Updated: Mar 6
Rick Barry epitomized the Golden State Warriors as they established themselves as the Bay Area’s basketball team. Arriving in San Francisco the year Wilt Chamberlain left for the Philadelphia 76ers, Barry carried the team through the thick and thin of their journey to their first championship. While he worked hard at being the perfect player, he wasn’t the perfect human being. His competitiveness in the game drew a wedge between his teammates and himself and made enemies of his opponents. But this is not merely a basketball story. While Barry was a great player, his drive for perfection at his craft nearly cost him what little relationship he had left with his sons. This is his story.
Richard Francis Dennis “Rick” Barry III was born on March 28, 1944 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. As a child, he idolized local legend Willie Mays and the New York Giants baseball team. He wore Mays’ number 24 throughout his career as a tribute to his hero. During high school, his father suggested that he try shooting underhanded when he was shooting free throws. Initially reluctant, he would stick with the unique shooting style for the rest of his career.
After starring at Roselle High School, Barry accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Miami. The Hurricane’s up-tempo system fit his style and he earned All-American status three times during his college career. He averaged 19.9 points as a sophomore and 37.4 points as a senior. While he was in Miami, Barry met Pam Hale and married her during his senior year. At the conclusion of his stellar collegiate career, Rick Barry was drafted second overall by the San Francisco Warriors in the 1965 NBA Draft.
San Francisco Beginnings
Rick Barry was sensational as a rookie, averaging 25.7 points per game for a team that went 35-45. He was named an All-Star and his oldest son Scooter was born during that rookie season. After leading the NBA by averaging 35.6 points the following year, earned a second consecutive All-Star selection. His oldest son Scooter was born during his rookie year, further complicating his rapidly changing life.
Those first two years with the Warriors were statistically superb but the tension was quickly boiling over. Warriors owner Frank Miuli hadn’t paid Barry all that he was due and Barry fumed with righteous anger over the slight. He stunned the NBA community when he decided to go to the rival ABA where the Oakland Oaks made a sizeable offer for his services. With that, Rick Barry moved across the Bay.
Due to the reserve clause, which dominated professional sports during that era, Rick Barry was ordered by the court to sit out the 1967-1968 season. After waiting a whole year to play, Barry was ready to play in 1968-1969. He averaged 34 points and 9.4 rebounds per game while making the ABA All-Star Game. He left Oakland after the season and signed with the Washington Caps, scoring 27.7 points and collecting seven rebounds per game.
His son Jon was born while he was with the Caps. Barry spent the next two years with the New York Nets, averaging 29.4 and 31.5 points respectively. His son Brent was born during his second year in New York and after a fourth consecutive ABA All-Star appearance, Rick Barry returned to the Golden State Warriors in 1972.
A Warrior Again
Four years away from the NBA had not been detrimental to Rick Barry’s skills. In his first season back, he averaged 22.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists, earning an All-Star invitation. His son Drew was born during that year and they later adopted a daughter, Shannon. Barry maintained a strong shooting percentage during those first few years back, making as much as 46.4% of his shots.
The Warriors had been battling for their first NBA championship since their move to the Bay Area and believed that they had the team to accomplish that feat in 1975. Combined with the talent of Jamaal Wilkes, Barry led the Warriors to the NBA Finals where they upset the heavily favored Washington Bullets.
Following his championship season, Rick Barry stayed with the Warriors for three more years. He averaged more than 20 points and more than five assists and rebounds per game during that span, making the All-Star Game each year. At this point, he had made either an NBA or ABA All-Star Game each year since he was drafted in 1965.
He left Golden State for the Houston Rockets in 1978 but at this point, his skills were waning. He only averaged 13.5 points in 1978-1979, missing the All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
It was during August of 1979 that Barry would make a fateful personal decision. One day that summer, he walked out on his family, leaving a wife of 14 years and five children. He could see that the end of his career was coming soon and he later explained to his children that he didn’t want to be tied down with parenting responsibilities. He craved the freedom that the reckless pursuit of a career can bring. After averaging just 12 points in the 1979-1980 season, Barry called it a career, retiring with the highest free throw percentage in NBA history, making 90% of his shots. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1987.
Over the years, despite their resentment, his four sons followed in his footsteps and each ultimately played professional basketball. Despite his freedom from the game, Barry rarely attended any of his son’s high school or college games. Given their last name, he didn’t want to put added pressure on them. What he failed to realize is that they craved the attention of their father, a man who barely taught them the game that he loved so much.
Eventually, he settled down and married his third wife Lynn. Together, they had his fifth son Canyon who is now a professional basketball player in the NBA G-League. Barry grew up as a parent and was able to spend the time with Canyon that he never spent with his older children. He taught him the game, something he never really did with his older children, and Canyon used his father’s free-throwing style as a tribute to his heritage.
Rick Barry’s love for the game of basketball brought him moments of great joy but it also brought about an unhealthy obsession with greatness. His obsession built a Hall of Fame career but it cost him a marriage and wrecked his relationships with his oldest children. It took the birth of his youngest child to make him realize the error of his ways and he set out to repair the damage.
He turned his obsession to the game into an obsession to repair his relationships with his children and it worked. Scooter enjoyed a long international career, winning an NCAA championship with Kansas, a CBA championship and a Belgian League championship. Jon is a game analyst on ESPN and Brent is now in the San Antonio Spurs front office. While his oldest children struggled to gain their father’s attention while they were young players, he now enjoys watching them work in their respective environments, a game connecting a father and his sons in a way few can truly understand. Rick Barry now lives a harmonious life with Lynn, watching Canyon play the game that caused so much heartbreak and so much joy.