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Frank Deford
February 13, 1967
Rick Barry has captivated the city, as much with his youthful good looks and exuberance as with his brilliance on the basketball court
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February 13, 1967

Razor-cut Idol Of San Francisco

Rick Barry has captivated the city, as much with his youthful good looks and exuberance as with his brilliance on the basketball court

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As has been so extravagantly reported by the locker-room press, Rick actually indulges in $6 razor cuts. He also admits, with a wry touch of defiance, to the employment of hair spray. But then, there is little about Barry that has not been revealed to an apparently anxiously waiting world. In the last few months press publicity has made him an object of public fancy equaled this winter only by Jackie, Bobby, paper dresses and smog. No stone—or Barry himself—has been left unturned in this quest for what makes Rick tick. It is reliably reported by Mrs. Barry, in one of the more comprehensive accounts, that Rick "twitches like a hundred electric eels when he sleeps." Doubleday has inquired about the possibility of publishing a book on his life, and a half-hour TV special is nearing completion. This intrigues Barry for he would like to be an actor. Wouldn't he be too tall for a leading man? I could always be a monster," he replies. He finds a way.

One consequence of all this publicity is a rash of Barry-endorsed products, ranging from Snickers candy bars to Clorox, from sportswear to a savings and loan association to sneakers. Another consequence is the enmity Rick's popularity has engendered among the admirers of Nate Thurmond. Thurmond, as even Barry admits, just happens to be the most valuable player on the Warriors. The fact may be unknown to the casual basketball public but it is accepted without argument by anyone close to the situation. "It's very simple," Barry says. "The most important guy on the Warriors is Nate. You can't win in this league without a good center, and Nate is a great one now. I missed three games earlier in the year and we won all of them. If Nate misses any, we don't win."

No matter how valuable Thurmond may be, however, Barry attracts more attention. For one thing, he is more spectacular. For another, he is white. The situation is hardly new to the NBA (before Barry and Thurmond there were Cousy and Russell, West and Baylor) but it has become a potential team problem in San Francisco because of some remarks made by a Negro journalist named Samuel J. Skinner. After offering an admirable defense for Thurmond, Skinner fell back upon an unfair, searing attack directed at everyone white—particularly Barry.

Barry, it seems, is guilty on two counts: shooting too much and winning the racially inspired admiration of the "white folks." The nadir of Skinner's crusade occurred when an unidentified Negro friend, introduced in his column, sneered at Barry. "I hope he breaks his leg."

As long as he scores 30, 40, even 50 points a game, Barry must be prepared to face accusations about gunning. Sharman, who was a shooter himself, defends Barry. "Selfish?" Sharman says. "They always say the shooter is selfish. That's his job—to shoot. Did they ever say Russell was selfish for taking all the rebounds?" It is a false charge anyway. Barry is, as noted, a fine passer, and the Warrior offense is a fluid one that is not set up especially for him. "He gives the ball up real well," Thurmond says. And Nate, who has played with Chamberlain, adds: "There is a great difference between Wilt making 40 and Rick making 40."

Barry is making the 40 not only because he has the ball more but because, simply enough, he is a better shooter. "This year, you've got to go out to him," Chicago Assistant Coach Al Bianchi says. When Rick arrived in San Francisco it was surprisingly apparent that he really was not much of a shooter at all. He had scored 973 points in his senior year at Miami to lead the nation with a 37-point average, but by NBA standards he had a lot to learn. So Rick hustled off to Hawaii for his honeymoon, then returned to San Francisco and started lining up games every night. Soon he took off for Squaw Valley and the camp headed by Feerick and University of San Francisco Athletic Director Pete Peletta. "He'd play all day," Peletta says. "A little horseback riding, but the rest of the time he was on the court. And, you know, just about everyone there could beat him shooting a game of spot."

Feerick went in to Barry and implored him to go home to his bride, but he would not leave till camp was over. "He reported in tremendous shape," says Hannum. "The way to tell if a guy is in shape the first day is to look at his feet. Rick's were covered with calluses. There weren't three days in preseason training that I didn't know he was going to be one of my starting forwards. There are others in the league who rank with Barry in shooting ability, but none of the others have that quickness and size he's got. He's six-seven and moves like Havlicek to get open. And, don't forget, he's one of the great free-throw shooters. He was quick to learn that the way to be one of the top scorers is to go to the hoop. If you go to the hoop and get fouled 10 or 15 times, there's 10 or more points."

Rick's first coach was Richard Barry Jr., who taught him at St. Peter and Paul Grammar School in Elizabeth, N.J. The family moved to Rozelle Park, N.J., where Rick was young for his class, did not like his coach and was hardly a star till his senior year. Even then, he did not make All-New Jersey. He had an alternate appointment to the Naval Academy, but already he was taking his temper into account and figured, "I'd probably punch someone who told me what to do." Of the few other offers, he liked Miami best—mostly because of Bruce Hale. Rick did not, it should be made clear, know Pamela Hale at the time. He met her soon enough but, as befits a young man who had grown up inculcated with the basic American belief that only toadies play up to the boss's daughter, Rick "dunked her in the pool and chased her around." Barry calls this strategy "reverse psychology." As soon as he made the varsity, however, all bets were off, and he immediately began to repair the indignities he had made her suffer. A few years later Pam was touring the country as a "synchronized swimmer," working at such places as the Billy Rose Aquacade at the World's Fair. She does not swim professionally anymore. Rick says, "I called her up and told her, 'You've had your fun. Come on home.' " They were married a few months later.

It was Bruce Hale who was largely responsible for decreasing the volatility of Rick's temper. It still frightened off several potential NBA employers, however, such as Ned Irish of the Knicks. He called Barry "skinny and a flake." Irish has made some spectacular draft blunders over the years, but in this instance he was hardly alone. Most scouts figured Rick to be not only an angry young man, but too fragile to last the long pro season. Feerick—who had roomed with Bruce Hale at Santa Clara—guessed that Barry would be strong enough, though, and Hannum agreed. That settled, Warrior Owner Franklin Mieuli promptly tried to trade Barry to Los Angeles even up for Gail Goodrich, the high-scoring little UCLA guard who was to be the Lakers' territorial choice. But Mieuli, who has been known to suffer good fortune, was turned down flat by Laker Owner Bob Short.

Barry has proved to be not only durable but able to take the kind of complimentary battering few players are ever honored to receive. His frustrations, however, are more ample than his bruises; he controls his feelings fairly well, but "the grimace," as Sharman calls it, still remains clear upon Barry's face, suggesting a sullenness that does not always endear him to all observers. Such as referees.

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