Rick Barry led the Golden State Warriors to an NBA title in 1975 and is the most revered player in franchise history. That, however, could change in the coming weeks should Stephen Curry lead Golden State to a series victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Barry would be okay with that. In fact, he is okay with that.
“I’m happy for a lot of reasons,” he said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “For the fans who have been so incredibly loyal for all these years, they’ve had very slim pickings and many, many years without even being in the playoffs. So I’m really happy for them because it’s one of the great fan bases in all of professional sports. Winning is so important.”
So important that it influences Barry’s wardrobe.
“Now I wear my Warriors stuff,” he said. “When I travel, I used to wear my NBA stuff a lot. I was embarrassed to put my Warriors shirts and hats on because the team was so bad. So now the NBA stuff gets on the back shelf and I wear the Warriors stuff and it’s amazing the comments I get and the response I get because people are all caught up with the Warriors now. So it’s really kind of cool in that regard.”
The Warriors are favored to win the NBA Finals, which Barry is fine with.
“If they’re shooting the ball well from three-point range and not turning the ball over and playing defense the way they’re capable of playing, nobody in the league will beat them in a seven-game series,” he said. “Now, it’s a matter of whether or not they go out there and do that in this series. I told the guys that (earlier this season): It’s up to you to go out there and get it done. But you are the best team in the league. You just have to go out there and prove it to people. They’ve done it so far.”
Barry was also asked to compare and contrast Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr. Jackson’s firing was surprising to many last season, but all Kerr did was step in and lead the Warriors to an NBA-best 67 wins.
“Well, I know the players like Mark,” Barry said. “I think Steve has been around before. I think he’s in control. I think he’s earned the respect of the players – not that Mark didn’t. But I think he’s given them more freedom. I think that he’s probably been very helpful because of the experience that he’s had having been on championship teams as a player and he really understands the game.”
For the Cavs to win this series, Barry said, they’ll need Golden State to be careless with the basketball and have lapses on the defensive end. Barry doesn’t see that happening.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that this team, especially under Steve’s guidance, that they’re not going to focus and play defense and understand that that has to be their cornerstone,” he said. “That has to be what they rely on.”
Switching gears a bit, Barry was asked for his all-time starting five. He listed Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, himself, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.
“I never exclude myself,” Barry said. “I’m going to play. I’ll play against the best that you think are the best. I’ll play against any of them.”
Including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who Brandon Tierney thinks might be the most overlooked superstar in NBA history.
“I totally disagree with you,” Barry said. “He had the greatest shot in the history of the game. Unstoppable, the sky hook. (But) Wilt Chamberlain is the top center. Nobody’s close to him. There isn’t anybody that holds a candle to Wilt. He averaged 50 points a game in one season. That’s insane. I played against Kareem, and I saw Kareem do some things in a series one time when we played them that I said, ‘Oh my god, why does he not play this way every time he puts his uniform on?’ Look at his rebounding numbers. For a guy with his talent and his ability, they’re nothing to get overly excited about. The guy could pass. I think he could have been greater than he was without question. But he did have the single greatest shot. He was a great guy. Would I like to play with him? Hell yeah. I would have loved to have played with him.”