Known for his trademark “question mark” jump shot and sharp wit, Barnett played three seasons as a starter for the Lakers beginning in 1962-63. The three-time All-American at Tennessee State undertook a valuable role during his first year with the team, helping the Lakers win the Western Division title after Jerry West missed 27 games because of a leg injury. Barnett’s unique, left-handed “fall back” jumper was his calling card. He perfected the unusual technique of kicking his legs back as he released the ball while in college, prompting him to taunt bewildered defenders by saying, “Too late; Fall back baby.” The slogan earned him the nickname “Fall Back Baby” from Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
Off the court, Barnett took pride in his appearance: “Clothes must be had in quality, not in quantity. No plain pipe racks, darlin’,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1966. He was traded just before the start of the 1965-66 season to New York where he went to help the Knicks defeat the Lakers for the 1970 NBA Championship.
Feb. 12, 2011