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Sports celebs lend helping hand to 13th Ave. Center

SARASOTA — Rick Barry knows a thing or two about the NBA Finals, which is among the reasons he has been voted one of the 50 greatest players in the game and is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

In the 1967 NBA Finals, Barry averaged 40.8 points a game, setting a league record that stood for three decades. He is the only player in basketball history to lead the NCAA, NBA and now defunct ABA in scoring.

The leading scorer on the 1975 NBA champion Golden State Warriors, he looked at home with other NBA legends and famous sports figures Friday night at the Sarasota Hyatt Regency for the Eighth Annual Celebrity Sports Night. They were there to commemorate the 13th Avenue Dream Center, which opens Monday.

The majority of the athletes were from the NBA and, with the finals heating up, conversation turned to the Lakers-Celtics series that moves to Game 5 on Sunday.

Other NBA standouts in attendance were Otis Birdsong, Artis Gilmore and Michael Ray Richardson. They were joined by baseball’s Wade Boggs and Hal McRae, and former NFL greats Bo Jackson, Billy Joe DuPree, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, AJ Duhe and Nat Moore.

“I don’t think anything in the NBA Finals has gone according to the way people thought it would,” Barry said. “The only person who has been consistent has been Pau Gasol. Originally, I thought the series would turn on who would have a better series between Kobe Bryant or Rajon Rondo. But Boston has to win Sunday to give themselves a fighting chance with the remaining games in Los Angeles.”

Ironically, Barry, who was noted for criticizing officials during his playing days and later as a broadcaster, believes all the hoopla over the officiating has been overblown.

“Everybody criticizes the officials, but it’s rare when the way officials call a game causes one team to lose,” Barry said. “They have called the game a little closer than you might like to see, but in a way it’s good because normally they beat the heck out of each other in the playoffs. However, Kobe had three horrendous calls against him in the second game.”

The 6-foot-7 Barry scored more than 25,000 points in his pro career and was an uncanny long-range shooter.

He led the nation in scoring his senior year at Miami (37.4 ppg), the NBA in 1967 (35.6 ppg) and the ABA in ’69 (34 ppg), and he led the NBA and ABA a combined nine times in free throw percentage.

Still, he can’t fathom how Boston’s Ray Allen sets a record with eight three-pointers in Game 2 and then misses 13 straight from beyond the arc over the next two games.

“It’s astonishing considering how good a shooter he is,” Barry said. “But there are so many bizarre things that have happened in this series. You can’t figure it out. It’s really been wild.”

Barry is most proud that two of his sons, Brett and Jon, followed him in the NBA and then into broadcasting. Rick and Brent are only one of two father-son duos to win an NBA title.

“What are the odds on having them follow in my footsteps as a player and broadcaster,” Barry said. “But I am just proud that they along with my other two sons are good people and have never gotten into trouble.”

Richardson has been to all eight of the galas to help raise money for the 13th Avenue Dream Center and says he wouldn’t miss it for anything. He and Birdsong are picking the Lakers to win.

“I wish I had something like this (center) when I was a kid growing up,” said Richardson, the first player to lead the NBA in assists and steals. “I like the Lakers to win because of their youth, and Kobe Bryant is on a mission to avenge that loss to Boston in 2008. (The officials) are calling it awfully close, but officiating is a tough job and they are judgment calls.”

Birdsong, who has a sports marketing company, was an NBA point guard for 12 seasons and finished his career with 12,544 points. He says the antics of Boston’s Nate Robinson, who taunted several Lakers in Game 4, could backfire against his team.

“It could come back to haunt him. You don’t want to try and show your competitor up, and the Lakers are not going to forget that,” Birdsong said.

A Florida native, he currently lives in Little Rock, Ark., hometown of Lakers guard Derek Fisher.

“Derek’s mom and I are very good friends. He is a winner, and I am not surprised at all what he did in Game 3 to help the Lakers win,” Birdsong said. “The Lakers are thinking they have two home games and they can win it at home. I also think they will win Sunday. I think they are the better team. They are the team to beat, and when they go home, they will take care of business.”