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A Voice Crying In The Wilderness
Tony Kornheiser
April 25, 1983
Rick Barry has a problem. He would like people to regard him with love and affection, as they do Jerry West and John Havlicek. They do not.
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April 25, 1983

A Voice Crying In The Wilderness

Rick Barry has a problem. He would like people to regard him with love and affection, as they do Jerry West and John Havlicek. They do not.

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On a typical day Rick and Pam Barry get up between 10 and noon in their house on Mercer Island outside of Seattle and begin their exercise routine: First, there's 15 minutes designed to develop the arms and upper body and then, to improve their flexibility, the hour-long Jane Fonda Advanced Workout.

After the workout Barry cooks up a pot of natural grain cereal, and they eat one of their two daily meals. Their diet permits virtually no salt, no sugar, no fat, no oil. They are committed to the pursuit of physical perfection, even at the cost of social isolation.

Barry adds bran, raisins and bananas to his cereal, flavors his one piece of Pritikin toast with a smidgen of butter and finishes his meal with fresh papaya and freshly squeezed orange juice, nonfat raw milk and so many vitamin tablets that if you turned him upside down and shook him he would rattle like a pinball machine. As a result of the exercises and the diet, Barry, who is 6'7", now weighs 202 pounds, 20 less than he did at the end of his playing career, and though he looks gaunt, with so many sharp edges that he appears to have been put together from an Erector Set, he's convinced he's in the best shape of his life.

After their meal the Barrys set aside a few hours for "business." Barry answers letters and phone calls, talks to his business manager, Harry Stern, about things like sportscasting possibilities, and checks on the progress of his television "projects," which are in the developmental stage and include a golf show for American distribution and a golf and baseball show for Japan. Along with the sports projects, Barry is also interested in hosting a game show. "I love game shows," he says. Although he hasn't worked in more than a year, he says he's financially secure. Still, it galls him that neither basketball nor broadcasting, the passions of his life, has found room for him. He has told Pam, "I think it's not because of my ability. It's because they don't like me."

After business the Barrys play tennis. And then there is dinner with Jon, 13, Barry's second-oldest child and one of five he had with his first wife, also named Pam. They divorced in 1981 and Jon was sent by the court to live with his father. The three eat soup and salad and fish and talk of the things they did that day. Then Jon goes to bed, and Rick and Pam go to their bedroom to watch the soap operas they have taped during the afternoon, such as The Young and the Restless and All My Children. They frequently watch until two in the morning, commenting on the behavior of the characters. Then they go to sleep. The next day they do it all over again.

Rick Barry is in exile, the Napoleon of Mercer Island.

Rarely in sports is so extraordinary an athlete singled out for such public wood-shedding. Most often a hero is, was and always will be a hero. If he wants to stay in sports he becomes a coach, an executive or a broadcaster. If he doesn't, he finds his way into a corporation, a restaurant deal or, at the very least, the lobby of a casino. Somewhere, someone is happy to tell him, "You've earned it, pal. Thanks for the memories." Nobody says that to Barry.

Once Erving and Barry were the yardsticks by which all forwards were measured. Barry's situation discomfits Erving, a friend and an admirer. "I look at Bruce Jenner and see the different types of things he has gotten into, capitalizing on his Olympics success, and Rick was every bit the all-American guy that Jenner was," says Erving. "You could easily picture Rick making the same kind of transition." He shakes his head softly and something like wonder appears in his eyes. "It's heavy. Rick Barry could have had—should have had—a better time than he's having. You ask me if I see any parallels between Rick and other athletes. Let's put it this way. There aren't a whole lot of white guys I can find parallels with. I mean, it's really heavy to comprehend."

When Barry was a sophomore at Roselle Park High School in New Jersey, his goal was to be a professional baseball player, just like his idol, Willie Mays, whom Barry honored by wearing the number 24 most of his career. Barry pitched for the junior varsity, and he wanted to play the outfield when he wasn't pitching, but his coach wouldn't let him. Barry went to the coach and said, "How come you won't play me when I'm not pitching? I'm batting .500, and you're playing guys who are batting .167." The next game, Barry pitched and went 1 for 2. The game after that, it wasn't Barry's turn to pitch and the coach kept him on the pine. "It was stupid to waste my time sitting on the bench," Barry says. That afternoon he quit the team.

"He always wanted to be Number One in whatever he did," says Wayne Beckner, who roomed with Barry at the University of Miami and captained the basketball team in their senior year. "There were four of us living together. The phone would ring, he'd have to answer it. We'd go out for a milk shake, he'd have to ride shotgun. If you beat him to the front seat, he'd pout. Anything we did, he had to be first. We had a three-man drill where each threesome had to make 10 lay-ups in a row before it could quit. The two guys teamed with Rick sometimes would get to nine and deliberately miss so they'd have to do it over. It would blow Rick's mind because he then couldn't be first into the shower."

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