clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rick Barry talks his last years in NBA and the current state of basketball

A TDS exclusive interview with Rick Barry

Houston Rockets v New York Knicks Photo by Anthony Neste/NBAE via Getty Images

I didn’t know what to expect from my upcoming phone call with Rick Barry. Mike Dunleavy, his former teammate, once said “You could send him to the U.N., and he’d start World War III”. That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, but you can’t judge a person until you meet them yourself.

After a 30-minute conversation with Barry, what I can say is that he is very honest and outspoken. Though we were chatting over the phone, it felt as if I’d bumped into the retired star at a local supermarket. His authenticity was accompanied by logically sound opinions, thankfulness for his family and friends, and an everlasting competitive spirit.

For those out of the loop, Rick Barry is undeniably one of the greatest players in basketball history. The Hall of Famer’s numerous accolades include 8 NBA All-Star selections, 4 ABA All-Star selections, an ABA championship in 1969, and an NBA championship in 1975. Additionally, Barry is the only player to lead the NBA, ABA, and NCAA in points per game for a season.

A little known fact is that Barry ended his playing career as a Houston Rocket. During this time, Barry averaged a career best in free-throw percentage and set an NBA record for most three-pointers made in a game.

His arrival to Houston started from a contract dispute with the front office of the Golden State Warriors.

I could’ve stayed with the Warriors. It came down to them insulting me. The owner, Frank Mieuli, was gone away on a family trip and Scotty Sterling, the General Manager, was sitting there telling me ‘Rick, I can’t believe you’d let this deal get blown over $10,000’. I said ‘Man, you’ve got it backwards. I can’t believe you’re going to let me go over $10,000’. It became a matter of principle. I didn’t really want to leave.

Another important factor in Barry’s free agency decision was the possibility of winning a championship.

I chose the Rockets because I thought I was going to play with a team that had a chance to win the championship, which included John Lucas, a point guard. Much to my dismay, the GM, Ray Patterson, gave the Warriors compensation from my going to the Rockets and that was John Lucas. Had I known that, I probably would not have gone. However, I’m glad I had the opportunity to play with so many great players, like Moses Malone, Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Newlin, Robert Reid, Mike Dunleavy, and Dwight Jones, just to name a few.

In a shocking revelation from the legend, he reveals that his playing career was very close to prolonging further into the 1980s.

I was going to play for the Boston Celtics. To save money, in 1980, the league cut the roster spots from twelve to eleven. If that hadn’t happened, I would’ve been a Boston Celtic.

What Barry is most recognizable for is his trademark underhanded free-throw technique. With this form, Barry led the NBA in highest free-throw percentage for six seasons. His accuracy only improved later in his career.

In my last two years with the Rockets, I shot over 94%. I was never satisfied. I always try to get better, and I got better… There aren’t many things in life that you can do where you can be better when you get older.

When asked if more players in the NBA should be adapting his free-throw shooting form, he strongly recommends the technique for low percentage shooters.

Absolutely. So many guys are shooting so poorly. I don’t know how they let their egos get involved. Who cares what you look like? The hell difference does it make what you look like? That’s the whole idea of the game- you make as many points as you can, as efficiently as you can. Your ego is going to prevent you from being better at something you should be good at to begin with? That’s stupid.

The bottom line is, if you’re not shooting 80% from the free throw line, you’re not a good free throw shooter. It’s that simple. That’s coming from me. Come on, same size ball, same size basket, same distance every single time, with nobody trying to stop you from doing it. You should be ashamed of yourself if you can’t make four out of every five shots.

Barry’s youngest son, Canyon, is a user of his father’s trademark shot. Canyon Barry, currently signed to a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves’ G-League affiliate team, is reaffirming proof that the method works.

He’s a terrific underhanded free throw shooter. One of my sons decided they really wanted to do it and he’s shot 90 percent before. He was overseas in China averaging 30 points a game on 50/40/90. Last year, in the shortened G-League season, he shot 100 percent. He’s an outstanding free throw shooter and has the technique down.

Besides free throw styles, Barry had some criticism for the way the game of basketball is shifting in the 2020s.

There’s too much one on one going on. If more teams play like the Warriors play, it would be much more fun to watch. You can call it old school, but that’s the way the game was designed to be played, the way it’s more fun to play, and more fun to watch if you really understand the game. So I’m not really a big fan of all the one on one stuff that goes on. Probably the greatest example of all is from a couple seasons back, when James Harden was in Houston. It was crazy. One guy had the ball for 20 seconds out of the 24-second clock.

With the three-point shot becoming such a vital part of today’s NBA, Barry was also asked if any modifications should be made to the distance.

No, it’s still a tough shot. There’s not many guys shooting 40 percent from there. They’re getting better because they’re working at it. You just gotta learn to play better defense. But sometimes you live and die by the three-point shot. The Warriors lost a championship because of the three-point shot, when they played Cleveland in a Game 7 at home. The last four minutes, or whatever the hell it was, they took nothing but three-point shots. It cost them a championship. If it’s used properly, it’s a great weapon, makes things exciting, and gives teams a chance to catch up if they’re trailing. So I think it’s good, but like anything else, if it’s abused, then it doesn’t become so good.

A surprising fact about Barry is that he’s never been offered a coaching job in the NBA.

I’ve coached in the minor leagues. They’d never let me coach in the NBA. I’ve never had a legitimate interview. They were all afraid of me because they knew they weren’t going to control me, that I was going to do things the way I wanted them to be done. They missed out because I think I would’ve done a good job.

Typically, NBA legends have no issues finding a coaching job, and in most cases they don’t replicate the same success from their playing days. Barry makes a strong case for why he would make a great candidate.

They didn’t give me an opportunity to do it because I’ve always been an opinionated, outspoken individual and they were afraid of me. That’s stupid because I would’ve signed a one year contract. They keep signing guys to these three-year, five-year deals, fire them after one or two years, and get stuck with all that money. They wouldn’t have had to do that with me. Hell, give me one year. In fact, if my team was doing poorly during the season and not up to the standards I feel we should be playing, I probably would resign out of embarrassment.

With the amount of teams suffering through rebuilds, including the Houston Rockets, it’s hard to believe not one of them would benefit from Rick Barry as a coach.

At 77 years old, Barry has found a new passion in pickleball. The sport is described as a combination of badminton, table tennis, and tennis. Barry’s competitive nature has transferred over to this new outlet, winning six major titles in his pickleball career.

Still at a high level of athletic performance, Barry praises GO Sleeves for providing him reliable knee and calf stability. Use the code ‘RB24’ at www.gosleeves.com to receive a discount on the site’s various products.