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Daddy Dearest
Bruce Newman
December 02, 1991
As a pro star Rick Barry was a shooter, but with his four basketball-playing sons he usually passes
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December 02, 1991

Daddy Dearest

As a pro star Rick Barry was a shooter, but with his four basketball-playing sons he usually passes

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I've told people that if my boys were racehorses, they'd be worth millions," Rick Barry says, his body glistening with perspiration from 45 minutes on an exercise machine. "Great bloodlines. Their grandfather was Bruce Hale, at one time one of the top five basketball players in the world. And at one time I was one of the top players in the world. On breeding alone, you'd have to figure these guys would be pretty decent."

If Barry sounds as if he doesn't know whether to hug his four sons or syndicate them, it is only because he sometimes gets carried away with trying to relive—and perhaps revive—the glories of his own Hall of Fame career through his filial foursome of guards: 6'3" Scooter, who is now playing professionally in Germany; Jon, a 6'5" senior at Georgia Tech; Brent, a 6'6" sophomore at Oregon State; and Drew, a 6'4" freshman who will redshirt this season at Georgia Tech.

Though his whine, once so familiar to NBA referees, has softened somewhat, on a StairMaster, Rick, at 47, still has that lean and hungry look of Cassius. The intensity, however, has shifted to helping his boys to become better basketball players, whether they like it or not. "He gets so involved," says Jon. "I think he's still trying to compete through his sons."

This involvement tends to be fleeting and full of criticism. "He'll ask you after the game if you want to hear his comments," Brent says, "but there's no answer you can give to avoid it." Then Rick is on a plane and gone again, for how long no one can ever be sure. "If I was to see him a lot," says Drew, "it would be a shock. Sometimes I won't see him for three months, or talk to him for a month." Says Brent: "I wish he could set some time aside just to spend with us. If he's here, it's because of his schedule."

Rick was 21 when he married Pam Hale, the daughter of his coach at the University of Miami, where he was the nation's leading scorer and an All-America as a senior. During the 1965—66 season, when Rick was a rookie with the San Francisco Warriors, Pam gave birth to their first child, Richard Francis Barry IV, called Scooter for the way he could cover ground on all fours.

It all seemed so effortless then. In his second pro season, Rick led the NBA in scoring with 35.6 points a game, then became the first NBA star to jump to the fledgling ABA. The Warriors brought a lawsuit that forced him to sit out the 1967-68 season. Jon was born a year later. Brent came along two years after that, and Drew two years later. Pam and Rick later adopted a daughter, Shannon.

Rick held to a system of child rearing that could probably best be characterized as pre-Copernican, which is to say the sons revolved around his world. All four of his sons became ball boys for the Warriors, and it was not uncommon for them to challenge players like Phil Smith or Sonny Parker to one-on-one skirmishes after practice. "That kind of stuff was just part of our everyday life," Brent says.

Jon was barely walking when Rick began taking him to summer basketball camps, where he had Jon put on ball-handling demonstrations by dribbling two balls at a time in front of mortified campers twice his age. Rick often used his sons to help demonstrate proper technique at his camps, performances that must have left a resonant impression of the all-American family at play. In fact, Rick rarely made time to teach the game to his sons. "We never sat down and worked on it together," says Jon. "We really learned the game from our grandfather."

It was as if Rick had used his genetic marker to sketch the outline of an idealized family and left it to the boys to fill in the blanks themselves. "My dad has nothing to do with the kind of player I am," Drew says flatly.

In August 1979, after 14 years of marriage to Pam, Rick walked out of the house one day and did not come back. "He had been traveling and playing basketball all those years," says Scooter, who was 13 when Rick left, "and I think he could see his career was coming to an end and suddenly realized that all the future held for him was being stuck with five kids. His freedom was the most important thing in the world to him, and by leaving he was able to maintain it. But we paid a big price for that. My father's number one priority was his own career, what he was going through."

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