It has long been an article of faith that sports heroes come one to an age, non-duplicable. Kingdoms may be handed down from father to son, but athletic prowess is not. There were no Babe Ruth Jr.'s, Ty Cobb IIIs, or sequels of any kind. No Son of Red Grange. The dynasty died after one.
There never was but one Lincoln in the White House. The Roosevelts in there were related but not in a direct line. Dictators' power died with them.
But look what's happening now in sports. There's a Ken Griffey Jr. There's a Barry Bonds who is Bobby Bonds II. There are third-generation Boones on the infield.
Jack Dempsey never had a boy, but Joe Frazier's son and Floyd Patterson's climbed in the prize ring.
Some years ago, Rick Barry was as consummate a basketball player as you could find, a bold-eyed, quick-darting, take-no-prisoners type of ballhandler, tall, rangy, steel-strong, intense and aggressive. He put up some great numbers. He is second on the all-time free-throw percentage list at .900--nine out of every 10 foul shots attempted, he made. In 1978, his percentage was .9467. He missed only nine all season. Wilt Chamberlain used to miss that many in a half.
Barry sank 753 free throws one season. They used to foul him because he was going to make the basket anyway.
Now, custom calls the sons of the successful to be troubled or troublesome heirs as far from the fates of their fathers as they could get, spoiled in some cases by the luxuries success brought, or unable to handle parental celebrity. They settled sometimes for an easier life and absence of challenge.
So a Brent Barry, son of Rick, could be expected to opt for the other lane, to spend his time on fast cars, late nights, loud music and the other options of the good life. Not have to make free throws for a living, take the free ride instead.
But Brent Barry not only opted eagerly for the games his father played, he excelled at them. Dad is in the Hall of Fame, but son Brent is on the Clippers, which is as hard a way to go as you can find in the NBA. But he's out to make the world notice so that when someone alludes to "the Hall of Fame basketball player, Barry," a listener will say, "Which one?"
Replacing a legend is always hard--even if he's your father. Maybe, especially if he's your father.
But the time is different, the game is different. Old-timers can blink their eyes and see Rick Barry out there. The same penetrating stare of the two-gun marshal waiting for the outlaw to draw, the quick rush to the basket, the similarly bony structure. They are virtually the same height, but Dad was a forward, Brent a guard--which tells you something about today's game right there.
Games were 130-128 in Dad's day. Games are more apt to end up 94-88 or 103-96. And if the Knicks are playing, even less. It used to be a pure playground game. Everybody played one-on-one basketball. Today, trapping defenses, which are another way of saying "double-teaming," are the order of the game.
When the elder Barry came into the game, he had two leagues fighting for him. The Clippers got Brent for a draft pick.
They don't regret it. Brent Barry is still a rookie and makes rookie mistakes. But Clipper Coach Bill Fitch sees the promise, stays patient. "He gets three--then gives three. Then, he gets three--and gives two. Then he gets two. So you figure you're ahead--net," he sighs.
Opponents also try to intimidate him. It's what they do to rookies. "They run plays right at him," Fitch says. "They test him. Try to rattle him. But he stands up to it, learns from it. He gets the ball that way a lot."
A Barry--any Barry--with the ball is an opponent's nightmare. All Barrys can shoot. They all had a basketball in their hands as soon as a rattle.
Brent and his brother, Milwaukee Buck guard Jon, didn't play basketball because their father wanted them to. They played because they wanted to. "We kids fell in love with it," he explained, standing in a locker room the other night after the Clippers upset the Phoenix Suns, 94-88, in a game in which Barry threw in three three-point field goals, giving him 40 for the season.
"That was our life--basketball. I still love the game. I feel I'm lucky to be able to play it. It's a dream come true."
Brent doesn't feel competitive with his father. He feels competitive with the guy lined up alongside pulling at his shorts, slapping at the ball. His boyhood role model was not dear old Dad, it was the Warriors' Chris Mullin.
His 262 points are a ways from Dad's 18,395 (Dad is 34th on the all-time list and that excludes his four-year ABA totals), but so is his 33 games-played total from Dad's 794 NBA regular-season total. His 7.9-points-per-game average lags behind Dad's lifetime 23.2.
"But his career is young. He's only 24," points out Fitch. "He's a nice kid. He says 'Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir,' he's coachable, wants to learn. He's gifted, he does magic tricks off the court too, he plays the piano, and he's not an egoist. His license plate reads 'Bones.' "
The Barrys, like the Tudors and the Hapsburgs, want to keep the line of accession going. Some day, there may be a new one trying to match Grandpa Rick's stats. Or Dad Brent's.