Two nights ago, I was sifting through the updates on my Twitter page, and ran across a fascinating story about Rick Barry. Named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history in 1996, Barry is the only player ever to lead the NCAA, NBA, and ABA in scoring. But as Kornheiser writes in an April 25th, 1983 issue of Sports Illustrated, Barry played with an air of superiority that irritated teammates and opponents alike. It’s a fantastic and serious bit of reporting — a must read for any student of the game. A favorite excerpt:
It’s as if all these years they—the owners, the players, the fans, the media—have been waiting for this moment to arrive, when they would pay Barry back for the way he carried himself. It has been three years since the end of his playing career and two years since CBS let his contract lapse; and Barry has no one to turn to. Have pity on the man who plans the Rick Barry testimonial dinner, because it’s not likely he’ll find a room small enough to accommodate the well-wishers.
“You’ll never find a bunch of players sitting around talking about the good old days with Rick,” says Ken Macker, the Warriors’ executive vice-president. “His teammates and his opponents generally and thoroughly detested him.” And while that seems an extreme judgment, influenced by Macker’s loyalty to his boss, Franklin Mieuli, even Barry’s defenders concede its essential truth. John Roche, a friend and teammate of Barry’s on the Nets, says, “Many players resented Rick. The way Rick conducted himself could be construed as implying superiority. But I always felt it was unintentional. People misread Rick. Most people admire competitiveness. But apparently Rick’s took forms that angered people.” Another friend, the Spurs’ Billy Paultz, who played with Barry on the Nets and the Rockets, says, “If you got to know Rick you’d have realized what a good guy he was. But around the league they thought of him as the most arrogant guy ever. I couldn’t believe it. Half the players disliked Rick. The other half hated him.” And there’s this from Beard: “He’ll never get the acclaim due him. It has nothing to do with his play. It was his manner, his honesty. He had everything going for him. He was white; he was well-spoken; he looked good on television. But he never learned to come across softly, and he ticked off a lot of people.”
Barry doesn’t bridle at the assessment. He doesn’t, as he did regularly when he was whistled for a foul, stand with his hands on his hips, contemptuous of the call, snarling. His rehabilitation has begun. He seeks forgiveness, not exoneration. Yes, he feels rejected and hurt. Yes, he feels sorry.
“If you want to know the truth,” Rick Barry says, “inside I’m dying.”