There’s little debate that Rick Barry had one of the most unique free-throw shooting styles in NBA history.
Standing at the charity stripe, Barry did a half squat and held onto the ball between his bent knees.
Then, in one fluid motion, he brought the ball up and tossed it underhanded toward the basket.
Rick Barry perfected the art of the underhand free throw 🎯 pic.twitter.com/uhTdgJxaNH
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 25, 2020
The unorthodox method worked as Barry’s career ABA and NBA free throw percentages were at or near .900.
Of course, Barry wasn’t just an accurate free-throw shooter.
He averaged more than 23 points per game in the NBA and 30 in the ABA, was an NBA and ABA scoring champion, ABA and NBA world champion, and even led the NBA in steals one year.
Since his retirement in 1980, Barry has consistently been ranked as one of the best players in professional basketball history.
This is his story.
Growing Up In New Jersey
Richard Francis Dennis Barry III was born on March 28, 1944, in Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Happy 76th Birthday to Rick Barry – Born on this date — March 28th — in 1944 – in Elizabeth, New Jersey pic.twitter.com/yMsxFj2z2n
— Matthew J.McCullough (@mckoosa) March 29, 2020
Barry had the good fortune of having a father who had played semi-pro basketball and coached the sport at a parochial school.
Rick and his brother, Dennis, were taught the fundamentals by their dad and took to the sport quickly.
By the time he was in fifth grade, Barry was keeping pace against middle school players.
In addition to basketball, Barry played baseball. A huge fan of Willie Mays, Barry played both sports wearing Mays’s number, 24.
When he reached Roselle High School, Barry had little trouble against his scholastic competition.
As a junior and senior, he was named All-State in basketball and baseball.
On the hardwood, the only thing Barry found difficult was free throw shooting.
His father showed him how to shoot underhanded and Barry’s percentage eventually rose to over 90% using the technique.
Barry Becomes a Hurricane
Playing hoops near New York City had its advantages.
Barry’s fundamentals, shooting, and stats got the attention of several basketball powerhouses.
However, instead of matriculating at a nearby school, Barry chose to play in warm weather for the University of Miami.
The Hurricanes didn’t have the most glamorous history on the hardwood, but Barry liked their coach, Bruce Hale.
Hale had been a player in the early days of the NBA and infused his Miami teams with a fast-paced style reminiscent of many professional teams.
When Barry arrived as a freshman in 1961, Hale had already guided the Hurricanes to the NIT and NCAA tournaments, firsts for the program.
Playing for the freshman team in 1961–62, Barry displayed the scoring prowess that he would become known for.
— Jay Rao (@RaoJay2) March 29, 2014
During the third game of the year, he busted loose for 27 points and would average 28.8 points for the season.
Run and Gun
In 1962–63, Barry, now a sophomore, started 24 games and helped lead the ’Canes to a 23-5 record and an appearance in the NIT.
Miami defeated St. Francis in the first round of the tourney (the school’s first postseason win) but lost to Providence in the quarterfinal round.
That season, Barry averaged 19 points and 14 rebounds per game and had a .829 free throw percentage.
He only got better as a junior when he averaged 32 points and 16 boards along with a .843 free throw percentage in 1963–64.
The Hurricanes won 20 games and lost in the NIT first round against Saint Joseph’s.
Barry’s senior year in 1964–65 was one for the ages.
That season he led the NCAA with 37.4 points per game, added 18 boards per contest, and had a .859 free throw percentage.
The ’Canes won 22 games but were not invited to any postseason tournaments.
Jan 23, 1965: @CanesHoops Rick Barry set the school record for most points in a game when he scored 59 in a 128-92 win over Rollins. Barry still owns the top eight single game scoring marks at Miami all of them 50+. pic.twitter.com/aSttlVLdFx
— Jack Eich (@jackeichsays) January 23, 2019
Regardless, Barry was named a first-team All-American and one of the nation’s top prospects for the upcoming NBA Draft.
During his collegiate career, Barry averaged 29.8 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. His career free throw percentage was .847.
In total, Barry scored 2,298 points and had an astounding 61 games where he scored 20 or more points.
He also had five games in which he scored more than 50 points and still holds several program records.
In the house tonight: The “Miami Greyhound” Rick Barry. pic.twitter.com/icwwhRVIv8
— Canes Hoops (@CanesHoops) December 30, 2014
In 1976, the Hurricanes inducted Barry into its University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame.
Barry Becomes a Warrior
Barry was a prolific scorer during his time at Miami and led the nation in points during his senior year.
However, that didn’t stop some pro teams from shying away from him as the 1965 NBA Draft got underway.
For example, the New York Knicks had a territorial pick at the beginning of the draft, and Barry hoped he would be selected by the team and play near his home.
New York didn’t like the fact that Barry was 6’7” and 205 pounds, deeming him too skinny to play in the rough-and-tumble NBA.
Instead, the franchise selected Bill Bradley, a small forward and shooting guard from Princeton University.
The Knicks declined to say how the 6’5”, 205-pound Bradley would fare in the NBA.
After the three territorial picks were announced, Barry was selected second overall by the San Francisco Warriors.
He then took a huge chip and placed it squarely on his shoulders, determined to prove the doubters wrong.
In his rookie year of 1965–66, Barry averaged 25.7 points and 10 rebounds per game and had an 86% free throw percentage.
On this date in 1965, Rick Barry made his @NBA debut.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) October 15, 2020
The Warriors went from 17 wins the season before Barry arrived to 35 wins.
San Francisco missed the playoffs, but Barry was selected to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and All-NBA First Team.
He was also voted to his first of eight All-Star games and was named Rookie of the Year.
In 1966–67, Barry was even more determined to lead the Warriors to greater heights.
Nicknamed the “Miami Greyhound” by local broadcaster Bill King, Barry led the NBA in points per game with 35.6. Only two players had averaged more in NBA history.
Still using his ‘granny-style’ free throw technique, Barry nailed more than 88% from the stripe and also snagged nine boards per game.
During a game against the Knicks in early December, Barry drained 14 free throws in a single quarter.
Rick Barry watching Duke and just shaking his head right now. pic.twitter.com/YYSP9GJu5P
— FB_Helmet_Guy (@FB_Helmet_Guy) April 3, 2022
That set an NBA record that was later matched but would not be broken for almost 40 years.
After being selected for his second All-Star game, Barry refused to take it easy and was named the contest’s MVP after pouring in 38 points.
As if that weren’t enough, Barry then led the Warriors to the postseason with 44 wins and beat the LA Lakers and St. Louis Hawks in the first two rounds.
In the NBA Finals, Barry and San Francisco couldn’t get past Wilt Chamberlain and his Philadelphia 76ers and lost in six games.
It wasn’t for lack of trying on Barry’s part.
During the Finals, he scored 55 points in Game 3 (tied for second highest in league history) and averaged 40.8 points per game which stood as a record until Michael Jordan averaged more in 1993.
For the year, Barry was added to the All-NBA First Team for the second time.
Barry Moves Across the Bay
While he was attending the University of Miami, Barry married the daughter of his coach, Bruce Hale.
After his second NBA season had wrapped, Barry got into a contract dispute with Warriors ownership.
It just so happened that Hale was hired to be the coach and general manager of the new Oakland Oaks of the American Basketball Association.
When his contract situation with San Francisco stalled, Barry took that as an incentive to jump ship and sign with the Oaks.
His move was viewed as an act of betrayal by Warriors fans and was one of only several instances where Barry rubbed teammates, opponents, coaches, and fans the wrong way.
The Oaks offered to pay Barry a whopping $500,000 over three years, a deal that made him one of the highest-paid players in basketball.
Rick Barry playing with the Oakland Oaks ✨ pic.twitter.com/WPUZdGW9PL
— BasketballinPics (@BBallinPics) August 18, 2022
Additionally, Barry would receive a percentage as an owner as well as a percentage of ticket sales.
Despite saying the move wasn’t just about money, Barry contradicted himself to the press.
“The offer Oakland made me was one I simply couldn’t turn down,” he explained.
The NBA had the last laugh and took the matter to court using the league’s reserve clause as their defense.
Eventually, Barry was forbidden to play in the ABA in 1967–68, and by the time he suited up for the 1968–69 season, Hale had moved full-time to the Oaks’ front office and was replaced as coach by Alex Hannum.
Barry Helps Oakland to a Title
Hale might not have been on the sidelines instructing his son-in-law, but Barry still picked up where he had left off two years earlier.
In 1968–69, he led the ABA in free throw percentage with .888 and averaged 34 points and nine boards per game.
Nov 27, 1968: In an ABA game, former @CanesHoops All American Rick Barry scored 49 points against the Miami Floridians in a 130-116 Oakland Oaks win. Barry said he always pointed for games against Miami because they didn't try to sign him saying he didn't fit their team concept. pic.twitter.com/CaMTNDcBuj
— Jack Eich (@jackeichsays) November 27, 2020
During a December game against the New York Nets, Barry tore ligaments in his left knee and was unable to play the remainder of the season.
That didn’t stop the Oaks from cruising through the regular season with 60 wins and vanquishing the New Orleans Buccaneers and Denver Rockets in the playoffs.
In the ABA Finals, Oakland defeated the Indiana Pacers in five games to win the title.
Although he only played in 35 games that year, Barry still made the ABA All-Star team and was named to the All-ABA First Team.
On the Road Again
With their Finals victory, Oakland became the first professional basketball team based on the West Coast to win a league championship.
Unfortunately, they wouldn’t get a chance to repeat.
Not even winning a title could help the Oaks financially as they failed to draw consistent crowds, especially when Barry was injured.
The Warriors’ presence nearby didn’t help either as the two teams competed for fan interest, and San Fran was already an established franchise.
In this same season, the Oakland Oaks relocated due to them not being a big draw at the box office with the Warriors being the main priority.
They became the Washington Caps. Star Rick Barry wasn't thrilled. He said, "If I wanted to go to Washington, I'd run for President." pic.twitter.com/gi0OdrIFfL
— Dime Dropper (@DimeDropperPod) October 1, 2021
Losing money hand over fist forced the team to relocate to Washington, DC, and having to move to the other side of the country did not sit well with Barry.
“If I wanted to go to Washington, I’d run for President,” Barry complained to the LA Times.
He was so upset with having to move that Barry tried to jump ship back to the Warriors.
When a court ruled that he had to stick with his current ABA deal, Barry signed a contract with the Warriors that would allow him to rejoin the franchise in 1972.
In the meantime, after missing a large chunk of the 1969–70 season because of his knee injury, Barry reluctantly joined the newly-minted Washington Caps.
Barry would score almost 28 points per game, good for second in the ABA.
The Caps won 44 games and faced Denver in the Semifinals.
Despite Barry racking up 52 points in Game 7 (the most in a Game 7 in pro basketball history), Washington lost the series.
Barry Becomes a Net
The financial woes that plagued Oakland continued to plague the Caps.
Before the 1970–71 season, Washington relocated again, this time to nearby Virginia to become the Squires.
Barry had already been incensed about being forced to move to Washington, and this time, he was dead set against moving again.
To help him get out of his contract with Virginia, Barry intentionally poked fun at the local populace, thereby burning bridges before even setting foot in the state.
“I don’t want my son coming home saying ‘Howdy, y’all,’” explained Barry about his desire not to play for the Squires.
Virginia owner Earl Foreman ignored Barry’s comment and instead noted that he needed to shed high-salaried players.
When the Washington Caps relocated to Virginia to become the Squires going into the 70-71 season, their star Rick Barry, famously said he didn't want his kids growing up with Southern accents.
He was traded to the NY Nets. In the 71 playoffs, the Nets lost to the Squires in 6. pic.twitter.com/CTI4XluGVX
— Dime Dropper (@DimeDropperPod) June 15, 2022
He then shipped Barry to the New York Nets.
The move to the bright lights of New York City excited Barry.
“If you’re going to be any place in sports,” said Barry, “New York is the place to be. My interest was at a low ebb when I thought I’d have to play in Virginia, and now my interest has been rekindled. All I want to do is play basketball.”
During a two-year run in New York, Barry averaged 29 points in 1970–71 then 31 points in 1971–72, made the ABA All-Star team twice, and was selected to the All-ABA First Team both years.
His scoring totals were league highs both years, and Barry also led the ABA both seasons in free throw percentage.
He also set a league record with 23 free throws made in one game.
Karma came back to bite Barry as the Squires eliminated New York in the Eastern Semifinals in 1971 before the Nets turned around and defeated Virginia in the Eastern Finals a year later.
New York then lost in the ABA Finals to the Pacers in six games.
Going Back to Cali
Not long after arriving in New York City, Barry was vilified by some newspaper writers.
Larry Merchant, a local beat writer, was openly honest about his assessment of the Nets’ star.
“It seems,” Merchant wrote, “that hardly a day has gone by in the last three years when Rick Barry has not been fast-breaking from one team to another; lawsuits trailing behind him. He is the quintessential modern athlete—gifted, good-looking, and corrupted by the business of sports.”
Sure enough, another lawsuit plagued Barry after the Nets’ 1971–72 season ended.
Before leaving California to join the Caps, Barry had signed a contract to play for the Warriors again beginning in 1972.
He couldn’t have possibly foreseen that he would land in the Big Apple and thoroughly enjoy playing for the Nets.
However, the courts came calling, once again telling Barry that he needed to honor his contract.
At the risk of burning any more bridges, Barry made his way back to the Bay Area and reflected on his recent basketball odyssey.
“If I had to do it over again,” Barry said, “I’d wait for some other fool to do it.”
In his first season back for the recently re-named Golden State Warriors, Barry averaged 22 points per game and owned a .902 free throw percentage.
Unstoppable with the rock.
Happy Birthday Rick Barry || 👏 pic.twitter.com/kdhNR0Febr
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) March 28, 2020
He was voted All-NBA Second Team and made the NBA All-Star team for the third time.
The Warriors would reach the Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers in five games.
Barry Wins Another Title
Two years later, Barry and the Warriors were on a roll.
In 1974–75, Barry averaged 30 points per game and led the NBA in free throw percentage with .904.
Just for good measure, he also led the league in steals per game with 2.9.
From his new ‘point forward’ position, Barry still scored in bunches, including a career-high tally of 64 points in a March game against Portland.
At the time, he was one of only three players in league history to score more than 60 points in a contest.
He was voted All-NBA First Team and to his fifth NBA All-Star game.
Rick Barry driving up the court pic.twitter.com/aegPUfhlsh
— Retro Awesomeville (@retro_70s) April 13, 2022
Barry was voted team captain before the year began and led the Warriors to a 48-34 record and victories over Seattle and Chicago in the first two rounds of the postseason.
Then, in the NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets, Barry averaged over 29 points, three steals, and five assists per game.
Today in 1975: The Golden State Warriors won their 3rd NBA Championship, sweeping the Washington Bullets.
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) May 25, 2022
Golden State surprised the basketball world by sweeping Washington in four games, and Barry was named the Series MVP.
Frustrations Begin to Mount
For the next three years, Barry continued to get his points and led the NBA twice in free throw percentage with .923 in 1974–75 and .924 in 1977–78.
The Warriors went to the playoffs in 1975–76 and 1976–77 but were eliminated in the Conference Finals both years against Phoenix and the Lakers.
— Sports Days Past (@SportsDaysPast) September 12, 2018
Despite the solid roster, Barry clashed with his teammates.
Accustomed to getting the ball often, he chafed when he wasn’t fed the rock at his request.
This led to disagreements with teammates such as Gus Williams, who was a talented point guard drafted by the organization in 1975.
Barry grated on the nerves of his teammates so much that they refused to come to his aid during a scuffle against a Suns player in the 1976 Conference Finals.
“Rick may not be the kind of guy to say please, but he’s in it to win,” said teammate Clifford Ray.
Despite playing well with Williams in ’76–’77, Barry’s disagreements with him came to a head and Golden State moved the guard to Seattle in the summer of 1977.
Without Williams, Barry’s scoring average rose slightly from 21.8 to 23.1 the following year.
Barry Becomes a Rocket
Barry may have been a scoring machine and appeared in numerous All-Star games, but his act was beginning to wear thin.
For just the second time since he returned to the Warriors, the team missed the postseason in 1977–78.
The issues with his teammates regarding his aloof behavior and constant bickering had taken their toll.
“There’s no doubt Rick’s on-court demeanor hurt his image,” said Warrior’s teammate Butch Beard in 1990.
Barry’s contract was up in 1978, and he sparred with team ownership over the particulars of a new deal.
“I could’ve stayed with the Warriors,” recalled Barry in 2022. “It came down to them insulting me. The owner, Frank Mieuli, had gone away on a family trip and Scotty Sterling, the General Manager, was sitting there telling me ‘Rick, I can’t believe you’d let this deal get blown over $10,000.’ I said ‘Man, you’ve got it backwards. I can’t believe you’re going to let me go over $10,000.’ It became a matter of principle. I didn’t really want to leave.”
Now soured on Golden State, Barry went looking for a new team and found one in the Houston Rockets.
Barry was added to a Houston roster that included Moses Malone, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Dunleavy, and Calvin Murphy.
Barry’s Career Ends
The 1978–79 Rockets were talented and ended the season with 47 wins and a First Round loss to Atlanta.
Surrounded by such prolific scorers, Barry didn’t need to shoot the ball much, and his points per game average dipped to a career-low 13.5 per game.
Despite not finding the bucket often, Barry still found occasion to lead the NBA in free throw percentage with a career-high (and league record, since broken) .947 and chipped in a career-high 502 total assists, good for a 6.3 average, which was yet another career high.
His total assist mark was a first for someone considered a small forward.
“In my last two years with the Rockets, I shot over 94% (free throw percentage),” commented Barry. “I was never satisfied. I always try to get better, and I got better… There aren’t many things in life that you can do where you can be better when you get older.”
In 1979–80, Barry had an average of 12 points per game and led the NBA in free throw percentage with .935. He also set an NBA record with eight three-pointers in a game.
Today in 1980, Rick Barry of the Houston Rockets sets the NBA record for three pointers in a game at 8.
The record stood until broken in 1990 by Dale Ellis. pic.twitter.com/RFepW3Es4O
— Texas Sports History (@TXSportsHistory) February 9, 2021
Barry also led the league in arguments started.
“You could send him to the U.N., and he’d start World War III,” said Dunleavey.
Houston returned to the postseason after 41 wins and advanced to the Conference Semifinals before losing to the Boston Celtics.
After the season ended, Barry had a brief flirtation with the Celtics to join their organization.
“I was going to play for the Boston Celtics,” said Barry in 2022. “To save money, in 1980, the league cut the roster spots from twelve to eleven. If that hadn’t happened, I would’ve been a Boston Celtic.”
When the opportunity with Boston fell through, Barry retired.
In 14 seasons, Barry averaged 23.2 points per game in the NBA and 30.5 per game in the ABA (a 24.8 career total average).
Barry also had a .900 free throw percentage in the NBA and a .880 average in the ABA (.893 career average).
It has long been Barry’s assertion that more basketball players could raise their free throw averages if they just used his technique regardless of the funky delivery.
“So many guys are shooting so poorly,” said Barry. “I don’t know how they let their egos get involved. Who cares what you look like? The hell difference does it make what you look like? That’s the whole idea of the game—you make as many points as you can, as efficiently as you can. Your ego is going to prevent you from being better at something you should be good at to begin with? That’s stupid.”
Shaquille O’Neal, who played 19 years as a center in the NBA and won four world titles, had a paltry 52% free throw percentage.
He has been asked why he didn’t use Barry’s granny style to shoot free throws and Shaq answered honestly.
“Because it’s boring,” said O’Neal in 2017. “I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.”
Barry retired as an ABA and NBA world champion and led both leagues in scoring.
He is the only player in history to lead the NCAA, ABA, and NBA in scoring.
Where does Rick Barry rank among the best small forwards in #NBA history? 👀🤔
NBA Finals MVP
NBA ASG MVP
6 All-NBA Selections
NBA Rookie of the Year
NBA Scoring Champion
NBA Steals leader
NBA Anniversary Team (50th, 75th)
No. 24 retired by #Warriors pic.twitter.com/g7mpM5BF9e
— Fadeaway World (@FadeawayWorld) September 23, 2022
Barry was also an eight-time All-Star, five-time All-NBA First Team, one-time All-NBA Second Team, four-time ABA All-Star, four-time All-ABA First Team, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA leader in steals once, and had his number 24 retired by Golden State.
He is also a member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams and has been inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame and Sports Hall of Fame of New Jersey.
In 1987, Barry was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
After retiring, Barry worked as a coach for the Global Basketball Association, Continental Basketball Association, and United States Basketball League.
At various times in the past several decades, Barry has served as a broadcaster with the likes of CBS, ESPN, and TNT.
Rick Barry shared his thoughts on the difference in today's NBA. pic.twitter.com/vPrAZnTqlh
— ESPN (@espn) March 4, 2022
Paired with NBA legend Bill Russell for games on CBS in the early 1980s, Barry put his foot in his mouth again when he made an unintentional racial slur about Russell.
Barry apologized later, though the relationship between him and Russell remained frosty.
As a father, Barry has had the pleasure of watching all of his sons (Scooter, Drew, Jon, Brent, and Canyon) play professional basketball.
Brent Barry was a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 when the franchise won the NBA Finals.
That made Barry and Brent the second father-and-son duo to have won NBA titles as players in league history.