Last week, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar voiced his displeasure with the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers had not honored him with a statue at Staples Center much like they did with Magic Johnson and Jerry West. One could make a pretty convincing argument that Abdul-Jabbar is the second best player in NBA history and perhaps even the its most dominant scorer ever, as evidenced by him holding the NBA’s all time scoring record.

And yet, when talking about Laker greats we often hear about players like Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and now Kobe Bryant. A lot of that stems from the fact that the players just previously mentioned were all personable in some way, shape or form. The public liked them for the most part except possibly for Kobe Bryant (more on this later), and thus the media have recounted their stories much like parents do when they read bedtime stories to their kids.

I draw this parallel only because it is necessary to understand how certain players are depicted and praised by the masses.

Once we get past this phenomenon, it becomes far easier to understand why Rick Barry never gets mentioned among the list of NBA all time greats. But it is not defensible though. Have a quick look at what he accomplished in his NBA career:

  • 1965-66 NBA Rookie of the Year
  • Four ABA All-Star Game selections
  • Eight NBA All-Star Game selections
  • 1965-66 NBA All-Rookie 1st team selection
  • Five time All-NBA 1st team selections (even made it his rookie season)
  • Four All-ABA 1st team selections
  • 1966-67 NBA All-Star Game MVP
  • 1974-75 NBA Finals MVP
  • Best scoring average in ABA history (30.5 points per game)
  • 20th all-time in NBA scoring average (23.2 points per game)

Just in case that failed to impress you, have a look the top playoff five scorers on the 1974-75 Golden State Warriors team that won the NBA title:

Player PPG FG%
Rick Barry 28.2 44.4
Jamaal Wilkes 15.0 44.6
Charles Johnson 12.5 42.0
Butch Beard 9.1 41.1
Jeff Mullins 8.1 48.8

That season, Barry shot 91.8 percent from the free throw line in the playoffs while no one else on the team that average at least 15 minutes of playing time shot over 75 percent from the charity stripe.

Over the years, a lot has been made about players such Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James not having enough help, but Rick Barry made due with what he had he led his team to a title.

And yet, some people have never heard of Rick Barry.

To put it simply, people despised him. The former Warriors star had a knack for getting under people’s skin, and that’s putting it lightly. He was always critical of his teammates, acted like he walked on water and occasionally made racially charged comments towards African-American players. In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons obtained this quote from Ken Macker (he was the Warriors executive VP during Barry’s playing days): “You’ll never find a bunch of players sitting around talking about the good old days with Rick. His teammates and his opponents thoroughly detested him.”

Even when his playing days ended and he became an NBA analyst for CBS, Barry did little to change how people viewed him. He was still critical of others and made stereotypical remarks that often left you scratching your head (have a look at this broadcast of a Celtics and Rockets game that Rick Barry called with Bill Russell).

It’s not that the league or the media erased Barry from NBA history, but rather that they chose not to remind of us of his accomplishments as well how great he was.

Rick Barry is one of the greatest scorers/shooters the league has ever seen and also one of its best playmakers as well. Indeed, the Warriors former superstar is one of four players to average at least 20 points per game for his career while shooting at least 88 percent from the free throw line (the others are Kevin Durant, Larry Bird and Ray Allen).

Also, only four forwards have a higher career NBA assist average (in order they are LeBron James, Larry Bird, Maurice Stokes and Scottie Pippen).

Needless to say, Rick Barry was a phenomenal basketball player and we have not really seen anyone like him as a ball player. Or have we?

Read this quick scouting report on Rick Barry:

  • Great basketball IQ on both ends of the floor
  • Able to handle the ball and score with either hand
  • Very good footwork
  • Impressive skill at taking and making contested jumpers
  • Can create an impressive array of tough shots and regularly convert them
  • Great at setting up defenders with shot fakes
  • Often drifts on jump shots (backwards, right or left)

Now add these observations:

  • Not always liked by teammates
  • Occasional struggle to find balance between feeding teammates and taking over
  • Wears #24

In case you have not yet figured it out, Rick Barry could be seen as the predecessor to Kobe Bryant. Although he was not as athletically gifted, their games are quite similar. Both were at times seen as relentless gunners that just always found ways to score but that also eventually figured out how to get the ball to their teammates.

It’s an interesting comparison on many levels because Kobe Bryant will probably be remembered far longer than Rick Barry and his place in history as one of the all-time greats is undoubtedly higher. Granted, Kobe’s NBA League MVP award, his five championship rings and two NBA Finals MVP trophies obviously help his case a lot (especially in comparison to Rick Barry).

However a part of me does wonder, if the Black Mamba will fall victim to an unfair media bias much like Barry did. For years, there has been this perception that Kobe the “wingman” was a divisive force in the locker room because he just could not accept being in the shadow of someone else. In addition, the sexual assault case as well as the alleged rift between he and Karl Malone might indeed get people to refocus their stance on Kobe in the next few years.

For better or worse, Rick Barry has shown us what the blueprint is for a star to be forgotten and we can only hope that others do not follow in his footsteps.

Back in 1996, NBA commissioner David Stern announced the 50 greatest players in NBA history (voted by former players and media members) and Rick Barry was part of that elite group of individuals.

Barry played for a franchise that once had talents such as Baron Davis, Chris Webber, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin and Nate Thurmond (also top 50). We have often heard these names and Warriors fans have fond recollections of these players; but none of them were able to lead the Dubs to the mountaintop.

Perhaps now is as good a time as any to look back at Rick Barry’s career for what it was: one of the best ever in league history.

And that’s worth remembering.

Questions or comments? Feel free to leave them in the comments section or you can contact me by email at [email protected]. You can also find me on Twitter with the handle name @ShyneIV.

6 Responses

  1. swishvinsky

    I have always felt Swen Nater was one of our greats and most dominating during his short career in the ABA and one year with the Buc’s in the NBA …Rookie of the Year 1973-74 the very next year he led in rebounding with 16.4 per … (and he never had to color his hair to do it) then of course the great performance vs Russia in the 1973 games! Cannot think of another player so dominating irregardless of the short stretch I allude to … Swen also wore his wedding ring tied to his laces during games .. which does sort of make him an emotional favorite of mine as well …as i lost my wife during my playing days at Marin junior college in California …. and Rick Barry was right across the Bay stinking it up for the Warriors … really not that great of a shooter …but could really hit those free throws!
    And certainly knew how to get under the craw of the refs! But what a gunner! …I went to a game early in his career with the Warriors played at the Civic Auditorium in SF vs The Cinci Royals and he hoisted 93 shots … (i think Oscar Robertson was a rookie and told a post game interviewer: ” after Barry’s 50th shot attempt I wantee to vomit!” ) at any rate “93” still a record today! And the infamous rag use to flop around on his head and distract players which I always felt assisted him in putting some big numbers …
    again ..Swen to this day has a healthy head of hair that John Wooden use tell him looked like Gary Cooper’s

  2. Matt Ladd

    This whining about Barry has gotten really old. A lot of teammates couldn’t stand Jordan, either. And nobody complained more than Alcindor and Robertson back in the day. If Barry was so detested, then his teammates wouldn’t have allowed him to carry them to a championship, which is one more than guys like Barkley, Malone, Stockton, Nowitzski, etc. Put him in a Celtics uniform, and his resume is every bit as good as Bird’s if not better. Get over it already.

  3. Rai-mon

    I’m sorry I can’t jump on board with people who think players are bad because they have huge ego’s. It’s a good thing if they can put it aside for the team but leading your team to a championship or having ANY records that still stand means you have to have a certain amount and a healthy amount at that of ego.

    Team mates don’t want to just “give” you the ball. They want to shoot to….ego dictates you demand the ball. Ego dictates that you take the last shot and when guys don’t….they get slammed for it.

    Ray Allen says it all the time when he’s off (something up with that rim or that ball) though of course not on TV. YOu don’t get that good by thinking it’s you every time something goes wrong. You assume that given the right conditions (the air in the ball) it’s going to go in.

    There are guys that go unnoticed in the NBA and ABA still to this day…now people think they can dismiss someone because they never lead a dynasty. Give me a break.

    One of the best that ever did it…..AKA “THE LOGO” ……COME ON SON!

  4. Ego Maniac

    Rick Barry was one of the most self absorbed ego maniacs ever to roam the court. I think a better analogy would be Isiah Thomas who is equally egotistical and just as completely unaware of just how much of an ass he truly is. I went to high school with all three of Rick’s sons and none of them were fans either. I can sum up Barry’s obliviousness in one simple story:

    One of my good friends was the team manager of the varsity squad and Rick came into their practice to watch two of his sons. During a break he asked my friend to feed him a ball and so my buddy did. Rick missed. He asked for another. My friend obliged. Rick missed again. Turning to my friend he said:

    “What’s with these balls? They’re all a little flat and it’s throwing me off.”

    My buddy apologized and handed him one of the balls he had previously shot. Swish!

    Rick turned again and said:

    “See, that ball had the right amount of air.”

  5. drew

    no thanks, not like he led a dynasty, cmon man

    • JI

      Not sure Drew ever saw him play. Barry was one of the best all-round palyers ever. Besides his shooting/scoring ability, he was just an incredible passer. When I was just learning about basketball, I thought shooting was everything. That changed after I saw Barry’s passing and Rusell’s defense. As for his not being on a dynasty, remember Oscar Robertsonf only won one title too.