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Kerry Eggers on Sports: Former Oregon State star and slam dunk champ settles in as Spurs executive

GLENN JAMES/GETTY IMAGES - Once a standout player with the San Antonio Spurs, former Oregon State star Brent Barry now is the NBA team's vice president of basketball operations.Now in the early stages of his third career — beginning as a player, then as a broadcaster, now as an executive — Brent Barry has had one constant.

The NBA. And really, it started before the former Oregon State star was a rookie with the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1995-96 season. Way before.

"In a small way, I've been part of the NBA life since I was 4 years old and a ballboy for the Golden State Warriors," said Barry, son of Hall of Fame forward Rick Barry. "Not anything I've done that has gotten too far away from basketball. A lot of my life is so connected to it.

"It's been an amazing experience for me, and it's not over. There are a lot of things I'm still hopeful to do, so this is just another chapter in that story."

The junior Barry, 48, is in his second season as vice president of basketball operations for the San Antonio Spurs, who visit Portland Thursday to face the Trail Blazers. The Spurs are widely regarded as the most respected organization in the NBA. Barry works in a revamped front office that now has R.C. Buford as CEO, Gregg Popovich as head coach and team president and Brian Wright as general manager.

"I'm very excited about what this past year and a half has represented for me," Barry said. "There is lots of learning going on."

Barry works alongside Wright fulfilling a number of duties, including pro player personnel evaluation, college scouting, draft preparation, strategic planning and roster management along with some work on the business and marketing side.

"I have a lot of irons on the fire," Barry said. "That's good for me. I can't sit still. I help out in any area R.C. or Brian sees fit."

Local fans remember Barry as the springy-legged, stick-figured wing who provided thrills for Oregon State fans from 1991-95. Known as "the Condor" for his graceful style and and leaping ability and "Bones" for his slender figure, Barry was a two-time all-Pac-10 selection who still ranks 11th on OSU's career scoring list.

Barry went on to play with six teams in 14 NBA seasons, playing on eight playoff teams and winning titles with the Spurs in 2004-05 and 2006-07. He led the NBA in 3-point percentage with Seattle in 2000-01 (.476) and was always an offensive weapon, shooting .460 from the field, .405 from 3-point range and .823 from the line during his career.

"Playing in the NBA is the best first job out of college I can think of," Barry said. "I was so fortunate."

A highlight his rookie season was winning the dunk contest during All-Star Weekend. Barry twice used the old Julius Erving dunk, jumping from the foul line. Though he stepped on the line each time, his version of Dr. J's gliding-in-air jam won him the title. And Brent — to date the only white player ever to win the dunk contest — did them while wearing a warmup jacket.

"I've got to stay warm," he glibly told interviewer Cheryl Miller. "I don't have much of a body."

"Winning the dunk contest was a kick in the pants," Barry says today. "A lot of people remember that, and it brings back a lot of fond memories. I wasn't going out there to lose."

After retirement as a player in 2009, Barry spent nine seasons working in broadcasting with Turner Sports.

"I legitimately had goals (in broadcasting)," Barry said, "and I reached them, getting to do national games and work the playoffs."

In 2018 came the offer to join the Spurs' front office. Barry had lived in San Antonio since moving there in 2004 to begin four seasons playing with the Spurs. He had great respect for Popovich and Buford and for the culture they built within the organization.

"I figured over the next few years, in the wake of the retirement of legendary players (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker) and 'Pop' winding his career down, there was a good chance for professional growth," Barry said. "It's an education I couldn't pass up. It was like Stanford calling and knowing I didn't have the grades to go, but still inviting me onto their campus."

As a player and now as an executive, Barry has been part of a franchise that has sustained excellence like no other. Since 1997-98 — Popovich's first full season as coach and Duncan's rookie season — the Spurs have never missed the playoffs and have claimed five NBA championships.

"First and foremost, the leadership of R.C. and Pop has created the ideal symbiotic relationship between players, coaches, management and ownership," Barry said. "That all came together at the end of the '90s in fantastic fashion, when the team was really good and David (Robinson) was the leader.

"Through the years, there has been a continuance of the values and culture, with Tim following David (as the leader). That's a pretty good table to be set, with those two Hall of Fame players and what they represent as people and on the floor. It's about not compromising on the integrity with which you want to approach the job, and keeping the balance and humility while you go about the process of trying to win a title."

Popovich still has a major voice in basketball operations, which means he is working with Barry now as a colleague and not as a player.

"I thought he was done yelling at me, but apparently he's not," Barry joked. "Seriously, it's a great perspective for everybody in the front office and basketball operations to see what he does on a daily basis. For him to come into the gym with the type of energy and enthusiasm he does, to still want to coach and lead and teach and get the best out of the team — that's something that continues to be a remarkable part of his preparation and daily routine.

"I get to see that side in a much different way now working in the office, and I better understand the layers and levels and degrees in which that type of leadership ends up permeating the things we all try to do with the Spurs."

The NBA game has changed dramatically since Barry came into the league as a player a quarter-century ago. There has been a move away from physical play and inside dominance to an emphasis on freedom of movement, perimeter play and the 3-point shot.

"The changes have me appreciating the game in a much different way," Barry said. "I find it to be exhilarating. It's a better game now, absolutely. We've advanced a lot with the evolution of the game, and it will continue, with the intricacies of offensive plays and the skill set of the entirety of the league, with big players now doing things guards were doing 25 years ago. Those kind of skill and strategy gains are absolutely fantastic for the game of basketball."

Barry said coaching "is not out of the realm of possibility down the road." For now, though, he's trying to soak up as much knowledge as possible so the might one day be qualified to be in charge of an NBA team's basketball operations. Would he prefer that to be the Spurs?

"I wouldn't say I have a team in mind," he said. "It's a wonderful opportunity anywhere in this league to have a chance to figure out a way to put together the right pieces. I'm extremely thankful for my opportunity right now to help Brian and this organization see through what will be an interesting transition in the next few years and try to maintain a standard of success for a very proud franchise."

For now, Barry is happy where he is at. His oldest son, Quinn, is a freshman at Colorado. The youngest, Cade, is an eighth-grader who lives with his dad in San Antonio. Brent works out every day to keep his 6-7 frame at his playing weight of 210 pounds. "The 'Bones' nickname won't be leaving me any time soon," he joked.

As a youngster, Barry played the piano. About four or five years ago, he took up the guitar. These days, he sings and plays for a band that plays rock-and-roll covers.

"We play gigs at a couple of local watering holes once or twice a month," he said. "It's great to have a little bit of fun on a Friday or Saturday night. I'm trying to get (Spurs guard) Patty Mills to sit in with us. Patty plays a spot of guitar himself."

The name of the band?

"My fan base," Barry said, "calls us 'Panic at the Costco.'"

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