His voice is an
orphan at Christmas. "Yes. Down deep I would have. I really would have
It wasn't as
though Barry had no means of support. He went straight from the NBA to CBS,
where he'd been under contract as a broadcaster for seven years during his
playing days. He'd done analysis on the NBA playoffs and the Pan Am Games, and
location work on golf and other sports. CBS was quite pleased with his work,
especially on basketball. "Everyone here thought he had a real shot to be
the best ever," says a CBS executive.
Which is just
what Barry wanted. Ever since his days at Miami, where he'd taken radio and TV
electives, he'd wanted a career in sportscasting. He was always a man with a
plan. And the plan was to be in the tower on the 18th fairway at Augusta
National, or above Centre Court at Wimbledon, or in Gasoline Alley at the
CBS had dropped
its NBA regional format for the 1980-81 season and planned to use a single game
of the week and a three-man announcing team: Gary Bender. Russell and Barry.
The Russell-Barry pairing didn't work from Day 1. They were both strong men
with monumental egos, and they didn't much like each other. Midway through the
season the decision was made to return to a two-man team for the next
"I came out
of the locker room after the last game of the Houston-Boston championship
series, and the guys in the truck came running out to tell me what a great job
I'd done with the postgame interviews," Barry says. "Next thing I knew,
my contract wasn't being renewed. I have no idea why they dropped me."
Barry wasn't the
first outspoken athlete behind a microphone: but unlike Barry. Jim Palmer and
Reggie Jackson managed to be ingenuous on television. Barry praises and pans in
the same critical tone of voice. The perfectionism that made him a terrific
player and the incisive candor that made him an exceptional announcer left him
vulnerable to the vicissitudes of network TV.
negativity came across to the viewers." says Jim Harrington, then the
executive producer of CBS's pro basketball telecasts. "His comments always
centered on referees making bad calls, players making bad plays. I sometimes
got the impression that Rick took so much care to criticize star players to
validate his own career by comparison. Time and time again his whole approach
to the game—and to life—was negative. He was an extremely disliked individual.
We'd be in a limousine together and people would pound on the windows trying to
punch him in the face."
that neither the "watermelon" comment nor an earlier Barry gaffe—he
thought the green ribbons being worn in sympathy for murdered black children in
Atlanta were in honor of St. Patrick's Day—was responsible for his contract not
being renewed in the summer of 1981. "The decision was already made,"
says Harrington. "But both incidents reveal something about the individual.
They are evidence that Rick lived in a narrow sphere of influence."
quotes are read to him. Barry's facial muscles tighten, but he forces himself
to remain calm. Finally the pressure cannot be contained, but when he speaks,
it's not so much in anger as in pain: "That was a job I'd wanted all my
life. I loved it. I still want to do it." He holds his hands out, palms up,
in a gesture of innocence. "None of these guys ever came to me and said I
was being negative. God knows I'd have bent over backward to be more positive
if they had, because I never dreamed I was being negative. I thought I was
being informative and explaining what happened. I never, never, ever looked to
criticize someone to put him down. I was hearing nothing but good things. The
press was good. The refs used to come to me and tell me I was doing a good job.
Even the players said good things. And Harrington said good things. Harrington
was one of the guys who came out of the truck and told me what a great job I'd
done after the final game." His voice sounds like a tire deflating as he
says, "All they had to do was tell me. They never did."
Bob Stenner, who
produced many of the NBA games that season, says he had conversations with
Barry to the effect that Barry might be coming across too negatively. Perhaps
the talks were not direct enough. But Stenner adds that even if Barry was
overly critical, he was a superb analyst. "He's as good a color man as
there ever has been," Stenner says.