A conversation with NBA legend Rick Barry

Derek James
19 min readDec 29, 2020

Hardwood Paroxysm: As far as everything I’ve read about you as a player, it seems like you were a forward that could not only score, but also able to stretch the floor and were also an excellent passer, finishing in the top-10 in assists. Would you say that a lot of the stretch forwards we’re seeing today are from your mold?

Rick Barry: Well, LeBron is an excellent facilitator.

HP: Absolutely. Do you see some of your game in LeBron’s game or are there other players you feel are more comparable?

Barry: He does stuff I’ve only dreamed about doing. He’s an amazing athlete but, I mean, the way he sees the floor and gets the ball to people, I really respect and admire that. He’s got a great natural feel for the game and I think that’s the one area that separates good players from great players, is that you have to have a natural feel for the game. It’s not something that can be taught. And LeBron certainly has that, the great players have that.

HP: Speaking of great passers, you played with Nate Thurmond, who was a great passer in his own time. How does that benefit a team to have two great passers in the frontcourt and how how does that give them an advantage over teams that don’t?

Barry: It makes it impossible to have a double team that’s effective. Because if they come and double you, that means that somebody’s open, and guys that are good with the ball are going to get the ball to the open people and create a lot of good opportunities. Now, whether or not they capitalize on that and make them pay the price for it remains to be seen.

The Miami Heat did that exceptionally well in game number two. You know, had they not made their shots, they could’ve been in big trouble but they did and that’s why it takes a team to win.

HP: Definitely. One thing I noticed looking back at those old Warriors teams, and there were some great teams, but that ’75 team after Nate was traded for Clifford Ray was when it seemed like you guys finally got over the hump. What made the difference there?

Barry: Well, Clifford was great with the guys. I was elected team captain for the first time in my career, my first time ever being captain of a team and I took that very seriously. I felt that I had to lead by example and go out and play as well as I possibly could for us to be successful because I was the only name player, and veteran player, on that team.

HP: Looking at that roster it seemed like a pretty young team and that you were really the veteran leadership.

Barry: Aside from Jeff Mullins, but Jeff was playing a reserve role at the end of his career. You know, we just came together as a team and epitomized what the game was supposed to be about: not caring about anything but winning games and doing whatever you can to help your team win.

HP: Exactly. So, one thing that is famous about your game was your free throw shooting technique. Now, there are a lot of bigs in the league like a DeAndre Jordan or Dwight Howard, who really struggle with their shot. Have you ever been approached by any of these guys to work on their free throw shooting with you?

Barry: Hell, I’ve approached a number of guys, but nobody ever wants to do it and I don’t know why. Because George Johnson, my teammate, was the only one who took it seriously, and George went from shooting in the forties up to eighty percent one year and it changed everything for him. A guy like Dwight, or some of these other guys, it would make a huge difference in their game because now they become a go-to guy in the end of games instead of a liability.

HP: Absolutely. Why do you think more players aren’t as open to that help like they are with seeking Hakeem for help with their post-moves? Do they just not take it as seriously or is it just the asking for help thing?

Barry: I don’t, I don’t know why. I would think that you would do everything within your power to get to be good at, certainly, free throws– the easiest part of the game because nobody’s trying to stop you from doing what you’re doing. It’s the only constant in the game and yet guys are willing to accept mediocrity at best. It’s a pretty sad commentary when you get down to it, that guys willing to accept being such a horrendous free throw shooter. It’s pretty sad, I don’t know. I don’t really understand why.

I mean, I know that anything that came along that could make me better, I’m going to be interested in it. And certainly if you’re struggling and your’e horrendous at something why would you not try anything within reason?

HP: I know from my working with players, and obviously not at an NBA or even a college level, that being able to not leave points on the line is so huge, especially in close games is so huge that I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to try to minimize that.

Barry: You would think so. I don’t have the answer to it, but it’s pretty horrendous. I mean, free throw shooting is one of the most abused areas in the game of basketball, yet it’s the easiest are because nobody is trying to stop you from doing it.

HP: Most definitely.

Barry: It makes no sense logically.

HP: I wanted to ask you too, what has it been like watching your sons follow into the family business of sorts with the NBA, and then Jon even taking it a step further and getting into broadcasting. Was this something you could tell they always wanted to do?

Barry: Yeah, I thought they did. Brent’s doing it as well. My son Drew is doing college basketball regionally. My son Scooter has done it before, so it’s pretty unbelievable that all four of my older boys have done something in two of the areas I had worked in and doing a really good job. Jon’s doing a great job, and why in the world they ever took him off the studio show I have no idea. That’s just unbelievable, but anyway, he’s doing a great job. Brent’s doing a great job, and I’m just happy for them that they have a chance to do two of the things that I was able to do in my life to help support them and take care of my family, and have a great time in the process. So they’re very blessed in that regard to have that opportunity and they’re doing a terrific job.

HP: Just being able to stay around such a great game too, at any level.

Barry: Well, the best job is playing. The second best job is broadcasting.

HP: I know you dealt with some injuries in your career. In ’67, I was reading that when you left for the ABA and had to sit out a year, and then came back in ’68 to only play in 24 games before getting hurt and having to miss the rest of the season, correct?

Barry: Uh, yeah. I got a couple knee injuries, just cartilage. Unfortunately they didn’t have arthroscopic surgery back then so it was a major deal and it had an impact on my career, without question. I basically played with one leg that was only 75 percent of what it should’ve been.

HP: Oh, wow.

Barry: I’m grateful to have been able to have done that, but nowadays a cartilage injury is no big deal anymore.

HP: No, it’s just a simple scope and you’re back in the court in a week it seems like.

Barry: Now, it’s 7, 10, 12, 14 days and you’re playing.

HP: Unless you’re Kobe and it’s more like four, but that’s alright. So then I know most players will tell me that it’s really tough to be out when your team needs you, especially in big games, but how hard was it for you when you couldn’t be a part of those moments?

Barry: Well, it’s very difficult to sit there and not be a part of what they’re doing. Fortunately, one of the teams won a championship when I wasn’t able to play when I was with the Oakland Oaks. Guys like Doug Moe, Larry Brown and Warren Jabali, and all those guys did a tremendous job and we were still able to win a championship with me not being available. But If you’re sitting there having to watch, it’s very difficult.

It’s also difficult if you’ve been injured. I had to go through that when we had a chance to win a championship in 1972. I think it was the ’66 season– no, ’56-’57 season, sorry, my second year, we took that great 76ers team to six games and a lot of people picked that team as one of the best teams in the history of the NBA and we really had a chance to beat them. Pick n roll plays involving me wound up going their way instead of ours, and they wound up beating us in six games, but I played that whole series with a really bad sprained ankle that I had to get shot up at halftime and it had an impact on my performance even though I had put up some really big numbers. But it would’ve been nice to be able to be totally healthy and see what I can do.

HP: Oh, absolutely. Now, how do teams deal with, you know, you were in your prime, so how do teams deal with such a key player going down and having to change their entire strategy? With that Oaks team you talked about the pick n rolls and things like that, so how does a team adjust and adapt so quickly?

Barry: We had good players. If you have good players, they’re going to adjust. Larry Brown, Doug Moe were outstanding players and Warren Jabali was an outstanding player. We had a nice group of guys, and they just basically did what a team needs to do and that is picking up the slack when a star player isn’t doing well. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, and my teammates did that in the seventh game against Chicago (’75) when we won the title. Had it not been for them playing as well as they did when I was stinkin’ up the building, we would’ve never gone on to the championship round. Fortunately when I went back in the game after Al [Attles] took me out I played really well, but had it not been for my teammates that wouldn’t have happened.

Same thing with LeBron. He struggled when he was with Cleveland in some of those playoff series. His teammates didn’t take care of business, they didn’t help him. Yesterday, the other day, LeBron was struggling early and his teammates lifted him, you know, and they were able to get the victory and that’s important. You gotta have teammates– nobody wins it by themselves; it has to be a team, a collective thing. And Miami got that when LeBron struggled. If they hadn’t, they’d be down two-nothing and their chances of winning the title again would probably be slim-to-none.

HP: That sounds right to me. It sounds like everything that I’ve ever heard–

Barry: A lot of times in a playoff series, some of the guys that step up are not guys that are necessarily the heroes. I mean, a guy that did it so often and got the reputation for it, was Big Shot Bob [Robert Horry]. I mean, shit, Robert Horry. Look at how he saved the butts of the teams and look at all the great players on those teams, but if it wasn’t for Robert Horry, those guys might not have won as many championships. Not might have, they wouldn’t have won as many championships, and that’s what it really takes. It takes other guys rising to the occasion at a time when they’re needed and when it doesn’t happen, you’re not going to be successful.

HP: You absolutely need that support and you can’t just put it all on the superstar. And I think too with LeBron that his ability to make everyone better is a part of that.

Barry: Well that was the strategy. It was very obvious they [The Spurs] were not going to let LeBron be the guy to beat them. Okay, what they was they constructed their defense to prevent him from doing the things he’s able to do against most other teams and LeBron immediately made the adjustments, got the ball to people and the guys came through. They made the shots, and had they not made those shots they would be down two-nothing and that’s kinda the way it works.

And it’s one of those situations as a player, as a star player, where you have to take what the defense is giving you. You can’t force things, and to LeBron’s credit, he never forced anything. He didn’t try to force and go through double and triple teams and all; he drew the people to him and as soon as that happened — boom — the ball was off to someone else, giving a chance to someone else to knock a shot and guys did it.

HP: Do you think that LeBron would have done the same thing three or four years ago in Cleveland? Or has he matured so much as a player and a leader that he now knows not to force it and work it around?

Barry: I think he tried to do it in Cleveland but nobody was getting it done. So, if nobody’s getting it done you gotta say, “I guess I gotta try to do by myself,” so he’s forced into that situation. LeBron’s not a selfish player. If anything, at times, he’s a little bit too unselfish. He gives it up sometimes and you know, you give a ball up. And it’s like I tell my boys, everybody’s like “Oh, the extra pass! God, they made the extra pass, what a great play!” Yeah, bullshit! If you made the extra pass to a guy open at 18 [feet] and you were open at 20, and you could shoot better at 20 than he could at 18 or 15, that’s not a good pass.

HP: That makes sense to me.

Barry: It’s stupid! You give the ball up to a chance to someone who has less of a chance of making it than you do, even if he’s wide open. Bullshit, if you were open and you could shoot the ball, and unless the guy’s under the basket with an easy scoring opportunity, you only throw it to someone who has every good of a chance of making it as you do because he’s going to have an easier shot. Well, great, that’s fine. Like LeBron throwing it off to, uh, Ray Allen. That makes sense; Ray Allen is one of the greatest shooters in the history of the game from outside, so, hell, that makes sense. But should he be throwing it to Haslem if he’s out there and he’s open? Hell no!

HP: I know exactly what you mean as far as tending to defer too much instead of just attack-attack or being able to get the best shot, whether it’s for him or a teammate.

Barry: If LeBron, and he’s not here yet, but if LeBron were a better free throw shooter — he’s gotten better with his shooting and I made a big deal out of his shooting a few years ago, and thank God he’s got his elbow in and that’s made a difference in his game — he needs to get to the point where he’s shooting 80-something percent from the free throw line and wants to get fouled when he drives. I wanted to get hit when I drove. He has to get to that point. He’s so big and powerful he’ll make a bunch of his shots anyway, so now gets a chance to make another point. If he does get fouled, he’s not going to worry because he can knock two shots down and get two points anyway. But the thing is, he has this mentality where if he kicks and pick to somebody, where if he had that mentality, he could kick it and with his strength and power he’s going to get fouled, so why not do that? But he’s not at the point he can do that. He’s not at that point. That will take his game to a whole other level, which is frightening when you think about it.

HP: Oh, I agree. If he ever gets there he could be a 50–40–90 guy, too.

Barry:It’d be stupid how good he could be. I mean, that’s the scary thing about him. He’s an anomaly. I’ve never– there’s no one player that’s just like him.

HP: Getting into injuries a little more, there have been a lot of crucial guys in the last couple years in the last couple years like Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert last year tearing their ACLs and now Kobe and others this season. Why are we seeing these injuries to these players happening at this time– is it the length of the season, the speed of the game or a genetic predisposition to injuries?

Barry: It’s a combination of years of beating their bodies up. Especially with the AAU basketball that I’m not a big fan of where they play too many games, and these guys are breaking down, I think. I think more and more players will breakdown that play AAU basketball. The body of a kid that’s, you know, a teenager doing stuff, going to AAU tournaments on a weekend and playing eight or nine games in less than 36 hours or so is insane.

And that’s what they do. They will go into a city and they’ll play two games on Friday night, three or four on Saturday, and two or three on Sunday. That’s ridiculous.

HP: That is a lot of wear.

Barry: The body can’t take that kind of wear and I think that some of these guys doing that are just beating their bodies up and breaking their bodies down. There have been no studies done on it, but it would be interesting to see. And I told people when that young man from Kentucky went down, um…

HP: Nerlens…Noel

Barry: Yeah, I mean, what did he do? Nothing. He just landed and his leg shattered, right?

HP: Yeah, I believe so.

Barry: Yeah, right. Nobody hit him and he came down, and his leg shattered.

HP: And he’s only 19 years old, too.

Barry: I don’t know for sure, but I would bet anything that he played AAU basketball.

HP: It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. It seems like a lot of guys who get to this level, especially if you’re going to play at a Kentucky would have.

Barry: They play AAU basketball. and these programs. And they’re playing and they play and they play and they play…Again, I’m not a medical professional, but it’s just my opinion — which people can take it or leave it — but I think these kids are getting broken down because they play too much ball. I mean, you can overdo anything.

HP: If you were the Cavs, would you have reservations about picking him after having a knee injury at such a young age?

Barry: Uh…

HP: I mean, you seem to have gotten into the injury prevention and technology side–

Barry: I would certainly be concerned. If somebody’s had a major injury, to invest that much money in him in the hopes that he’s going to stay together physically, then yes, I would have concerns. Without question, and justifiably so. Look what’s happened in the past with some of the guys. Look at the Sam Bowie situation years ago. Look at the [Greg] Oden situation, I mean, he had a history. I’m telling you, I would have serious reservations about a guy, to take a guy that high, and to commit that much money to him that’s coming off a major knee surgery or major surgery, in that regard. Because he’s going to be playing so many games and it’s a grueling schedule, and again, the constant pounding is going to happen and I would have concerns.

HP: Especially being a big man where your lower body is so important to running the floor, boxing out, footwork and everything. And then having a schedule that’s four times as long as you’re used to, that’s a lot of wear and beating.

Barry: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. I would be very concerned about that. Now, it’s about if you want to take a risk and see if you can get a few years or more out of him, and maybe help improve your team to get to the championship if you think he’s good enough to help you get there, and you’re willing to take that risk. But it is without question a risk– you’re taking damaged goods. The technology out there today in surgery is un-freaking-believable, right?

HP: Mmmhmm.

Barry: But it’s not normal. You have had something repaired. You are damaged goods, regardless of how good the surgery and the technique was they used to get you back to go out an perform again, you’re not normal.

HP: So there’s no such thing as, “Good as new,” so to speak?

Barry: No, I mean, no. No. You’re able to go out and perform again, but the chances of you being the same as you were before…there’s no chance you can be the same as you were before you injured yourself. I don’t believe that, and maybe the doctor can contradict it and everything, but it’s hard for me to believe that somebody is going to go in there and replace ligaments that you had naturally in your body and tell me you’re better off with those than you were with your normal ones.

HP: Well, we saw with Grant Hill that he wasn’t the same triple-double player after all his ankle issues and repairs. He still wound up extending his career into being a good role player, which is something that wouldn’t have happened in the 80s, 70s and before.

Barry: It’s gonna, it can have an impact on you. Fortunately, I was able to play and play at a high level, but I had cartilage, that’s not a major thing. They didn’t go in and replace ligaments in my knee and stuff, but then I know I would’ve been better– sure I would’ve been better if I had a knee that worked as well as it should’ve worked. I would’ve been better, and certainly a hell of a lot less painful and aggravating for all the years I went through it. You know, I was lucky. I was very fortunate.

These guys that get repaired, I’m happy for them and hope that they get through. Same thing with Derrick Rose: I hope he’s going to be able to go out and play, but my big question is will he be as quick and fast as he was before– there’s a difference between quick and fast. Because if he’s not, he will not be the same player, because that was one of his greatest strengths.

HP: Absolutely.

Barry: Well, two of his greatest strengths were his quickness and his speed, and so that’s going to be a major factor on how well he’s going to be able to perform.

Really quick, let me talk about Ektio. Well, same thing. Well, why would anyone not want to wear a shoe that could prevent ankle sprains? You brought up Grant Hill, Steph Curry and my injury when I had to do it; I might not have had to have the same injury and I could’ve played the ’67 Finals without getting shot up because I had a bad ankle sprain if I had been wearing these shoes. These shoes are the first time ever in athletic basketball shoes that there’s a patented technology that can actually help prevent ankle sprains, without question. So why in the world would you not want to wear something that can help prevent something that’s debilitating like that, I don’t understand it.

I don’t understand why someone like Nike or Adidas or somebody wouldn’t buy the company, especially Adidas since Nike’s the leader. Why not buy something that would make you have the best shoe in the market, something that the competition doesn’t have, market the hell out of it and really do something that’s of a benefit to players. What other shoes is out there that says it can help prevent this?

HP: I saw too online that it also works to improve your balance, which is important if you’re a shooter.

Barry: Well, it’s stable because of the way it’s built so it doesn’t roll and roll. It’s a little wider in certain spots, and you know, the reports are coming in that 40 percent of guys are saying they got better balance and that’s helping them, which is great. I mean, that was kind of a bonus, it wasn’t done for that, but it turned out to be kind of a bonus that they found out when they sent these questionnaires and got the response they got, which is great.

If I were playing today, this is the shoe I would want to wear, because if I were exposed to it and I had a contract with another company, I would say “Look. Either you guys buy this shoe, or I’m going to go and get out of my contract, because I want to wear this shoe.” Or I would probably buy the company because I would have enough money to do that making the kind of money these guys make, and I’d buy the damn company because it’s the best shoe out there, so why would you not play with it?

HP: I saw John Starks is involved in this, too. Do you work with John as well on this?

Barry: John’s doing some stuff on this that Barry’s got him working on. I don’t work directly John. John does what he can to help promote it and get it out there, so obviously he believes in it. I think anybody who would wear this shoe would say, hey this thing makes some sense. There’s no guarantees in life, but they’ve even had some guys say that they came down on someone’s foot and didn’t sprain their ankle, and that’s really unbelievable. My son actually sprained, in high school, his ankle severely because he was a high jumper and came down at an awkward angle and there was no way the shoe was going to prevent that from happening. The doctor said to me that he was shocked that he had no instability in his ankle and I told him about the shoe and he says, “Well, that’s probably the explanation because otherwise I’m surprised he didn’t break his ankle coming down like did.”

HP: Well, Rick. You gotta go soon but where can people find more out about Ektio?

Barry: Ektio.com. E-K-T-I-O, dot com. And then they can go to my website if they wanted to, I got a link on RickBarry24.com. People can look to see about some fishing trips I’ve put together, that’s my new passion, where people can put together fishing trips in Alaska or down in Mexico with me if they’re interested in doing that.

HP: Great! Rick, thanks so much for your time, this was really great.

Barry: Okay, take care. Enjoy the playoffs.



Derek James

Former NBA and WNBA media member | Current Content Strategist | #LGRW | Casual Musician