then) ABA’s New York Nets from 1969 to 1972. At that time, the Nets played their home games at the Island Garden in West Hempstead, and eventually, at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale. After the ABA-NBA merger in 1976, the Nets moved to their current home in East Rutherford, New Jersey. What do you remember most about your time playing in the New York area?
A: “Playing in New York is always a little bit different. I’ve always said that if you play any sport in the New York metropolitan area, you basically get elevated a notch in the hierarchy of things. So, if you’re a good player you become a great player, if you’re a great player you become a superstar player, and if you’re a superstar player you become immortal. Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Joe Namath, all of the great players, their stature in the sports that they played would not have been as great if they had not played for New York teams.”
Q: When Barry was with the Nets, he played for long-time St. John’s University coach, Lou Carnesseca, who had taken a temporary break from the college arena for the ABA. Carnesseca coached at St. John’s for 24 seasons before and after his time with the Nets (1965-70, 1973-92), and every year he led his team to the post-season. Carnesseca was named college basketball’s National Coach of the Year in 1983 and 1985, and he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1992. What was it like playing for Lou Carnesseca?
A: “Lou Carnesseca was my favorite coach of all time. I had a lot of terrific coaches who I respected and admired, but no one was more enjoyable for me than Lou. He was a coach who didn’t feel like he had all the answers. He came from college to the pros, and he actually solicited the input of his players to try to give him an idea of how he would like to go about doing things. It wasn’t like he took everything we said and used it, but he did take it to heart, analyzed it, and used it if he felt it made sense. You really felt as though he truly cared about your opinion about the game. He was a funny guy, and to this day I just think he’s a great person. In fact, I just went back to a big celebration they had for Lou at a fundraising golf tournament. So yeah, I love Lou. He’s the best.”
Q: Prior to the 1976-77 season, the ABA-NBA merger took place. Four ABA teams were absorbed into the NBA, including the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers, the New York Nets, and the San Antonio Spurs. How has the game changed and evolved since your time playing in the ABA?
A: “The game has changed because the players now are just bigger, faster, stronger, and incredibly athletic. These guys are like Greek Gods! It’s funny because you look at me and some of the guys I played with, and we were athletes but we were so skinny! We didn’t have the kinds of bodies that these guys have. It’s pretty amazing what they’re able to do. Now with that being said, that doesn’t mean they’re the best the game has ever seen. These days, not all of the players necessarily have as great of an understanding of the game. Player’s are coming out of school early, they don’t have the experience, and sometimes they’re not as emotionally mature as they should be. Physically they’re incredible, but as great as some of these players are, there’s no doubt in my mind that they would be better if they had a better understanding of the game. Take LeBron James. As great as LeBron is, he could be greater. He has a major flaw in his shot. As great as Kobe is, Kobe could be even better. There are little things about the game that unfortunately these players weren’t taught. And if they were to learn all of these things to give themselves an even better understanding of the game, with their amazing skills and abilities they would go up to even another level of performance.”
Q: Barry is perhaps best known for his underhanded free-throw shooting style. While certainly uncommon, it proved wildly successful for him. His career free-throw percentage is .900, second only to Mark Price who shot .904. How and why did you decide to shoot your free throws underhanded?
A: “That goes back to my dad. He played semi-pro and coached, and he’s the one that got me to do it. Thank God he was relentless. I finally did it just to get him off my back, and when I tried it, I said, you know, this is pretty good. So, I started really working at it and getting serious about it. I actually made a change to the technique late in my career, and my last six years I shot over 92 percent, which is 2 percent better than anyone else has ever done in history. . . . So in my mind, even though Mark Price is a little bit ahead of me, I still think I was the best free throw shooter ever.”
Q: Barry accumulated a tremendous amount of accolades during his career, and in 1996, he was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history. Out of all of your impressive statistics, awards and honors, of which one are you the most proud and why?
A: “The biggest honor is being part of the championship team that I was on, because that’s what basketball is about. It’s not about individual honors. Basketball is a team sport. It’s about achieving something as a group, as a unit. I have a Hall of Fame ring, a Top 50 ring and a Championship ring, and the only ring I ever wear is my Championship ring.”
Q: Barry retired from the NBA after the 1979-80 season. He left the game ranked among the top scorers in NBA history. What are you up to now? Are you still involved in basketball?
A: “I still do some things for the NBA. I’ve gone overseas in the preseason tours and they call me to do various other things at times, but I don’t do anything of a definitive nature. I do still hang around it and help people out, though. I do some clinics every once in awhile and try to pass on the knowledge that I was lucky enough to accumulate over the years. Other than that, I’m involved in a lot of business things. . . . I do one thing called Rick Barry Celebrity Sports Adventures, where I put trips together for people to go play golf with me, to go fishing with me or other sports personalities I know, and other things like that. I have a lot of different things going for me. And since I didn’t hear those words million dollars in my contract negotiations, I’m still out there working to provide for my family!”
Q: Barry has five sons–Scooter, Jon, Brent, Drew, and Canyon–all of whom also play basketball. Jon, Brent and Drew have each found success in the NBA, and Barry said 15-year-old Canyon shows great potential. What is it like to see all five of your sons also play and excel at basketball?
A: “The fact that they’re all good kids is the thing I’m proudest of. But I’m happy for them that basketball has been an important part of their lives just like it was for me. They grew up around the game. And the really remarkable thing about it is that not only did every one of them follow me in my main career [Basketball], they followed me in my second career, too [Broadcasting]. Every one of my boys has done some kind of basketball broadcasting has done a terrific job with it. Brent has only done a little bit, but I think he might wind up going into it. Jon’s working now, Scooter did work before and did a great job, and Drew’s currently doing some college basketball stuff. So, to have your kids follow in your footsteps in one career is one thing, but to have them do it in two careers is just remarkable.”
Q: A few years ago, Barry authored Rick Barry’s Super Sports Trivia, a book published by Square One Publishers in Garden City Park, New York. His book is unique because its format gives readers the option of playing alone or with others, and because it doesn’t simply supply the questions’ answers–it includes interesting contextual information that teaches readers as they play. Why did you decide to write a sports trivia book and what does the book include?
A: “I’ve always been a trivia buff. I enjoy it a lot, so the book was fun to work on. The thing I like most about the book is that it’s very diversified. It’s doesn’t just include the three major sports—football, baseball and basketball–there’s a little bit of everything. It’s also something that’s not going to insult someone who really does know about sports by being so easy and so basic. It can challenge those people, but at the same time, it’s not going to make anyone feel inferior. The other thing I like abut the book is that it’s not just about sports, it’s about people. I had a good time doing it.”
Q: Outspoken and opinionated, but no doubt talented, Barry invokes a wide-variety of feelings in people. When people think about Rick Barry, what do you hope comes to mind? What do you want your legacy to be?
A: “I just want people to say Rick Barry was a man who gave everything he had to everything he ever did in life. He never took shortcuts and he always gave his best effort in everything he did. It’s something that my father instilled in me for which I am eternally grateful. I also tried to pass it on to my boys. I told them that if you always give your best effort in everything you do, when you go to sleep at night you can feel good about yourself. And it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or not, because you can’t be afraid to fail. When it comes to basketball, I want people to say I was a constant team player. I played the game the way it was designed to be played, and I was the type of teammate that you wanted to have. If you were open, you were going to get the ball from me. And if you needed a basket, I could do that for you, too.”