It’s the same Rick Barry in spirit. Seventy years old, 34 years removed from the final season of a Hall of Fame career as a scoring-machine small forward, his body is battered but he hasn’t lost any of his trademark tenacity.
The long recovery from a nasty July 19 bike crash in Colorado Springs, Colo., that resulted in fractures, stitches, surgery, layers of skin left on the ground in his adopted hometown and a cracked helmet as a reminder of how bad it really could have been? Just another opponent.
Not being able to put weight on the right leg for another two months or so because of a fractured pelvis, hours of physical therapy already in the books and countless more to come? Bring it on.
“I’ve always been very dedicated to things,” Barry said on the phone from his home. “I’ve always been very strong-willed. If I make my mind up to do something, I’m going to do it. Just like when I was a young kid. I was stupid and I smoked cigarettes. I just flat out said, ‘This is crazy. This is hurting my basketball.’ And so I just quit. I look at everything as a challenge. That’s the way I approach things, especially if it’s things I’m not especially fond of. I look at them as challenges and I hate to lose, so when I make it a challenge, it drives me and motivates me because I’m going to make sure I’m the one that comes out victorious.”
He is not especially fond of the rehab work, needless to say. He calls it extended training camp — and Barry hated training camps. But the strong will that helped drive him to 12 All-Star games in the NBA and ABA, the brash attitude that made him one of the game’s top personalities as well as a premier player, the determination that propelled the underdog Warriors of 1975 to their only West Coast title — it all helps now.
Barry is calling on the past at a time when his basketball is mostly limited to working with youngest son Canyon, who plays at the College of Charleston, wears his father’s No. 24 (retired by Golden State) and, in the ultimate hoops DNA, shoots free throws underhanded.
A month ago, Rick was on a ride with his wife and another couple. One minute, he was cruising downhill and turning a corner. The next, his front tire blew and there was Barry tangled everywhere and headed for five hours of surgery. The pelvis. A broken hand. Stitches and road rash.
“I just feel fortunate that it wasn’t worse than what it was,” he said. “I hit my head and the helmet cracked and all, but I didn’t have any head damage or anything at all, so that was a blessing. I could have had broken ribs and broken arms, other things that would have made it even worse trying to do the rehab. It’s hard enough with my broken left hand. That’s made it difficult enough. But, hey, everybody gets thrown. You get little bumps when you’re going down the road of life, and you deal with them and you move on. That’s the way it has to be. You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. I just feel grateful that it’s not worse than what it was.”
Being forced to slow down does give him more time to promote Ektio, a company that says its basketball shoes have been proven to reduce sprained ankles, as a minority owner. The accident forced him to miss hunting and fishing trips, as well as cancel plans to attend Hall of Fame ceremonies honoring his former Warriors coach, Al Attles. But Barry sees the positives, knowing that the crash could have been much worse.
“I should have a full recovery as long as I don’t put weight on my right leg and continue to do the things that I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve got two more months of that and then I can start to do 50 percent weight bearing. I don’t know whether I do crutches or a cane or do something and then I have rehab to do, but I expect to be back doing the things that I did before. I can assure you I will not be going fast downhill anytime.”