Monday, 15 Jul 2024

Q&A: HBCU legend Dick Barnett shares his playing journey

Dick Barnett, an HBCU legend, has a remarkable basketball career. From leading Tennessee State to three consecutive NAIA national championships to winning NBA titles with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973, Barnett’s accomplishments are legendary.

In this exclusive interview, Barnett reflects on his glory days, his favorite NBA players, and the evolution of the game. Read on as he shares his insights and experiences from his time on the court.

Reminiscing on the Glory Days

Barnett, now 85 years old, takes a moment to reflect on his illustrious career. From his victories in college to his championships in the NBA, Barnett’s journey is filled with memorable moments and unforgettable teammates.

Watching the NBA and Favorite Players

When asked about his current NBA viewing habits, Barnett reveals that he watches sporadically. He admires perennial stars like LeBron James, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. These players, along with talented individuals such as Stephen Curry, have made a significant impact on the game.

Rooting for the Future of the Knickerbockers

As a former player for the New York Knicks, Barnett expresses his hope for the regeneration of the team. He believes that the Eastern Conference as a whole has shown improvement and is keen to see the Knicks succeed once again.

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The Evolution of the Game

Barnett acknowledges the drastic changes in the game of basketball over the years. He notes that the game has become less physical and highlights the influence of players like Curry, who revolutionized the 3-point shot. Additionally, Barnett recognizes the diminishing presence of traditional big men in today’s NBA.

Playing with Famous Teammates

During his time with the Knicks, Barnett had the privilege of playing alongside legendary teammates. Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Bradley were key contributors to the team’s success. Under the guidance of Coach Red Holzman, their talents were maximized, leading to their championship victories.

Growing Up in Gary, Indiana

Barnett shares his upbringing in Gary, Indiana, characterized by segregation and limited interactions with white individuals. Despite these challenges, his love for basketball blossomed. From playing ping pong ball with a tin cup at a local community center to honing his skills at Roosevelt High School’s playground, Barnett’s journey towards basketball excellence began humbly.

Collegiate Success and Overcoming Adversity

As a college player at Tennessee State, Barnett achieved remarkable success. He was a three-time All-American and led his team to three consecutive national championships – a first for the NAIA. However, his achievements were not without hardships. During the racially charged 1950s, the team faced discrimination and endured the harsh realities of segregation while traveling for games.

The Influence of Coach John McLendon

Barnett attributes much of his success to legendary coach John McLendon at Tennessee State. McLendon’s coaching and guidance instilled confidence in the team, enabling them to challenge racial stereotypes and defy expectations. Despite facing hostile crowds, Barnett and his teammates were determined to prove their worth on the court.

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Barnett’s Versatility as a Player

Known for his jump shot, Barnett shares that he was a versatile player who excelled both as a forward and a guard. Despite not being the most athletic player, his positioning and anticipation skills contributed to his success as a rebounder. Barnett’s scoring prowess was evident when he won an ABL championship with the Cleveland Pipers in 1962 and was named the league’s Most Valuable Player.

Legendary Teammates and the Celtics Rivalry

Barnett’s career also included stints with the Syracuse Nationals (now the Philadelphia 76ers) and the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing alongside basketball icons like Dolph Schayes, Hal Greer, Larry Costello, Johnny Kerr, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, Barnett experienced the thrill of being part of highly talented teams. Although they faced a formidable challenge in the dominant Boston Celtics, Barnett cherishes the memories and camaraderie forged during those years.


Dick Barnett’s journey in basketball is filled with triumphs, challenges, and unforgettable moments. From his humble beginnings in Gary, Indiana, to his collegiate success and professional accomplishments, Barnett’s legacy is one of perseverance and excellence. His reflections on the game’s evolution and his experiences playing with legendary teammates offer valuable insights into the rich history of the sport. As we celebrate the achievements of HBCU legends like Barnett, let us remember the impact they made on and off the court.


Q: What were Dick Barnett’s achievements in college basketball?

A: Dick Barnett had an impressive college basketball career. He was a three-time All-American and led his team, Tennessee State, to three consecutive NAIA national championships, a remarkable feat in college basketball history.

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Q: Who were Dick Barnett’s famous teammates during his time with the New York Knicks?

A: Dick Barnett played alongside renowned players during his stint with the New York Knicks. His teammates included Clyde Frazier, Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, and Bill Bradley. Together, they formed a formidable team that won NBA championships in 1970 and 1973.

Q: What impact did Coach John McLendon have on Dick Barnett’s career?

A: Coach John McLendon played a crucial role in shaping Dick Barnett’s career. McLendon instilled confidence in his players, challenging racial stereotypes and pushing them to excel on the court. His coaching and guidance proved instrumental in Barnett’s personal and team success.


Dick Barnett, an HBCU legend, reflects on his basketball career and shares insights into the game’s evolution. From his achievements in college to his triumphs in the NBA, Barnett’s journey is one of perseverance and excellence. Playing alongside legendary teammates and under the guidance of influential coaches, he left an indelible mark on the sport. As we celebrate his legacy, let us remember the impact of HBCU legends like Barnett on the history of basketball.

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