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Jim Barnett had an 11-year NBA career including three years with the Golden State Warriors (1971-74). He is currently a television analyst for Warriors basketball broadcasts. (Golden State Warriors photo)

JIM BARNETT has been dribbling a basketball for 50 years, and he can't make himself stop.

He's 65, with eroding skills, and his knees are killing him. But he's addicted to hoops, and so he plays on with no end in sight.

It's all about passion, and Barnett remains as devoted to Dr. Naismith's game as during his well-traveled 11 seasons in the National Basketball Association, including three years with the Warriors from 1971 to 1974.

"For me to play, it still feels the same as the NBA," he said. "I play in masters tournaments, and it's really competitive. I feel the same anxiety as the NBA, the same nervousness, and the same feeling as when you were 25 years old when you drive and make that shot."

And he's still shooting. Are any Warriors from Barnett's years in Oakland — Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond, Al Attles, etc. — still playing competitively?

"I'm the only one," said Barnett. "Nate, Clyde Lee, they tell me I'm crazy to play. Jeff Mullins had both knees replaced. He plays golf and tennis."

Of NBA opponents from Barnett's era (1966-1977), Flynn Robinson is the only one who plays in the same masters tournaments as Barnett. Younger NBA retirees such as Tim Hardaway and Glen Rice are also masters regulars.

"I've always enjoyed playing basketball," Barnett said. "I've been a gym rat ever since I got that passion for it at 15 in Riverside."


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He hasn't had a season off since, making it 50 years. This is his 25th year as the Warriors' television analyst and 25th year of masters competition. He plays with the same group of guys on the East Bank Saloon team out of Portland, Ore.

They play around the world — Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, Denmark, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Slovenia, Uruguay — like the Harlem Globetrotters.

Barnett is no longer "Crazy Horse" — his NBA nickname because of his frenetic court style. He averaged 11.7 points while playing guard for seven NBA teams.

"I don't try to score like I used to because it's hard to finish inside, scoring in traffic," he said. "I used to take one dribble from a certain spot and I would be at the rim. Now I take off from that same spot and I'm six feet from the rim, throwing up some shot. It goes in sometimes, but not as much as it used to."

The 6-foot-3½ inch Barnett weighs 210 pounds, or 40 pounds heavier than when he became the all-time scorer at the University of Oregon and the Boston Celtics' No. 1 pick in 1966. He's has had four knee surgeries since then, three after leaving the NBA.

"My two assets in the NBA were speed and quickness," he said. "Everything is relative, so everyone gets older, and I'm still the quickest player on the floor. I still have the same moves to get around my man, but there's not much left after the first step. And I can't pull up quickly and shoot a jump shot anymore."

His quickness is needed for another reason: Aggressiveness. Even old guys have hair-trigger tempers, and fights break out in masters games. Some opponents see Barnett as a "ringer," and get physical with him, especially a club from Latvia.

A few current Warriors are mildly aware that their TV analyst still plays.

"They don't realize that they're going to get old, too, one day," he said.

Will Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry still be playing at 65?

But how much longer before Barnett, an Orinda resident, calls it quits?

"I don't think I could ever disassociate myself from basketball," he said. "It's part of my identity, something in my blood. I'll play into my 70s if healthy."

And into your 80s?

"If they have 80-and-over competition, yeah," he said, laughing.

His passion is timeless.

Dave Newhouse's columns appear Monday, Thursday and Sunday, usually in the Metro section. Know any Good Neighbors? Phone 510-208-6466 or e-mail dnewhouse@bayareanewsgroup.com.