Top 50 NBA Players of the Past 50 Years: Rick Barry is at No. 26

Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast, “What’s Wright with Nick Wright?” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright ranks the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player #26, Rick Barry.

Rick Barry Career Highlights:

  • 1975 Final MVP
  • Eight-time NBA All-Star
  • Five-time first-team All-NBA, one-time second-team
  • 1967 scoring champion
  • 1975 steals champion
  • Six-time NBA Free Throw Percentage Leader
  • 1966 Rookie of the Year

Rick Barry scored a ton, shot his free throws underhand, clashed with both teammates and opponents, and spent an entire season out on his prime-over principle. He was, in a word, uncompromising.

“He really seemed to rub people the wrong way,” Wright said. “People really didn’t seem to like him.”

That has no doubt influenced how Barry is remembered. It doesn’t change how great he was. The tenacious little forward’s raw averages of 25 points, seven rebounds and five assists don’t even tell half the story.

“A man who is perhaps the most underrated, truly amazing player of a generation,” said Wright.

Rick Barry is No. 26 in Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Past 50 Years

Rick Barry is No. 26 in Nick Wright's Top 50 NBA Players of the Past 50 Years

Barry is one of the most unstoppable scorers in both his time and NBA history in general. He is the only player to ever lead the NBA, NCAA and ABA in scoring. He scored more than 18,000 points in his NBA career and, combined with his ABA days, racked up more than 25,000 points as a pro.

From day 1 he was a generational talent.

At age 21, Barry averaged 25.7 points and 10.6 rebounds to win Rookie of the Year. At 22, he scored more than anyone ever at that age. His 35.6 points per game were five more than anyone in the 1966-67 campaign, but were only a precursor to his brilliant playoffs. He amassed 34.7 points in the ensuing weeks to catapult the 44-win Warriors to the finals, where they would fall to Wilt Chamberlain’s 68-win 76ers. Barry, for what it’s worth, led both teams in scoring in all six games and averaged 40.8 for the series.

And then he walked away from the NBA. Angry at then-Warrior owner Franklin Mieuli over a contract dispute, Barry signed with the upstart ABA’s Oakland Oaks and was forced to serve out a year in a landmark move that eventually led to free choice in basketball.

The break didn’t affect his brilliance. Over four seasons in the ABA, the two-way star made four all-league first teams, racked up a career average record of 30.5 points, and finished in the top five in MVP voting three times.

Like his magical Finals run in 1967, Barry continued to improve his game in the playoffs. His 52 points in Game 7 of the 1970 Western Division Semifinals are still the most for a deciding game in professional basketball history. He had 45 points in an elimination match the following year. In 1972, Barry opened the postseason with another 50-point game and led the New York Nets to the title round.

Later that summer, a U.S. District Court judge banned Barry from playing professional basketball for anyone but the Warriors. While his first year back at the Bay wasn’t quite up to his standard, Barry did manage to lead Golden State to a win over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Bucks.

Barry quickly evolved to a point forward and re-established himself as one of the best players in the league. In 1974-75, he finished second in scoring (30.6), first in steals (2.9) and provided 6.2 assists per game during the regular season. He then set off another deep playoff run with 39 points, five rebounds, 11 assists and eight steals in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. With the Warriors trailing the Bulls in the conference final, Barry scored 36 points in Games 4 and 6 to take a seven-game win.

In a run of bullets in the final, Barry averaged 29.5 points, 5.0 assists and 3.5 steals to claim MVP honors.

A year later, Barry took his third-place finish in the top five in the NBA MVP race and had the Warriors back in the conference finals. He averaged 27.6 points in a seven-game loss to the Suns, then 28.4 points for the next postseason.

Only four players in 100 playoff games have scored more per game than Barry (27.3). His average in the Final (36.3) is the highest ever. He also holds the ABA record for post-season average (33.5).

“His playoff resume is really, really spectacular,” said Wright.


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