From Rock To Jock
In 1965, the Warriors signed Rick Barry as their first draft pick in the second round. Barry had led the country in scoring during his All-American senior season with the University of Miami Hurricanes, and following his first season with the Warriors, he triumphed as NBA Rookie of the Year.
Barry had played two seasons for the Warriors before he sat out a year in order to jump to the newly formed American Basketball Association. Meanwhile, Oakland TV station KTVU (Channel 2) asked me if I’d do play-by-play for their Saturday night University of California Game of the Week.
Rick recalls, “Since I wasn’t playing professionally, Johnny told the producer, Bud Weiner, that I might be available to do the color analysis for the games. So we had the opportunity to work together on TV.”
This turned out to be Barry’s first TV broadcasting experience and my own play-by-play debut as a TV sportscaster. Rick and I eye-witnessed some spectacular games in those Frisco days. We were covering the University of California at Berkeley every week against the likes of players like Lew Alcindor (later Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) at UCLA. The six-foot-seven Barry and I became good friends then, a friendship that continues today.
The American Basketball Association was formed in 1967, and Oakland landed a team. The ABA knew that if they could get some big-time NBA players to jump leagues, they’d have instant credibility. One way to do this was to hire Rick Barry’s father-in-law, Bruce Hale, to coach the new Oakland Oaks. Hale had coached Rick when he was at the University of Miami.
Rick wanted to play for his father-in-law, and ultimately the Warriors didn’t offer Barry enough money to stay. So Rick sat out a year so he could join the ABA, and that’s when he asked me if he could play with the KYA Oneders. Just to keep in shape. I said sure, we’ll take an All-Pro player from the NBA.
Rick Barry: “Johnny was the ‘Baron of the Bay’ on KYA. Somehow we met, hit it off, and got to be friendly. He’s the godfather of my son, Scooter.
“Johnny was always performing like a stand-up comic. I’d have lunch with him, and he’d make up a complete comedy routine on the spot involving the salt and pepper shakers and the ashtrays. He was always on.
“The year before I sat out of the NBA, I was the scoring leader in my league in my second year and two times All Pro. We almost won the championship. We came within two plays of beating a team that everyone talks about nowadays as being one of the greatest teams in NBA history, if not the greatest. And I didn’t have a good time. For the first time in my life, basketball wasn’t fun for me. Well, not for the first time, really, because in high school I had a coach that I didn’t like. Anyway, I had to give some serious thought to what I wanted to do.
“The opportunity was there with my father-in-law, Bruce Hale, to go over to the ABA. He coached me that first year.
“Contrary to what people said then, I did feel loyalty to the Warriors. I told them, ‘Look, give me your best deal, your best offer.’ They didn’t do that. They told the press they offered me something (good), but that’s not true. The Warriors’ offer was so much lower than what the Oakland team offered. It was a very difficult decision for me to make.
“I wanted to keep in shape, so I wound up playing with the KYA Oneders. I played point guard. Johnny should have been the point guard, but he wasn’t known to be a passer. I used to feed Johnny, so he could take his 40 shots per game.
“Of course, if I hadn’t left the Warriors, Johnny Holliday would have never had the wonderful experience of being able to score so many points for the KYA Oneder team. You can see that everything worked out for the best.
“That old cliché really fits Johnny. He never saw a shot he didn’t like. He fired up more shots than Heinz has pickles. The Oneders was fun, and I enjoyed playing. It gave me a chance to work on my ball handling. I’d get a rebound, or penetrate, and throw it out to Johnny, and he’d fire them up there.
“The only downside was when I played faculty who were trying to prove something by playing against me. I had to be careful. I didn’t want to get hurt. It was all for a good cause and we raised money. We had some unbelievable characters on the Oneders team. Bud O’Shea later had a great career in the music business. Ed Hider was a short, heavyset guy who was off-the-wall funny. Some of the team couldn’t play very well. Johnny would bring in some ringers. Our ‘officials’ would be there to make sure things didn’t get too out of hand. It was a lot of fun.
“Unfortunately, for me, I gave up a prime year of my life — when I could have gone ahead and been playing NBA basketball — to play for the KYA Radio Oneders. I look back and say, ‘What the heck was I thinking about?'”
I was elated when the KYA Radio Oneders featured a turbo-charged star like Rick Barry. Having Rick on the team would be like getting a pro of Shaquille O’Neal’s caliber to join me today for a local high school fundraiser. Imagine the excitement these charity games sparked with Barry on board. The intensity really shot up.
In ’69, the Oakland Oaks franchise moved to Washington, D.C. to become the Capitals, a pretty good team. Rick and Larry Brown, now the coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, rented an apartment in Chevy Chase, Md., and they let me stay with them whenever I wanted the first six months after I had moved to DC to work at WWDC. Mary Clare was still settling the household move in Frisco, so there I was, a bachelor for a while with Rick and Larry.
Today, Rick hosts a sports talk show on KNBR, the top sports station in San Francisco. As always, he’s quick, knowledgeable, and outspoken.
Rick phones me often. I know it’s Rick as soon as I pick up the phone. He tries to throw me off, but he has an unmistakable voice with that great New Jersey accent.
“Is this the Prince of the Potomac? Is this the Baron of the Bay? Is this the King of the Concrete Jungle?” he asks. It’s Rick calling from the airport on his way to visit his son, Scooter, who also plays basketball, most recently in Italy.
The KYA Oneders evolved considerably in San Francisco; the station provided us with custom-made uniforms and our own cheerleaders. We rode first class in our own Greyhound bus, piloted by Darryl, the bus driver. The late Owen Kashveroff, a teacher from El Camino High, and Mike Orlich, a football coach from Jefferson High in Daly City, were our official referees. (Orlich was also John Madden’s high school football coach.) Two other high school coaches, Don Delbon from Terra Nova High and Don Novitsky from Oceana High, played every game with the Oneders for five years.
Record promo guys also joined us on the team. These included “Bashful” Bud O’Shea, “Charming” Chuck Becker, Marty Goldrod, Lou Galiani, and “Dashing” Dick Forrester, whom we nicknamed “The Whale,” since he was not missing many meals in those days.
Six-foot-seven Joe Durenberger and Dan Carlson were friends who also joined us on the court, and a couple of guys who helped out were Breck McClaren, just out of the College of San Mateo, and Don Robbs, a KYA newsman who went on to become the Johnny Carson of Hawaii. Robbs had a little goatee. I think those whiskers may have prevented him from scoring. We could see that his future was not in basketball.
Once, Bill Harrah flew the team to his Lake Tahoe resort to play a team of baseball All-Stars and put us up at his hotel with free gambling chits. What a deal. At times like those we really felt like a professional team.
Our public address announcer for the KYA team was a young man named Steve Somers. He attended San Francisco State. Steve called me up asking if we needed a PA announcer for all our games. He was more than willing since he was a communications major and this would be good experience.
Thus began the first step for Steve Somers on his rise to the top of the broadcasting business. Steve did such a good job for us that our KYA general manager tapped him as a KYA “high school reporter.” From KYA, Steve moved on to KPIX-TV as weekend sports anchor, backing up the lead, Barry Tompkins. (Barry would later be my roommate in Sarajevo when we covered the 1984 Winter Olympics for ABC Radio.)
Steve Somers landed TV jobs in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Atlanta before he finally found his “home” as one of the first sports hosts on New York City’s WFAN in 1987. Steve is still there and is the last of the original guys at The Fan. His success makes me proud that I played a small part in getting him his first job in the biz.
Copyright © 2002 by Johnny Holliday and Stephen Moore. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with the permission of the authors.