I fell in love with basketball within the sixth grade. Within the early 1980s, my bed room had posters of NBA stars comparable to Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Larry Chook, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, Isiah Thomas and Dominique Wilkins. These have been my hoop heroes.
However there was just one participant that I idolized: Ricky Alan Berry.
To not be confused with Corridor of Famer Rick Barry, Ricky Berry is the best basketball participant within the historical past of San Jose State College in California and went on to be drafted by the Sacramento Kings in 1988.
I first met Ricky at SJSU’s youth basketball camp in the summertime of 1985 once I was a seventh grader. I keep in mind him telling all the youngsters at camp that nobody might steal the ball from him. So from that time on, I made it my mission to do exactly that. At some point I observed that Ricky was holding the ball underneath his arm together with his again turned. I ran by, snatched it and took off. Ricky chased after me to the roar of my fellow campers.
I had gained his respect.
Within the following years, Ricky would give me time once I waited to say hey after SJSU video games or ran into him at San Jose’s Eastridge Mall. Ricky’s father, SJSU basketball coach Invoice Berry, as soon as took me off a highschool subject journey at SJSU so I might cling with him at follow. I wore No. 34 in highschool and school due to Ricky.
In 1989, earlier than my senior yr at San Jose Andrew Hill Excessive Faculty, I used to be invited to play on the “Double Pump” highschool basketball camp in Los Angeles that featured the West’s greatest prep gamers. However on Aug. 14, I used to be pulled from the camp and brought to a personal room together with Sacramento prep star Monty Buckley, who would later share the backcourt with Jason Kidd at Cal. Contained in the room was former SJSU assistant coach Eric Saulny. It was Saulny who knowledgeable us that our idol, Ricky Berry, had taken his life that morning.
Berry, who had accomplished a profitable rookie season within the NBA, had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the top at his residence within the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael. Monty and I have been devastated and confused.
“At first I assumed it was a joke,” Buckley recalled lately. “I used to be in disbelief that he was gone. He was a two-way participant, as we are saying immediately, who might play all 5 positions. He had an opportunity to be top-of-the-line within the recreation.”
The Kings appeared to have discovered their crown prince in the course of the 1988-89 season. The 6-foot-Eight, 205-pound swingman averaged 24.2 factors and seven.2 rebounds and shot 44.5 % from Three-point vary as a senior at SJSU and was flashing critical potential as an NBA rookie. Longtime Chicago Bulls school scout Dave Bollwinkel, a former SJSU assistant coach, stated Berry had the potential to turn out to be an NBA All-Star.
“He was 6-Eight, and in the event you guarded him with a capturing guard, we’d submit you. In the event you guarded him with a small ahead, we’d go outdoors with you. You have been both damned when you did and damned for those who didn’t defensively,” Bollwinkel stated.
Berry, who signed a three-year rookie contract with the Kings and earned $300,000 his first season, had a robust aggressive spirit. One time, he obtained right into a struggle with teammate Derek Smith in apply. Berry averaged 11 factors per recreation as a rookie and scored a season-high 34 factors towards the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 9, 1989. He labored exhausting at getting higher and averaged 18.2 factors in his final 11 contests.
“He turned himself into this super Three-point shooter,” former Kings middle Ed Pinckney recalled. “He was draining photographs from far and wide. Late in his first yr he was lastly figuring it out and feeling good about himself. He would all the time say, ‘I’m higher than this.’ ”
“Ricky Berry was Peja Stojakovic earlier than Peja Stojakovic,” stated former Kings ahead Henry Turner, evaluating Berry to the franchise’s legendary sharpshooter. “He had a really, very excessive basketball IQ.”
Former Kings teammate Kenny Smith additionally as soon as informed me: “He was Reggie Miller with a deal with.”
However whereas his NBA future seemed shiny, Berry was scuffling with life outdoors of basketball. Jeff Logan, considered one of Berry’s closest pals on the time, believes Berry was coping with stress from his younger marriage and the pressures of being solely a two-hour drive from his mother and father. The Berrys had eloped with out his mother and father’ blessing, and Ricky’s buddies stated it was no secret that his mom, Clarice, was not keen on his spouse. These near the basketball star additionally stated Berry engaged in infidelity with one other lady.
In the meantime, others near Ricky stated he was fearful about maintaining the funds on his new $350,000 house and that his relationship together with his father was strained.
“I feel if he had been drafted by some other workforce aside from the Kings and the Warriors, it might have been a greater problem to cope with,” Logan stated. “There was plenty of strain on him by dwelling in Sacramento.”
That stated, what occurred on Aug. 14, 1989, would nonetheless come as a shock to these near him.
The day past, Pinckney stated Berry picked up his then Three-year-old son, Shae, and took him to play video video games at an arcade. Later that day, Berry had invited his shut good friend Bobby Gerould, son of Kings play-by-play announcer Gary Gerould, and some others to his new residence. They spent the night swimming, enjoying video video games and consuming pizza. All appeared fantastic.
Bobby Gerould (left) interviews Ricky Berry (proper) in Grass Valley, California, on July 29, 1989. Gerould was an audio engineer at ARCO as a scholar at Sacramento State College and an announcer at Dash Automotive races sanctioned by the Northern Auto Racing Membership. Berry is sporting a Brent Kaeding uniform and had simply completed “wheel-packing” the automotive earlier than the night time of aggressive racing started.
Photograph courtesy of Bobby Gerould
However when Ricky’s spouse got here house that night time, Gerould stated the couple obtained right into a heated argument. Valerie would spend the night time elsewhere.
On the morning of Aug. 14, Turner stated he received a name from Berry to see if he was going to work out that morning in Sacramento. Turner, nevertheless, was in Los Angeles and stated he can be again later within the week. Hours later, Turner obtained a name from a Kings secretary: “Ricky is gone.”
“Once I talked to him that day, nothing appeared improper. Nothing appeared out the unusual,” Turner stated. “It was like, ‘I’m going to work out.’ I used to be like, ‘OK.’ We ballplayers. That’s what we do. … And that was the final time I talked to him.”
Logan ultimately acquired phrase from one of many Kings’ trainers that he ought to go to his good friend’s home instantly as a result of one thing horrible had occurred. Upon arriving on the residence, which nonetheless had a “SOLD” signal out entrance, he discovered that Ricky, who was godfather to his son, took his personal life. Pinckney and then-Phoenix Suns star guard Kevin Johnson, a Sacramento native, have been already there grieving.
“It was like somebody hit me within the head with a crowbar once I heard about what occurred,” stated Pinckney, who spent lots of time with the Berrys through the 1988-89 season.
After returning residence that day, Valerie discovered her husband’s physique within the household room, the place Ricky had additionally left a letter.
Ricky had partially typed and primarily handwritten the letter, The Undefeated discovered. He started it by telling his mother and father, youthful sister, Pam, and Valerie that he beloved them. He added that the suicide “might have been prevented” however the frustrations with “the little issues” in his struggling marriage have been why he took his life. (Berry additionally wrote about totally different subjects, together with a plea to “please cease the black-on-black violence.”)
Even with the contents of the observe, Ricky’s shut buddies consider a mixture of causes led to his choice to finish his life.
“Whereas it provided a bit of little bit of perception, it doesn’t cowl up the harm that you simply really feel,” Gerould stated. “It didn’t supply any readability.”
A spokesman for the Kings at the moment stated Berry was not being handled for psychological issues, stress or another points.
“I don’t even need to chalk it as much as psychological well being. He was stressed,” Logan stated about Berry.
Berry’s former Kings teammates have been by no means capable of get closure. Berry’s mother and father and sister buried Ricky privately in Lansing, Michigan, the place he was born. Then-Kings head coach Jerry Reynolds was too emotional to learn a ready assertion throughout a quick information convention about Berry’s passing. The Kings made no point out of Berry’s suicide when the 1989-90 season started.
“Everybody was ready as a result of we needed to go to the funeral. We needed to say goodbye,” Turner stated. “We need to categorical condolences. That is our teammate. That is our buddy. Nevertheless it was as in the event that they packed every thing and [left]. No telephone calls. Nothing. Nobody had an opportunity to say goodbye.”
Three many years later, the previous Kings swingman continues to be missed. Former teammates marvel about what might’ve been for Berry within the NBA, which has just lately mandated that each workforce have at the least one licensed psychological well being skilled out there to gamers.
“I truthfully thought that Ricky Berry was going to be a big-time scorer and big-time star on this league,” Turner stated.
Stated Pinckney: “He was such a humble dude. It’s so loopy to consider what he did as a result of he was actually in the midst of enjoying a very good stretch of basketball. …
“Anytime I hear his identify I take into consideration how good an individual he was and the way a lot he liked youngsters.”
Gerould, 51, stated he struggles with Berry’s demise to this present day. He and Berry related by way of auto racing. Subsequent to basketball, Berry’s largest love was automobiles and driving them quick. Berry as soon as raced Kenny Smith after follow in ARCO Area’s large parking zone. Berry even briefly labored for a Sacramento Acura dealership and a Mazda dealership in close by Davis to study extra concerning the enterprise.
Gerould was an announcer at Dash Automotive races in Northern California and invited Berry to races. By way of Gerould, he obtained to know the drivers and drove their automobiles on the dust monitor to heat them up earlier than competitors.
“He was my pal,” stated Gerould, whose subsequent gig as an announcer is in Calistoga, California, at a monitor he took Ricky to. “He had a light-weight about him even in his brief keep. He lit up a room. There was simply one thing about him. …
“Thirty years later, I nonetheless take into consideration this dude on a regular basis.”
Invoice Berry ultimately departed the Kings to work for the Houston Rockets as an assistant coach and scout. Smith, who gained two championships with the Rockets, stated he by no means talked to Invoice Berry concerning the passing of his son regardless of being round him frequently.
Pinckney additionally stated he needed to have a dialog with Invoice Berry about his son however there was by no means a cushty area for it to happen.
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“The one matter that’s all the time off limits with Invoice and his household,” considered one of his closest buddies stated, “was his son.”
After my basketball camp in 1989, my mother needed me to vary my jersey quantity due to the best way Berry handed. I assured her that I might assume solely of the constructive reminiscences and what he meant to me, however I didn’t need to make a change. I wrote No. 34 on my Nikes in his honor throughout my senior yr in highschool.
Ricky liked basketball. He liked the individuals in his life. And 30 years later, he’s nonetheless beloved too.