NBA free agency: 30 greatest free agent signings in NBA history

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Greatest free agency signings in NBA history: 12. Rick Barry- Golden State Warriors, 1972

If you’ve reached this part of the slideshow, you’re probably asking “I thought you said that free agency didn’t start until 1988?” Well, for the most part, that’s true, but things were a little murkier when the American Basketball Association (ABA) was around.

The Warriors took Barry with the second overall pick in the 1965 draft and he quickly became of the leagues most lethal scorers, averaging 30.6 points in his first two seasons (this was during the much faster-paced 60s, so Barry had more possessions get his buckets).

However, Barry believed that Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli was shortchanging him on incentives, giving him the ammunition he needed to jump to the ABA and play for the Oakland Oaks under head coach Bruce Hale, who was Barry’s father-in-law.

Oaks owner Pat Boone attempted to make Barry one of the highest paid players in the sports, but thanks to the reserve clause, he was barred from playing for the Oaks in 1967-68 season. The dispute garnered Barry plenty of criticism, as he was labeled selfish and only in it for the money (apparently, the owners are only in this for charity).

Following that debacle, Barry became one of the biggest stars in the upstart league, scoring 30.5 points with .183 WS/48 in four seasons with the Oaks/Washington Caps and New York Nets.

Once his time in the ABA ended, Barry was forced by a U.S. District Court judge to “sign” the team that drafted him once his Nets contract expired, making his return to the Warriors all but an inevitability. While he wasn’t quite the same player due to knee injuries (.160 WS/48), he was still good enough to lead the Warriors to the franchise’s first championship since relocating from Philadelphia.

Barry’s situation was messy, to say the least, but it was a precursor for players across all sports to fight for their agency as employees, even if he was a jerk.