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Frank Deford
August 14, 1967
Wealth and fame were beckoning when Rick Barry, the San Francisco pro basketball hero, jumped to the Oakland Oaks of the new American Basketball Association, but now Rick finds himself isolated and beset
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August 14, 1967

The Education Of Mr. Barry

Wealth and fame were beckoning when Rick Barry, the San Francisco pro basketball hero, jumped to the Oakland Oaks of the new American Basketball Association, but now Rick finds himself isolated and beset

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Boone's original offer to Barry included a real-estate deal, but Barry's advisers in New York (one of whom played ball for Hale at Miami) counseled Rick to accept the club ownership alternative instead. Barry visited with Nate Thurmond in his apartment just before signing with the Oaks, in an effort to get him to come along, but Thurmond was not swayed. A few days before, in the brief time it takes to share one beer, Thurmond had agreed with Mieuli to a long-term contract with salary and benefits that might add up to $80,000 a year.

The reward Thurmond got for only standing and waiting impresses Barry, and he talks of it wistfully. Barry at first appears as self-assured and direct as ever, but it soon becomes clear that he has permitted an element of doubt to breach his confidence.

"There is no way—no way—that I could have turned that down if Mr. Mieuli had offered it to me," he says now. Then he quickly adds, "But I don't have any regrets, and the reason is—and I never told Franklin this—if Franklin had come up with the right money, the whole thing could have been averted. All of it. The whole thing could have been entirely averted."

For Barry, the greater irony is that Mieuli had always assured both his stars that they would be paid virtually the same. Not only that, but it was Barry, before he caught the ABA fever, who urged Mieuli to go high for Thurmond so that the ABA would not tempt him. At one point Barry even told Mieuli: " Franklin, since I make all that money on the side, and Nate [being Negro] will never get it, don't ever worry about paying him a higher salary than I get. That's only fair." Mieuli was so touched by the gesture he "almost choked."

Barry has also had to face the embarrassment of admitting that he was familiar with neither the full range of his contract responsibilities nor the funding of the franchise he had so blithely gambled his future on. He had not even discussed the possibility of being liable for losses as well as a receiver of profits. He says he does not know where the $750,000 no-return liability figure came from ("I was advised to sign...I had no idea"); he never bothered to ask Boone how much of Pat's own money was invested. More embarrassing to Barry, however, is the fact that he will make no more playing in a shaky new league than he could have earned in the NBA. A refreshing, seemingly clever young man, whose confidence and assurance were the trump qualities that helped him to the scoring title and to $48,000 in salary and bonus and another $20,000 in related endeavors last year, Barry has been credited with a maturity and acumen far beyond his 23 years. Now, looking back, Barry shakes his head with chagrin. "I should have had a lawyer the whole time. It wouldn't have happened if I had had a lawyer with me."

Mieuli also is quick to admit that he, too, made a vital error. His mistake was a carryover from the previous contract he had given Barry—the one Rick signed after his rookie season, in the spring of 1966. When the two met to discuss terms, Mieuli told Barry he had a deal for him. "Rick," he said, "you're special to me and to San Francisco. We're lucky. You came at the right time and to the right place. Timing is luck, and you have it. I don't ever want to dicker with you. The special ones—Mays, DiMaggio—nobody ever dickers with them, because they're above that. That's the way it should always be with us."

Barry was quite willing to agree. He had come into Mieuli's office only a short time before and said he would like a Porsche. Mieuli got him a Porsche. Now Mieuli calls it "a $6,000 Porsche." Barry says: "Big deal. It cost him $128 a month to lease." But at that time it was just a nice Porsche to them both, and Barry listened closely to Mieuli's plan, which involved a percentage of the gate.

"Everyone told me that it never worked," Mieuli says. "But I've succeeded doing things differently, and I thought it was in keeping with how special Rick was. I wanted him to have a real pride, a part in what we had here, so I went ahead despite all the advice." He shrugs, mad at himself. "Well, it was wrong."

Mieuli began the '66 talks with an offer of a $25,000 base salary. Barry, who had been advised by his father-in-law to seek $50,000, asked for $30,000. Mieuli agreed without dickering. Then he spelled out the bonus deal, which was to be 5% of any increase over the previous season's gate for Barry. Rick agreed—profitably, it developed. The Warriors' gate jumped approximately $260,000 last year, which gave Barry an additional $13,000 for a $43,000 salary, plus $5,000 from the playoffs and the $6,000, $128-a-month Porsche.

So this spring, on May 12, Mieuli offered Barry the same kind of deal for 1967-68, but with the base raised to $40,000. Barry says now he was shocked that the figure was so low, but at the time he did not complain, merely asked that it be raised to $50,000. Without argument, Mieuli complied. Then he took out his pencil and estimated that with that base and the same 5% gate-increase scale, Barry should earn at least $60,000 and possibly as much as $75,000. Barry agreed to think it over.

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