Wednesday afternoon I was given the opportunity to speak with former NBA and ABA legend Rick Barry, thanks to his involvement with the Ektio Sneaker, a shoe that’s primarily and specifically designed for ankle support and preventing injuries.
Rick is an investor in Ektio, which you can buy here, and is attempting to get the sneaker into the mainstream and onto basketball courts everywhere.
We spoke of this revolutionary new sneaker, and the domineering sneaker companies that won’t allow it in the NBA, before speaking also on Rick’s NBA Finals predictions, players who are embarrassed to shoot 90 percent from the foul line, and him playing HORSE with his sons.
John Friel: I’ve been hearing a lot about Ektio sneakers, can you tell me how you got involved?
Rick Barry: It was brought to my attention and then I went and researched it and looked at it. It’s simply the best shoe ever invented for basketball.
JF: What sets Ektio apart from the major bands like Nike and Adidas?
RB: It’s the only shoe ever, ever in the history of basketball shoes that could actually help prevent an ankle sprain.
JF: How so?
RB: Because of the technology that they have. The way the shoe is designed, the way they have the straps built into the shoe. There’s nothing like it.
JF: Do you think the type of sneaker does significantly play a role in player injuries?
RB: For sure. Of course. Just go to the website and look at the reviews from the people that have used it and the stories that they tell and the independent reviews. There’s never been a shoe like it. Anybody serious about playing the game, why would you not want to wear the only piece of equipment that you wear and actually help prevent an injury. I mean, my god, that’s crazy. I mean, look at how many ankle sprains they had in the NBA this year, even in the playoffs. Steph Curry should be wearing this for sure. I don’t understand why somebody like Nike or Adidas won’t just buy the company and buy the technology and put it out there and mass-market it and know that they have the best possible product in the world.
JF: Have you approached anybody about the idea of ever wearing one?
RB: They all want to get paid and they all want to get money. That’s bullshit. It’s not about getting paid and getting money to do it. It’s about trying to protect yourself and protect your career.
JF: So, Nike and Adidas are keeping the players’ hostage?
RB: Yeah, of course.
JF: Do you think Ektio will ever be able to break out into the NBA market?
RB: Who knows? We’re going to keep trying and doing it, and if somebody is smart enough to realize that, ‘Hey, I got an opportunity to wear something that’s going to be better for me. It’s going to help me prevent getting an ankle sprain and give me great support.’ Hopefully someone will do it. Too bad I’m not younger cause if I was younger, I would guarantee that having seen this shoe and all I know about it, that I would go to the company I was with and say, ‘Look, you guys either buy this company or I’m going to get out of my contract and I’m going to buy the company because this is the shoe I want to be wearing.’
JF: Have you approached Nike or Adidas at all?
RB: Yeah, but they don’t want to listen. Most of these people, their egos get involved. It’s kind of silly. The money that they spend and waste on other things they could buy this company and be something really meaningful. Put something on the marketplace that can be mass-marketed and be put into the hands of people who are really serious about wanting to actually be protected when playing the game. Sure, it’s one thing to have something that looks good, but functionality is the biggest thing. Well, there’s not a shoe out there that can claim it’s going to help prevent an ankle sprain.
JF: What about smaller brands? Li-Ning? New Balance?
RB: I was talking to Dwyane Wade’s brother and we already got a name for the shoe. I told his brother to tell him to talk to the company over there. That they want to compete on an international level, they can come out with a shoe that’s better than anything anybody else has. It could be Dwyane Wade’s shoe and I got the absolute perfect name for it as well.
JF: What’s the name?
RB: I’m not going to tell you because you’ll write it and somebody will steal it.
JF: How would you evaluate the Warriors this season?
RB: It was a great year. Considering that (Andrew) Bogut wasn’t available most of the year and Steph was hurt a little bit earlier. I think Mark (Jackson) did a terrific job. I was actually surprised that he wasn’t in the voting for Coach of the Year. He did a terrific job with them. Unfortunately they’re not going to ever have a chance win a championship if they play the kind of basketball they’re playing now because they’re a perimeter team. They’ve got to establish some type of inside game. My recommendation for them is they should hire, because he’s available, the starting center on the only championship team they ever had and that’s Clifford Ray, who is the best big-man coach in the game today, and get Clifford in there working with their big guys, and help establish them so Bogut can be more of a factor. Every place Clifford’s gone, the big people have improved their games. He did it once before with the Warriors when he helped Adonal Foyle and Erick Dampier. He helped them get huge contracts and improve their games, and he could do the same thing again. They need to bring him back.
JF: I can trust anybody that made Erick Dampier look as good as he did that one year.
RB: That’s Clifford. Same thing with Boston. I mean, Boston would have never won the championship if they hadn’t made the trade for Kevin Garnett. How’d they get the trade for Garnett? Because Clifford Ray took (Al) Jefferson and turned Jefferson into a player.
JF: He’s not associated with the team right now?
RB: No. He did some stuff with the team last year and he helped one of the young kids out in Sacramento. Every place he’s been, the big people have always improved their game. And they would be smart, ‘Hey, bring back the starting center from your championship team.’ They’re trying to do all this great stuff. Why not add him to the staff? Pay him what he’s really worth, because this guy is the best big man coach in the league bar none.
JF: If he stays healthy, do you think Steph could end up as one of the best shooters of all time?
RB: Sure. He could be one of the best, no question. He’s got amazing range and he has to learn what’s a big shot and what’s not. I think sometimes he takes very difficult shots. But he’s a great shooter, and Klay is an outstanding shooter. Mark got a little carried away saying the greatest shooting backcourt ever. Now, well, maybe from that distance. From three-point range, which they didn’t have early in their careers. It’s pretty hard to say they’re better than Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, pretty good combination of Hall-of-Famers, and some other teams also had some pretty great combinations in their backcourt. But as far as them shooting the ball from distance, I don’t know if there’s ever been two guys on a team that were as good as shooters as those two are.
JF: Do you see any of yourself in either of those two?
RB: No, because I wasn’t an outside shooter. Hell, I never shot a three-point shot until late when I got into the ABA and then I was only starting to get better. If I did it all in my career, I think I would have been an outstanding three-point shooter, but I got up to about 33% late in my career. My benchmark is if you can’t shoot 30% or more from threes, you shouldn’t be shooting them. But if you can shoot 30% or more, that’s acceptable. And now they got guys shooting over 40% and when you’re shooting 40% from threes, that’s outstanding. People say there aren’t any great shooters around, but there really are some unbelievable shooters. Thing is, they’re not having guys that can shoot the ball consistently well shooting from mid-range. A lot of bad shooting form out there. But those guys are great. If I had played with that being part of the game, I would not be happy with myself if I wasn’t a 40% or better shooter from that distance.
JF: Do you have anything to say to the people who booed (Golden State Warriors majority owner) Joe Lacob on Chris Mullin’s jersey night?
RB: I think it was retribution. I told these people, ‘Hey, this is the man that’s willing to try whatever he can to help them win. They’re making the right moves. Everybody was mad because they traded Monta away. Well, hell, if they hadn’t traded Monta away, we wouldn’t be talking about Steph Curry. You wouldn’t be asking the questions that you’ve been asking. He wouldn’t have been able to develop into the player that he is right now. It was a great move on his start and I was really happy for him. I think he was vindicated. Unfortunately, it was only a small percentage of people at the ceremony that did that. But the thing that made me more upset, first of all, it was an injustice to Chris Mullin because it was his night. It was Chris Mullin’s night and it was bullshit that they did that. And it was an injustice to Joe, as well. It was really great to see what happened. This team hadn’t been to the second round of the playoffs in a decade or more, so it was a great season in that regard and now they have to go ahead and add a few more pieces to the puzzle.
JF: Are they a title contender?
RB: They’re not. Let’s get serious. There’s no way with this team here that they can ever win a championship. That’s not going to happen. That’s just realistic. Get Clifford Ray in there and make some other additions. They need to get an inside game.
JF: Who do you have winning the championship this year?
RB: If I knew that, I’d be in Vegas making a lot of money. That’s why you play the game. Nobody ever thought we’d win it and we did. You just never know. But I would say evaluating the teams and the way they played in the final round of each conference, the Spurs look like a better team. Consistently the way they were playing. However, if the Heat play the way they played in Game 7, they certainly have a chance to repeat as champions, but it’s going to be a difficult, daunting task for them. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Gregg Popovich can come up with as far as defense against the Miami Heat. It’s going to be a very interesting series in that regard, so I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be quite a challenge for both of the teams and it’s going to be fun to watch. But I would give a slight edge, only because of the way they played, to the Spurs.
JF: Who’s your favorite player to watch?
RB: My favorite player to watch before he started to get hurt was Steve Nash. I just love the way he plays the game. He can pass with either hand, he creates and makes the game so much easier for all the players he plays with. I love watching LeBron. I love watching Kobe. I love watching the great players play. Dwyane, when he’s healthy. But LeBron is a special talent. Kobe is a special talent. CP3, I love the talent. There’s just a lot of great players out there. Carmelo Anthony I like. I love to watch Durant. There’s a lot of really outstanding players there and it’s fun to watch them, especially the ones who play team basketball. LeBron’s up there near the top of that. As is Kobe. People say he’s selfish, but he really isn’t. He gets the ball to people. But LeBron is a special talent. The scary thing is, as great as he is, he can get even greater. There’s a lot of little things he needs to be able to do to take his game to take the next level, which is a level that most humans will never ever experience. I’m hoping that happen. I’m glad to see him improving and working on his game. I made a big deal about his shooting form and he’s corrected that. Even though I don’t get any credit for it, but I did make a big stink about that. He’s actually made major improvements. Go watch film of him from three, four years ago and see the difference in his shooting form. His elbow was flying out there, and you can’t possibly be a good shooter with that.
JF: Is he the greatest basketball player you’ve ever viewed?
RB: He’s the greatest three. Everybody says that: Michael was the greatest basketball player of all time. Michael was the greatest two-guard. You can’t compare people at different positions, like a pitcher in baseball to a center fielder. It doesn’t happen that way. What you have is players who play each position. You have to pick the best at that position because the skills at that position are different from the skills at other positions. You can’t say LeBron is greater than Wilt Chamberlain. LeBron is the greatest three to play the game. Wilt is the greatest all-around center to play the game. I put LeBron up there as the most gifted and talented man to play the three position I’ve ever seen anybody play. All the elements he has; the strength, the power, the great feel for the game, the passing ability. Guy is amazing and now that he’s improving his shooting, it reinforces that. He has to be at a point where he wants to get fouled. You have to want to get fouled, and he doesn’t want to have that. He has to get to that point where he’s an 80% free throw shooter and he’s got to get to the mentality where when he drives, he wants to get fouled. Because he’s going to make a great many with his strength and power. He’ll make a lot of his shots and he’ll get that extra point. And if he misses, he’s not going to worry about and he’ll just walk up to the line and make two free throws. You have to have that mentality and I don’t think he’s there yet.
Rick goes on…He’s so big and strong and powerful. He needs to do that. He’ll be fine. He’ll get it down eventually. He’s already improved his outside shooting and that will help him with his free throws, but he has to get to the point where getting to the free throw line is a desire. I hope I got fouled when I drove.
JF: Have you ever been approached by an NBA player to teach your style of free throw shooting?
RB: No. Well, actually no, I take that back. I had one guy that I did it for–I won’t mention his name. He came, I had him shooting it really well and he didn’t have enough guts to do it. He went to camp and he wouldn’t do it, but I had him shooting it really well.
JF: I get that its not a traditional style, but you were a 90%+ free throw shooter for your career.
RB: Dwight Howard missed more free throws in one game than I missed in a season.
(EDITORS NOTE: I had to look up this stat and, unbelievably, it’s true. Dwight Howard missed 14 of his 39 free throw attempts in a game against the Orlando Magic this past season. Rick Barry missed nine out of 169 free throws in 1979 and missed only ten out of 153 the next season)
JF: Dwight’s never gone up to you, or you’ve gone up to Dwight, and said ‘You’re a 50% shooter your entire career, why not try something else’?
RB: I already got word out. Clifford Ray was the first coach Dwight Howard had and we had a really good relationship. I told Clifford, ‘You got to tell Dwight that he really needs to see me. He needs to switch.’
JF: You never got word back from Dwight?
RB: He just told him again recently, ‘We’ll see’. I know it’s his choice, but he’d be a fool not to come see me because it would change his game dramatically.
JF: Some people are content with shooting 60%. I can’t explain it.
RB: Professionally, You can’t be content if you can’t shoot 80%. If you can’t shoot 80%, you’re not a good free throw shooter. End of story. That allows you to miss one out of every five that you take. It’s the easiest part of the game that exists. Where no one is trying to stop you. It’s constant. Same size ball. Same size basket. Same distance every single time and you can’t make four out of five? How do you live with yourself?
JF: Do you buy what Shaq said years ago when he said his hands were too big?
RB: No. Shaq couldn’t do it because he had a broken wrist early and had a horrible shooting form. He couldn’t get himself in the right position to shoot it properly overhand. I had him ready to do it underhand. Unfortunately, he wasn’t convinced enough to do it and hire me on his own. I went to the Lakers and, unfortunately, Dell Harris turned me down. It was a big mistake. It probably cost him his job, because if I had a chance to work with Shaq, he would have won some championships with Shaq because Shaq would have been the go-to guy at the end of the game instead of the go-to-the-bench guy.
JF: Have you ever kept track of a longest streak of free throws?
RB: I had a record of 60 consecutive for awhile. I was always mad at myself that I didn’t do 100 or more. That always kind of aggravated me that I never got 100 or more consecutive free throws.
JF: What’s the greatest moment of your NBA and ABA career?
RB: Winning the championship. It’s always about winning a championship. It’s not about individual honors.
JF: So you won’t get on LeBron at all for what he did?
RB: Of course not. Why would I get on him? LeBron gave Cleveland a bunch of years and they didn’t get enough people around him. LeBron struggled sometimes, but, hey, I struggled, too. Hell, I wouldn’t have gotten to the Finals if it wasn’t for my teammates and the unbelievable job they did when I was stinking up the joint in Game 7 against Chicago in the Western Conference Finals. You don’t do it by yourself. You do it with a team. His players never stepped up when he struggled. He didn’t have people to step up and help him. He gave them the opportunity. I don’t like the way he went about leaving, instead of going in to talk the owner and do whatever it is. He had every right to leave. I certainly don’t blame him. I admire the fact that he wanted to win a championship.
JF: Who was the best player you ever played against?
RB: I played against the greatest center. I played against the greatest two-guard. I played against the best. That’s Jerry West, before Michael came around. I played against the greatest all-around center in Wilt Chamberlain. I played against some of the other greatest centers in Bill Russell and Nate Thurmond was a teammate of mine, but I played against him when he was traded away. I played against some of the greatest players ever. (Walt) Frazier, (Earl) Monroe, (Dave) Debusschere, Baylor. I played against so many great players, it was awesome.
JF: How’d you end up going to the University of Miami?
RB: If you’re from New Jersey, you want to get the hell out of there. Go someplace warm. I had a chance to go play for a coach at a school that wasn’t a basketball factory and a place that played pro-style basketball. The coach was a former pro player who helped prepare me for the game. Think about this: I had four years of basically playing minor league basketball. I played four years training to become a professional basketball player. That’s the reason why I came into the league and I made the all-pro team. Not the All-Star team. The All-Pro, top five players as a rookie. The only reason that happened was because of the four years I had playing for a former pro player who prepared me and made me ready to be able to play at that level. It doesn’t happen every often.
JF: Do you think all players should attend four years of college?
RB: Well, some of them are ready to go in sooner, but most of them should be staying in longer than they stay. The majority of the ones that come out early come out too early.
JF: When were your sons ever able to beat you in basketball?
JF: They still can’t?
RB: Because the thing is, why would I want to compete against my boys. I try to teach them as much as I could. The closest I came to it was when Brent was at the pre-draft deal that the NBA had in Phoenix. We just did HORSE. I never played one-on-one. I always had my boys play on a team if I did it when they got older. I never played against them. The only close time was when we were doing some shooting stuff. So we were doing HORSE and he won two games and I won two games and I said, ‘Ok I’m done’. He says, ‘No, No, best of five.’ I said ‘No, I’m done. He says, ‘No, c’mon, dad, why not? I said, ‘Because, you’re never going to know if you were good enough to beat me.’