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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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Rick Barry had driven down to Milpitas from San Francisco that morning in the rainstorm in his red Porsche 912. It rained all the way to Milpitas, which is where Miss Teen-Age America hails from but which is otherwise undistinguished. Like, if the Warriors are playing gin rummy and one of them gets a bad deal, he says, "Oh, have I got a Milpitas hand." But the children of Milpitas, unaware of such slights, had been standing under an awning just out of the rain, waiting for an hour for Rick Barry, as the representative of a washing-machine company, to show up at the new model homes. He called to them as he crossed the street, jumping over a river of water that flowed by the curb. "Hey," Rick said, "remember the times when it would rain like this, and you'd have Popsicle-stick races in the gutter? You'd even build dams to stop the other guy's sticks, remember?" He patted a kid named Eddie on the head and went inside to sign autographs for RCA Whirlpool. It is not hard for Rick Barry to remember such things as Popsicle-stick races. "You associate college with people very young," he said later, "but, look, I'm only 22. It's funny, I should still be in college."

At 22, Barry (see cover) is already an NBA All-Star, the league's leading scorer with a 36-point average, and a marked man in every game. He retains a touch of the teen-ager—a slight skin problem—that his teammates kid him about, but there is little else to mar his life. Recently a dentist, a fan, said he would do any work Rick needed for nothing. Rick made an appointment—and he didn't have a single cavity.

There was a lull in the autograph signing, and a recording man wearing tight corduroys and a turtleneck brought his machine over for Rick to make a commercial. Rick spoke his lines over and over, not fastidiously but just because he had the time and wanted to get them right. At one point in the dialogue he had to say, "Whirlpool portable," but the words ran together and kept coming out whirpoo porrible." He laughed at himself, but in the end he made it just right. When he was at the University of Miami and began to realize that he had an excellent chance to make the pros, he increased the number of radio-TV courses on his schedule. Now he has his own daily radio show and he handles interviews with the assurance of Eric Sevareid. He is 22, but he leaves nothing to chance. He took a Certs before he started signing the autographs.

"Most kids," says Bob Feerick, the Warriors' general manager, "when they come in the first time, they want to hedge. They want no-cut contracts, things like that. Rick just said something like give me the money and when do we start." By then, with the aid of his college coach and father-in-law, Bruce Hale, Rick had gone through a cram course to prepare for the NBA.

"Just after his senior year I decided to put him through a pro test," says Hale. "I put Stu Marcus, one of our biggest and strongest players, behind him, and Rod Godfrey, an assistant coach, in front of him, and myself on the side of him. Then I threw the ball against the board, and Rick had to bump through at least two of us to get the ball and make the basket. We put him on the deck a lot. I mean, we really worked him over, but after a while he was making monkeys out of all of us."

The great players, men like Baylor and Robertson, often make their final move a flip back away from the basket. Barry goes to the hoop, even better than Bob Pettit did. "I saw right away," says Alex Hannum, last year's Warrior coach, "that he was familiar with pro moves. Give Bruce Hale the credit for that. But I could also see that Rick was the kind who could be an outstanding stockbroker or doctor or anything. Or ballplayer. Right now I think Rick Barry will be the biggest name in pro basketball for years to come."

Hannum actually learned most of the things he needed to know about Barry during the previous year's National AAU tournament in Denver. "His team won its first game and lost the second," says Hannum. "This is the time to see a kid play, when things aren't going his way. Well, there was the high altitude and Barry hadn't really gotten much sleep out there but the worse his team got the more he tried. He proved to me right there he had the courage. And he was obviously a guy who could score and was determined to put the ball in the basket."

Barry averaged 26 points last year under Hannum, the most in NBA history for a rookie forward. Still, there were those who assumed he would score less this season under Coach Bill Sharman, primarily because Guy Rodgers, the team's playmaker, had been traded. The critics were wrong. Rodgers' absence changed the style of the Warrior attack, not its big weapon. Sharman called for more running. The ball-handling responsibility was spread around. Barry, working with the ball, began to shoot more and better from outside while retaining the skills he developed when Rodgers was running the fast breaks—moves that cut him loose at the proper instant. He scored in the 30s and 40s from the start. "At first," Sharman says, "they were guarding him as if he were just another good player. But in the last few weeks it's changed. Now they're all over him. And I've told Rick that if they're going to concentrate on him like that, we're going to use him more and more as a decoy. The thing is—and everybody knows it, too—he's also a good passer."

The handsy treatment Rick now gets has forced him to concentrate on controlling his temper, which is as volatile as that of most hard competitors. Still, he has gained something of a reputation for being a complainer. "Sure," he said. "I know that. So a little while ago I tried something. I went about seven games without saying one word to anyone. Not a word. Just raised my hand if they called a foul on me, and not a word. And all that happened was that I got clubbed even more and they called even less of what these guys were doing to me. You should see it. It's getting unbelievable." He was shaking his head as he talked, clearly upset just thinking about it. "The thing is," he went on, "everybody is getting to know about it now. They know what they can get away with on me, off the ball. And it's getting worse. It's really unbelievable."

If unbelievable is the word for Rick's problems as a player, it is also a reasonable description, in a different sense, of his life off the court—a Teddy bear's picnic, sugar and spice and everything nice, and no cavities. There is the Porsche 912 to drive to the beautiful apartment in The Marina, the Golden Gate and the Marin Mountains ghostly in the fog just outside the window. There is the lovely Mrs. Barry, Bruce Hale's daughter Pamela, who, six months ago, gave Rick a son and heir—Richard Francis Barry IV. And Rags, the old English sheepdog, minds the hearth.

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