He remains tremendously aware, invariably restless and full of opinions. Sitting in the dingy old locker room at the Fairgrounds in Indianapolis a few minutes before his debut, sweat beaded his forehead. Sometimes, as the snappy band music from below drifted up, he would suddenly set to drumming his fingers nervously in the air. But also, he yawned a great deal.
Hannum began to go over his color codes that signal the types of team defense. Barry yawned again; he has known these since 1965, when he broke in under Hannum at San Francisco. Suddenly, though, the coach changed his tone. Hannum believes in encouraging team response in these sessions, and Barry could sense that everybody was going to get a chance at something. He listened carefully.
"When we get into a situation like that," Hannum, now quite the schoolmaster, said, "where is the No. 1 place—and we've talked about this—where you should begin to get aggressive? Can anybody answer me?"
"Offensive boards," said one voice, immediately and firmly, louder and a split second ahead of the others, who muttered the answer. Barry was ready. That is his life style, to anticipate, get there directly and to score. "A break, a clear 20-footer, coming off a pick—whatever—he creates his own shot situations," says Brown, the Oaks' playmaker. "He is the greatest offensive opportunist ever. Listen, if all 10 guys go up for a rebound, Rick will not only get it, but the other nine will somehow fall down and he will end up with a layup. The first exhibition game, he was so tired he looked as if he'd have to come out for oxygen every seven minutes, and he still got 52 points."
Now it was time for the Oaks to move down onto the court for the opener. They stood there in the dark as each player was introduced in turn. With a proper sense of the dramatic, Barry was being saved for last. Only an hour or so before, on his way to the game, he had kidded Moe, who has a massive terror of airplanes. "You might be the first player in the NBA to lose 25 pounds a season from fear," Barry said.
"This is the ABA, Rick," Moe said softly, smiling. There was no reply.
The next-to-last Oak was introduced and ran out on the court, and Barry stood alone with Hannum in the dark. "Maybe I should trip and fall," he said, for something to say. Then the P.A. called out, " Rick Barry," and he was off, satisfied, not looking back, loping along in the spotlight that followed him across the court.