For basketball superstar Rick Barry of the champion NBA Golden State Warriors, competitive drive is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. “It’s difficult for me to do things for fun,” confesses the fiery 6’7½”, 225-pound All-Pro forward. “Even a game at home like charades. I really get into it, and a dumb clue drives me crazy.” But if Barry is a perfectionist in the parlor, he is a fanatic on the court.
At 32, Richard Francis Barry III is now racing toward the end of his 11th season, his fierce will to win undiminished. “His temper,” says Warrior general manager Dick Vertlieb, “is what gets his juices going.” Barry agrees. “When I really get mad,” he says, “it makes me play a little bit better.”
It would be hard to play much better. Captain of the defending champions, Barry leads the Warriors with 21 points per game, is first in the league in free-throw percentage and fifth in assists. One of the great ball stealers in the league, he is a defensive demon.
Once the enfant terrible of the game, Barry battled referees and even threw a punch at former Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks during a game. “It’s very easy to criticize my temper,” Barry says. “But you don’t know what it’s like taking all that abuse, having people bang into you and push and grab, and then have the referee say they never touched you.” Barry’s election as team captain last year, says Warrior coach Al Attles, gave him a new sense of direction. But even Barry admits his fires still smolder. “Some people have tempers they can keep in,” he says. “I don’t, but I don’t get as angry as I used to.”
For much of Barry’s career, his contract fights made him celebrated in legal courts. After two years with the NBA’s San Francisco Warriors, he fled in 1967 to the Oakland Oaks of the newly formed ABA. The Oaks paid him $75,000 a year (against $100,000 from the Warriors) but gave him part ownership of the team and a percentage of the gate. “I was called a money-grubber and a back-stabber,” he remembers bitterly, “because I was the first athlete to jump leagues. Actually, the money was the least concern. My father-in-law was Oakland coach and general manager.” Subsequently Barry began an odyssey during which he sat out a year to end his contract, moved with the Oaks to Washington, D.C., played two seasons with the New York Nets and then returned to the Warriors four years ago.
Barry came into pro basketball after making All-America at the University of Miami, where he took a degree in marketing and married Pamela Hale, the coach’s daughter. She has sometimes been a tough critic. “After a game,” she says, “25 people would tell him how great he was, and I would say, ‘Boy, you really made a dumb pass.’ ”
Early on, shyness plagued Barry. “It took me years,” he says, “to learn how to make eye contact.” Today he has become a wealthy businessman and performer. He does TV commercials, runs two basketball camps and works as a CBS sports announcer.
His $237,500 annual salary enables the Barrys, their four sons, ages 9, 6, 4 and 3, and adopted 19-month-old daughter to live comfortably in a modern house near a golf course in the San Francisco suburbs. He likes German white wine, carries a shoulder bag and hands out postcard-sized pictures when asked for autographs. His one indulgence: a gold Mercedes (in which he does not allow smoking).
The good life has not appreciably pacified him. “I can’t stand mediocrity,” he says, “especially in myself. I want to win.” But there is a trace of mellowing. “Gee, Dad,” observed one of Barry’s sons after a recent game, “you only swore six times tonight.”