Brent Barry Had to Deal With Playing in His Famous Father’s Shadow, Their Strained Relationship, Losing at Oregon State, and Now. . . : Welcome to L.A.
Oregon State guard Brent Barry was shooting a free throw underhanded in an exhibition game against a team from New Zealand when an opponent halted play.
“Can he do that?” the player asked. “Isn’t that illegal? He’s just trying to show us up.”
After assuring the player that it was within the rules, the referee said, “That’s the way his dad did it.”
Barry, acquired by the Clippers in a draft-day trade with the Denver Nuggets last Wednesday, learned to shoot underhanded from his father, Rick, whose .900 free throw percentage is the second best in NBA history, behind Cleveland guard Mark Price’s .906.
The No. 2 scorer in Golden State-Philadelphia Warrior history behind Wilt Chamberlain, the elder Barry, 51, led the Warriors to the 1975 NBA title. Barry played 14 seasons in the NBA and the old American Basketball Assn. and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986.
“I think we both understand how the game should be played,” Rick Barry said of his son. “We both get the ball to the people who are open and play unselfishly.
“But he does things on a much grander scale than I did, as far as the skills he has. I shake my head in amazement at some of the things he does. He’s got incredible vision of the basketball floor. He does things with the ball that I never dreamed of.”
The younger Barry, nicknamed “Bones” by his Oregon State teammates because he carries only 185 pounds on his 6-foot-6, 185-pound frame, averaged 21 points, 3.9 assists and 2.7 steals as a senior and was one of the flashiest players in the Pac-10. He once threw a no-look pass three quarters of the court to set up a teammate for a layup. And Beaver fans still talk about the time he planted a foot in the chest of a defender and vaulted into the air for a dunk.
“Brent was always my little Harlem Globetrotter,” said his mother, Pat Connolly. “He loved the Harlem Globetrotters. He would never make a straight pass. It always had to be through his legs or behind his back, even when he was a little kid and he couldn’t even get the ball behind his back.”
But then, Barry comes from a basketball family.
Bruce Hale, his maternal grandfather, played at Santa Clara and spent five seasons in the Basketball Assn. of America, forerunner of the NBA. He later coached at the University of Miami, where Rick Barry played for him.
Brother Scooter, 28, a 6-3 guard who played on Kansas’ 1988 NCAA championship team, is playing in Melbourne, Australia.
Brother Jon, 25, a 6-5 guard who played at Georgia Tech, was selected by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1992 draft. Traded to the Milwaukee Bucks a month into his rookie season, he averaged 3.7 points last season.
Brother Drew, 22, is a 6-4 guard who will be a senior at Georgia Tech next season.
“We used to have some great two-on-two games,” Jon Barry said. “What we do now is the four of us go into a gym and we pick up one guy and we take on everybody in the gym.”
But they didn’t have an easy childhood.
Brent Barry was 10 when his parents divorced and he was raised by his mother, a former synchronized swimmer and dancer.
Brent said he felt deserted by his father, who visited only on holidays.
“When a kid is told their father is leaving, they think he’s just going down to the store,” Brent Barry said. “He didn’t come back for a while. It’s a tough thing to deal with.
“As you grow older, the pain seems to lessen, and you learn about the relationship your parents did have and you get some questions answered. My relationship with my dad and my mom is very strong. We’re all grown up about it and it’s time to move on.”
Jon Barry agreed.
“It was pretty tough for Brent,” he said. “He kind of idolized my dad. It really hurt him when he left. He thought of my dad as a hero and I think it was a huge letdown for Brent that he left.
“He went through a lot of rough times. He had a lot of problems when he was younger. He’s really changed. He started to grow up.”
Banned from the house by his stepfather until his attitude improved, Barry spent the summer between his sophomore and junior years in Corvallis, Ore., where he worked at a pharmacy.
“He’s just made the most incredible change in his whole life,” his mother said. “I think when anyone gets on their own and has the talent that he has, I think you tend to get a little cocky and think you’re a little special.
“He had to look at himself and he stopped blaming other people for things that happened. In the last two years, he has done some real soul searching and he’s made an absolute total turnaround. I just can’t believe it’s the same boy.”
Brent also has resumed his relationship with his father.
“There was some strained times there,” Rick Barry said. “But as Brent got older, he realized that communication is very important and we started to talk to one another on a much more adult basis. Some of the animosity about my not being there has subsided some. I don’t think it will ever be totally healed. There are scars that are going to probably be there because of the situation that existed. But I think he understands that I love him.”
Even so, Barry, 23, has spent his life trying to escape his father’s shadow.
“All through high school, any time myself or any of my brothers had any success on the basketball court, my dad’s name would be synonymous with that,” Barry said. “From 10 to 23 years old, my father hasn’t been around much. To go out and do things in the off-season on my own time and then succeed during the season and have his name be mentioned in the same breath as mine, that’s a tough thing for somebody to deal with.”
Rick Barry warned his sons that they would always be compared to him.
“I don’t envy them having been placed in that position,” he said. “It’s something that is like a giant shadow that will always be there. I told them from the time they were very young that if they decided to play basketball, it’s something they were going to have to learn to live with. I don’t think they realized when I was telling them this just how much a pain it can be.”
Connolly urged her sons to forge their own identities.
“I spent a lot of time with my sons, talking about not being Rick Barry’s son, but being your own person. I told them to find their own identity and be happy with it. . . .
“They would love to be as good as Rick was and they admire and respect his accomplishments, but at the same time they view themselves as completely different individuals.”
And there’s more to Brent Barry than basketball.
He is a talented classical pianist but gave up piano lessons after his parents divorced because his mother couldn’t afford them. At Oregon State, he would relax before practice by playing the pipe organ at Gill Coliseum.
He sang the national anthem at his high school’s football games and entertains friends with impressions.
“He does a great Frank Sinatra,” Jon Barry said. “He knows all his tunes. He’ll put on a funny hat and sing all his songs. If he didn’t play basketball, I think he could get into acting pretty easily.”
He also writes poetry and draws.
“He’s a Renaissance man,” Connolly said. “I think he’s got a real creative side to him.”
As a basketball player, Barry, who averaged 17.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists as a senior at DeLaSalle High in the East Bay community of Danville, wasn’t heavily recruited.
“When Brent was in the eighth grade, he wrote a letter to [Duke Coach] Mike Krzyzewski, saying that he wanted to come to Duke and asking them to take a look at him,” Barry’s mother said. “Coach K still has the letter.”
Krzyzewski, however, wasn’t the only coach who didn’t recruit Barry.
“Not even Cal or Stanford showed much interest in me coming out of high school,” Barry said.
He signed with Oregon State, which was coming off a Pacific 10 championship, in 1990.
Although Barry flourished at Oregon State, after a redshirt freshman year, the Beavers floundered, failing to make the NCAA tournament while he played there.
The program has never seemed to recover from the sudden loss of guard Earnest Killum, who died of a stroke in 1992.
“I went though things in five years at Oregon State that some guys don’t see in 15 years,” Barry said. “We had Earnest Killum die when I was a sophomore and we had guys quitting. We had 12 to 15 guys who had signed with us who never came to school or who came to school for a year and left.
“I saw so many bad things happen during my five years there that it’s a wonder that I’m in the situation I’m in today.”
Like his father, who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, Barry publicly ripped his teammates for not passing him the ball during a game at Stanford last season. He also accused his teammates of failing to hustle in another game.
When Barry questioned Oregon State Coach Jim Anderson’s strategy after a game, Anderson decreed that players couldn’t be interviewed after a game unless he was present.
“The media really loved him because he’s not afraid to talk,” Anderson said. “Some people are skeptical of the media, but Brent always used good judgment. There was only one time where he spoke out and that was out of frustration.”
His turbulent career at Oregon State might have been good preparation for the Clippers, the NBA’s longest-running soap opera.
He joins a team that finished with the NBA’s worst record last season and has had only five winning seasons in its 25-year history.
“It seems like I’m being thrown into the fire again, having to come down to L.A.,” Barry said. “On the outside, the situation doesn’t look good, but suffering through some of those losing seasons at Oregon State, I have a better feel for what it’s like.”