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Matt Barnes: Management to blame in L.A., not Kobe Bryant
1:40 | NBA
Matt Barnes: Management to blame in L.A., not Kobe Bryant
Wednesday April 8th, 2015

When people talk about Clippers forward Matt Barnes, one word often comes to mind. That word is a--hole.

“When he was with the Lakers, I hated him,” says Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. “And I mean hated him.”

Barnes fouls hard. He talks trash. He’ll tackle your star player, fight your center and threaten your owner (these are not hypotheticals; Barnes has done all three during the last two years). He never stops, stalking the court and scowling and cursing so loud that his neck veins distort the topography of his neck tattoo.

All of which causes plenty of NBA players, and fans, to expect the worst when Barnes joins their team, an occurrence which, it should be noted, is all but inevitable. In 12 seasons, the 35-year-old has taken the court alongside everyone from Kobe Bryant to Dwight Howard to Allen Iverson while playing for eight teams. It’s only a matter of time until he joins yours.

But once he does, something strange happens. People don’t just tolerate Barnes, or like him. They love him. “Once he joined us, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is going to be great,’” says Jordan. “He’s all about team. All about family.” Clippers point guard Chris Paul says he used to “really hate” Barnes as well, but he now calls him, “an unbelievable teammate”, mentioning “how hard he plays” and his “selflessness.” J.J. Redick played one season in Orlando with Barnes in 2010 and for years after, whenever asked, cited Barnes as his favorite teammate ever. “And I bet,” says Redick, who’s now reunited with Barnes in Los Angeles, “if you ask a bunch of guys that have played with him you’d get the same response.”

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

*****

When I meet Barnes, on a recent Thursday, one of the first things he says is, “There’s no bulls--- to me.”

He’s seated on a white couch in his waterfront condo in Marina del Rey, Ca. A liquor cabinet in the corner is stocked with Crown Royal and Captain Morgan. To his right, about seven feet up the wall, hangs a regulation basketball hoop, installed for the benefit of his twin six-year-old boys, Isaiah and Carter. Across from the couch, a large flat-screen TV is tuned to the NCAA tournament, where Barnes’ alma mater, UCLA, is playing in the first round. It’s been 13 years since Barnes was in Westwood, where he played with future NBAers Earl Watson, Baron Davis, Jerome Moiso. Dan Gadzuric and Jason Kapono. Today, Barnes is the last one left in the league. He has no illusions about why. “I’m a role player, a journeyman,” he says, “I know who I am.”

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There are, Barnes explains, two NBAs. There’s the one you see on TV, populated by LeBron and KD and Chris and Cliff Paul, a world where every paycheck bubbles with zeros, millions of Chinese teenagers rock your jersey and, if you don’t like a coach, you can just get him fired.

And then there’s the NBA where Barnes resides, a, Darwinian landscape where the average playing career is 4.8 years, you’re always one injury away from irrelevancy and to survive is to succeed.

Every time Barnes takes the court, even now, he feels like he’s auditioning for a job. It’s been that way his whole career: from the Fayetteville Patriots of the D League to Sonics training camp to the ABA’s Long Beach Jam to the Clippers, Kings, 76ers, Knicks, Warriors, Magic, Suns, Lakers and, once again, Clippers. He’s never averaged more than 10.3 points per game or led the league in anything—though he has an outside shot at doing so in personal fouls this season. He does, however, consistently rate well in advanced stats; he’s top 100 all time in Effective Field Goal Percentage and top 40 this season in Real Plus/Minus. But these are not the types of measures that get you big contracts. In over a decade, Barnes has never made even the mid-level exception—approximately $5.3 million—and, up until his current deal, had never signed a contract that lasted more than two seasons.

Two years ago, Forbes named him the most underpaid player in the NBA, Photoshopping him into a janitor’s uniform to make the point.  

******

John W. McDonough/SI

People form assumptions about Barnes based on his appearance. His body is covered with tattoos. One on his arm reads “Sactown’s Finest.” A spiderweb envelopes his shooting elbow. Most visibly, the script “Believe” traverses the right side of his neck.

Because Barnes has dark, straight hair, light skin and a small, impeccably-maintained mustache, he is occasionally mistaken for being Hispanic, and he has a vocal following among Latino fans at Staples Center. In reality, Barnes is half-black (his father) and half-Italian (his mom). At 6’7", he’s also surprisingly tall for someone with normal-sized parents.

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​​Early on in life, he learned about accountability. His father, Henry, was a butcher by day and, according to Matt, a drug dealer in his spare time. Matt was charged with looking out for his younger brother and sister. If anybody messed with either of them, he was expected to “take care of it.” “If I didn’t, I’d get beat by my dad,” Matt says. “So I learned early, you’re going to have to fight.”

Matt remembers going to the flea market on weekends as a little boy and watching while his father beat up other men. Sometimes it was over a petty dispute. Sometimes, the person just bumped into Henry. “He always carried a little knife or a gun back in the car, but most of the time it was just fighting,” Matt says. “At the time, I thought he was a badass.”

Today, Matt’s feelings about his father are complicated—it took until his mother’s death in 2007 for the two men to hug for the first time.  But the fighting instinct remains, especially when one of his own is threatened. If Blake Griffin takes a hard fall, or someone pushes Chris Paul, Barnes is invariably the first man on the scene, fists balled, eyes burning, ready to send a message, a hockey enforcer in shorts and a tank top. If the NBA kept a statistic for having-your-back, Barnes would be at an All-NBA level. “These are my teammates and I need them to play well for us to win,” he explains. “You’re not going to intimidate them and you’re not going to take cheap shots, stuff that’s not basketball.”

He pauses. “If you do, we’ll see where that goes. I treat my teammates like they’re family.”

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

A sampling of activities for which Barnes has been suspended and/or fined while treating his teammates like family: Fighting Rafer Alston (2008), chucking a ball in the stands (2009), criticizing referees (2010), escalating a fight between Jason Terry and Steve Blake (2011), fighting Greg Stiemsma (2013), failing to leave the court in a timely manner (twice; 2013), kicking a water bottle into the stands (2014) and talking to fans/cursing at Suns owner Robert Sarver(2015).

Amount in fines Barnes estimates he’s paid to the NBA during his career: About $500,000.  

What Barnes thinks would have happened if it had been him, and not James Harden, who “accidentally” kicked LeBron James in a sensitive region of the anatomy in a game in February: “I’d be put in jail. Or at least suspended for several games.”

What happened to Harden: He received a T. He stayed in the game. His team won. (Only later was he suspended one game).

******

For years Barnes hated that his parents sent him to a white high school—Del Campo High in Fair Oaks, outside Sacramento, which is predominantly Caucasian— because he felt like he never fit in. Now he understands. “They wanted it better for me. They wanted me to have a chance.”

His family moved from the Bay Area to Sacramento so his father could start anew, but it didn’t take. Barnes sought safe havens. He spent nights at friends’ houses then, eventually, holidays and vacations. He saw a potential future. “Once I saw how these white people were living, all eating dinner together and taking family vacations and they were just a family, I was like, ‘S---, I want that.’”

One of those friends was Crystal Dahl, whom he first met in fourth grade. They got their ears pierced together. She fantasized about being a movie star; he fantasized about playing for the Lakers. They are still good friends. “We can go a long time without talking and yet if I ever need someone to lean on, he’s always there,” says Dahl, who still calls Barnes by his given name, Matthew Kelly. “If you befriend him, he will have your back forever.”

For Barnes, sports were the only obvious route to a new, better life. By high school, he was an elite talent, a game-breaking wide receiver on the football field who played everything from point guard to center on the basketball court. It was a heady time, and he took advantage. But the same people who wanted to be his best friend often wanted to see him fail. As a mixed-race kid, at times it got ugly. To some, he was too black; to others, he wasn’t black enough. At road games he was spit on. Opposing students waved bananas. His senior year, when a Del Campo student spat on his little sister, he decked the kid and got suspended. When he returned, weeks before graduation, someone had spray-painted the high school walls with “Matt Barnes Die” and “KKK.”

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AP

NBA players tend to fall into different categories: prima donnas, workers, specialists. Barnes classifies himself as a “dog”.

Some other dogs in the league, by Barnes’ estimation: Draymond Green, Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bogut, LeBron (“at times”), Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul.

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​To illustrate Paul’s dog-ness—if that is a word—Barnes tells a story. Last month, Paul was banged up with a knee injury and visibly limping. The Clippers’ next game was against the Thunder. At the time, Russell Westbrook was in full psycho basketball god mode. So Barnes went to the coaching staff. “Let me guard Westbrook and let Chris guard someone off the ball,” he said. “So we can save him for the offensive end.”

The next day, Barnes told Paul the plan.

“F--- that,” said Paul. “I got him.”

“You sure?” Barnes asked.

Paul just stared at him.

The next day, the Clippers won by 12 and Paul held Westbrook to 5-of-14 shooting.

Asked about this, Paul nods. “Hell no I’m not letting him cover him,” he says. “And Matt knows that. But Matt’s the same way. If Matt was hurt and we were playing against the Cavs and I said, ‘I got LeBron,’ he wouldn’t let it happen. We’re alike in a lot of ways.” Paul pauses. “I think that’s why we get along so well.”

*****

UCLA was rough at first for Barnes. He went from being a high school celebrity to a bench player on a stacked team, asked by coach Steve Lavin to guard opposing power forwards.

Slowly, Barnes worked his way into the rotation as a do-it-all player. In 2002, the Grizzlies drafted him in the second round, with the No. 46 pick. Then the odyssey began: ABA, D League, NBA fringes. Year by year, he learned the realities of life in the NBA.

One early lesson came from Iverson, his teammate for half a season in Philadelphia. “Allen was the first guy that showed me how NBA players spend money in strip clubs,” Barnes says. “That guy went. HARD. He’d throw so much money, and this was when I was first in the league, that I used to take my foot and scoop the s--- under my chair and either re-throw it or put some in my pocket. He’d throw $30,000, $40,000 every time we went. I’m like, ‘You realize what I can do with this money?’”

Philly is also where Barnes learned that it’s a star’s league. At the time, he was the 12th man, clinging to a job. As Barnes tells it, he was working with shooting coach Buzz Braman after practice, hoping to smooth out a hitch in his shot, when Sixers head coach Mo Cheeks walked by. “I don’t see why you’re working on your shot,” Cheeks said. “You’re not going to get to shoot here.” Barnes fumed, but said nothing.

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A week later, in practice, things came to a head. “I came down on a 3-on-1 and hit pull-up 15-footer off the glass and [Cheeks] stopped practice,” says Barnes. “He yells, ‘What are you doing? What are you shooting the ball for? You know that’s not your job, you gotta pass the ball!’”

Barnes was shocked “What? But I made the shot.”

Said Cheeks: “That’s why you don’t play.’”

And then, Barnes says, he lost it. “I was going to chase him down and whoop his ass, so I took off after him and AI grabbed me and I got through him and Chris [Webber] grabbed me and bearhugged me and I said to Mo, ‘You’re lucky.’”

Says Barnes now: “I hated Mo Cheeks. He was a dick.”

*****

Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images

The same year one coach derailed his career, another saved it. That summer, with no NBA job, Barnes was considering trying out for the NFL. Then Baron Davis, his old college teammate, invited him to an open run with the Warriors. Barnes did his usual Barnes thing, scrapping and passing and spacing and defending. Unbeknownst to him, Warriors coach Don Nelson was watching from the coach’s office, high above the gym floor.

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​Nellie came down and extended a training camp invite. There was one catch: the Warriors already had 14 guaranteed contracts and 17 players in camp. Barnes made the team anyway. Early in the season, thanks to injuries, he got a chance. And not just for spot minutes. “Nellie told me, ‘It’s OK if you turn the ball over. I don’t want you to, but if you do you’re going to keep playing.’’ For Barnes, forever on a leash, it was a revelation. “People don’t realize that everyone in the NBA is really good,” he says. “The difference is having a coach that believes in you.”

By late December, when the Sixers came to town, Barnes was a starter, the perfect hybrid athlete for the run-and-gun, position-less style of Nellieball. Before the game, he told his coach how much he hated Cheeks. Nellie smiled and laughed that Nellie laugh.  “Alright,” he said. “Do your thing tonight.’”

That evening, at Oracle arena, Barnes scored 25 points while hitting seven three-pointers. To this day, it remains perhaps the best shooting night of his life. And every time he sank a jumper, he turned and let Cheeks hear it. Colorfully.

*****             

A related note: If you are like Mo Cheeks and have hated on Barnes, he’d like to thank you.

On the rare occasions when Barnes isn’t feeling his usual energy before a game, he will grab his phone and look through his Twitter mentions. He scrolls past the compliments and wannabe groupies and requests for RTs until he finds what he needs: negativity. “…[you’re an] invisible man on the court, ur a better talker than a player”. “Matt Barnes looks like that deadbeat uncle that buys you alcohol in high school…” “…If only the Clippers had a better starting SF offensively than Matt Barnes…”

Sometimes, Barnes clicks on profiles, to see who’s dissing him. Sometimes he responds. Then he seeks out more insults. He admits this is a bit masochistic, but he fears that without sufficient anger he will lose his edge. And, to Barnes, that edge is everything. “That negativity is what keeps that chip on my shoulder, what makes me a dog, what makes me an a--hole on the court.” he says. And being an a--hole, he knows, is what’s kept him in the league. So he stores away the criticisms. Later, during the game, if he needs inspiration during a down moment, he cues up the hecklers in his head. “And then I’ll be like, ‘Lock back in, let’s go!’”

Barnes is so grateful for your disrespect that he even has a gesture planned. “If I ever win a ring, I’m going to get it sized for my middle finger,” he says. “To thank all the people who doubted me, because you guys are what drove me to my ultimate goal.”

[pagebreak]

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Sport

Some facts about Matt Barnes that may surprise you, especially in light of that last anecdote: He runs a foundation called Athletes vs. Cancer; he has a film production company; he’s had discussions with the NFL Network about being an analyst. Also, his life goal is to be the mayor of Sacramento. Last summer, he says he spent a week shadowing current mayor Kevin Johnson and his staff.

*****

In the fall of 2007, Matt’s mother, Ann, a former elementary school teacher, was diagnosed with multiple types of cancer. She died a month later, at age 50. Matt’s teammates rallied around him, for Ann had been something of a team mother. Baron Davis wore a red bracelet with “Ann” and a heart on it; Stephen Jackson followed suit. Matt? He played the next day, because that’s what he believed his mother would have wanted, and because the team—his other family—needed him.

The rest of the season was a haze. He couldn’t compartmentalize his grief. He got injured and fell out of the rotation. A little over a year after the Warriors’ "We Believe" team knocked off the top-seeded Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, Barnes was on the move. Again.

First it was Phoenix, then Orlando. Then, in 2010, Barnes was prepared to accept a sizeable free agent deal with the Raptors when his phone rang.

“Hey” said a voice. “It’s Kobe.”

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​This came as a surprise to Barnes, to say the least. Not only had he never talked to Bryant on the phone, but the two men had history. While in Orlando, Barnes had gotten into it with Bryant more than once. Pushing. Talking. Elbow-throwing. Once, Barnes pretended to chuck a ball at Kobe’s face; Bryant didn’t even flinch. But now here was Bryant, calling and asking Barnes where he was going to sign. Said Kobe: “You want to be a Laker?”

Barnes would have to take less money. There’d be less security.

He didn’t hesitate: “Hell yeah!”

Later, Bryant explained his reasoning: “Anyone crazy enough to mess with me is crazy enough to play with me.”

Among all the dogs in the league, Barnes considers Kobe to be the alpha.

On his first flight with the Lakers, to an overseas exhibition game, Barnes noticed Bryant bobbing his head and muttering in his seat, a few rows ahead of him. Barnes couldn’t tell if he was rapping or talking on the phone. He walked over to find Kobe scribbling on a piece of paper. “What are you doing?” he asked

Bryant looked up. “I’m drawing our offensive plays and where I’ll get double-teamed in the triangle,” he said. In front of him was a piece of paper with roughly 30 tiny diagrams of half courts, all marked up. “That way I can figure out where you guys are going to be open.”

A preseason flight and this is what Kobe was doing? Now this, Barnes thought, was a dude he wanted to go to war with. Partly for this reason, Barnes considers it crap when people say free agents don’t want to go to the Lakers because of Bryant. “The reason people don’t want to go to the Lakers is because of management,” Barnes says. “Kobe can be the scapegoat all they want but if you play hard, Kobe likes you. And if you bulls--- around, he doesn’t. It’s plain and simple. He’s not a vocal leader. He just expects you to play as hard as you can every minute on the court, like he does.”

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Mark Ralston/Getty Images

A few more of Barnes’ many opinions:

• His least favorite player to guard is James Harden because, “if you breathe on him it’s a foul.” “He’s tricked the refs,” says Barnes.

• Barnes calls Phil Jackson the best coach he’s played for —“I felt like more of a man when I played for Phil because he allowed us to do so much stuff on our own”—but he liked Stan Van Gundy, Nelson and Adelman too. Most everybody but Mo Cheeks.

• Related, and perhaps unexpected: He and Jackson used to discuss strategy on the phone. When Barnes tore his meniscus with the Lakers, he’d text Phil after road games. Phil would call back. Barnes was shocked. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m talking to f---ing Phil Jackson about what our team needs to be doing and what worked well!’ That’s when I realized that maybe I did understand the game.”

• The only player he’s ever hated in the NBA is the same guy who said that nice stuff earlier in the story. “J.J. Redick kind of changed my whole perspective on judging people, because I’m judged so much,” says Barnes. “Before I played with him, I was like, ‘I f---ing hate that guy!’ He never did anything to me, but to see him at Duke and the way he acted, I was like, ‘I do not like that guy.’” Then Barnes played with Redick, and realized he was the unlikeliest of dogs. “He’s tough, and if you play dirty, he’ll play dirty,” explains Barnes. The two are now close friends.

On the subject of playing dirty, Barnes says there are, “only a handful of people in the NBA who would really fight.” Among those, Barnes says he fears none, but there are some he’s preferred to avoid over the years. Like Ron Artest. “Ron’s dope, but he had a scary side,” says Barnes of his former Lakers teammate. “Like if I had to fight him, it might not end. Because we might just keep fighting.”

Serge Ibaka is not on that list. In November of 2013, during a game in LA, Ibaka pushed Blake Griffin as he tried to put up a shot. Barnes raced over, Ibaka cocked a fist, and teammates restrained the pair. Barnes was not impressed. “He just thinks he’s the toughest guy on earth and I don’t see it,” Barnes says. “We can fight on the court or after the game. To me it doesn’t matter. But you’re not going to continue to punch Blake in the balls, or throw elbows, or push me…I’m not having none of that s---. When I put him in his place, not only fans but guys on other teams were happy. They’d be coming up, saying, ‘I hate that f---ing guy.’”

Robyn Beck/Getty Images

​​

There was only one problem: as often happens, Barnes got kicked out of the game. While stewing in the locker room in the third quarter, knowing what was coming, he tweeted the following: “"I love my teammates like family, but I'm DONE standing up for these n----s! All this s--- does is cost me money."

His teammates weren’t upset. “We appreciate what Matt does for us, and he's a great teammate," Griffin told reporters. "We've got his back, and he's got ours." Paul lauded Barnes’ “big heart.” Clippers forward Jared Dudley said he’d have done the same for Barnes.

Once he cooled off, Barnes apologized, on social media. It read, in part: “I could have took the easy way out & said, "My twitter was hacked….But that's not what I'm about, I except [sic] full responsibility for all my inappropriate action last night & I am truly sorry!”

Later, when Barnes met the press, rather than hiding behind a crafted apology, he addressed his choice of words in his original tweet, arguing for nuance. “The word is not necessarily a racial slur,” Barnes said. “It's a word that I guarantee you will be used out here on the court today. It's a word that I've already heard in the locker room [today]….I think if you put an -er at the end that makes people cringe, but if there's an -a at the end that's like people saying, 'bro.' That's just how we address people now. That's how we talk. That's how my wife talks. That's how my family talks.”

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Angela Weiss/Getty Images Entertainment

In Barnes’ world, family is paramount. It’s also, invariably, complicated.

In 2013, Barnes and Gloria Govan, the mother of his two sons, got married. They held the wedding at a resort in Santa Barbara. It was full of sequoias in suits: Chris Webber, Jordan and other teammates, old and new. Barnes and Govan were high-profile, cast as the “happy couple” on the reality show Basketball Wives. The wedding was featured in People magazine. 

Within a year, things began to unravel. By last spring, they were separated and, as Barnes worked through the divorce in the fall, he fell into a funk. Just as he did after his mother’s death, he couldn’t separate his life from the game, no matter how hard he tried. He shot 9.7% from the field through the first six games of the preseason. He argued with Clippers coach Doc Rivers. His teammates became worried. “I told myself that basketball was an escape,” says Barnes, “but I’d come to the point where there’s dead time in the game, or someone’s shooting free throws, or I’m sitting on the bench and I’m instantly thinking about the argument I’m in, or damn, I wish I could see my kids, or I miss my mom.”

Barnes knew people who could tune it all out—Bryant was the best, by far—but that only made it more difficult for him. He knew what was expected; he just couldn’t deliver. “There’s so much that goes into being a pro athlete that people have no idea about,” he says. “We don’t have time to sit and cry, or sit and pout because I didn’t get to see my kids this week, because my ex is in one of her moods, or I’m fighting with her on the way to a game, or I hear about something she did and I’m like f---. But I can’t tell no one, I have to go out there and play.”

Barnes pauses, turns down the volume on the UCLA game. “We get paid a lot of money to play basketball. But what I want to let people know is that we're still human. We’re still going through day to day struggles that everybody else goes through, but for two and a half hours, when you see us on TV, we have to act like we have the most amazing life in the world.” He pauses. “A lot of people don’t give a s--- and I get that. They’re paying a lot of money to come see us play and we get a lot of money, so f--- your human side.”

*****

Ross D. Franklin/AP

A quick note on the topic of Suns owner Robert Sarver and that fine:

According to Barnes, here’s what Sarver said to him during a game in Phoenix, this past January, when Barnes was (he claims) innocently chatting with some fans courtside: “Shut the f--- up, don’t talk to my fans. Didn’t you learn your lesson? You were just fined $25,000.”

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​And here, according to Barnes, is how he responded: “I just lost it, I said, ‘You say another f---ing word, I’ll…’ It was like I blacked out for a second. When he said that, boyyyyyy, he was lucky I was playing a game.”

Amount Barnes was fined for the Sarver incident: $25,000

How Barnes feels about the outcome: “They say players are supposed to be held to a higher standard and I completely agree, because we are role models and people look up to us, but s---, if we’re held to a higher standard, the owner of a team should be held to an even higher standard.”

*****

An interesting thing about a--holes, or at least Barnes’ particular variety of a--hole: apparently they make good parents.

Unprompted, three of Barnes’ teammates bring up his parenting in conversation. “He’s not a good father, he’s a great father,” Griffin says. “You see him on the court and you see him intense and fouling people and being that guy and then you see him—I sit right next to him in the locker room—you see his kids come in and he turns into a totally different person, in terms of how much he loves his kids and how much he’s into them.”

Barnes has Isaiah and Carter two to three days a week when the Clippers are home during the season. He tries to take them everywhere with him; after a recent Clippers game, they were sprinting around the locker room as the team got dressed, vaulting onto the big blue therapy ball while Barnes tried, in vain, to rein them in (“Hey! Hey-hey-hey-hey-hey! Get off that ball!”). Sometimes, during blowout wins, Barnes puts them on his lap during the fourth quarter. He has grand plans, upon retirement, to coach all of their teams. And, like any parent, he worries. About the effect of moving city to city for his career, about the impact of his divorce, about whether they’ll grow up too sheltered. He wants his kids to be tough, to earn things. He tells them to never start a fight, but if someone puts their hand on you, you hit them back. “Some people think that’s wrong, but to me that’s not wrong because you shouldn’t put your hands on someone to begin with.”

He’s mended fences with his own dad, after his mother’s death. “I believe it’s never too late to be a father,” Barnes says. Now the two say ‘I love you’ every time they hang up on the phone.

“It really bothers me when there are absent fathers,” he says. “Even though it didn’t work out for me [and Gloria], the kids are here and they never had a choice. You can never hold anything against them or take it out on them, and that’s what you’re doing when you’re not around. When you’re a parent that’s your most important job no matter what else you have to do. Basketball is not even close.”

So now he counsels his sons. He doesn’t want them to make the same mistakes he did, “So people don’t look at you like they look at daddy.”

*****

Harry How/Getty Images

How do you look at Barnes?

It’s a day later and the Clippers are hosting the Wizards. Earlier, Barnes watched eight-minute clips on his tablet computer of Paul Pierce’s moves, as well as those of Otto Porter Jr., Rasual Butler, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Anyone he might potentially guard or switch onto. He’s taken his gameday nap, listened to 90s R&B during his downtime hour and now, at the arena, is getting good and angry. He scowls at teammates, scowls at fans, scowls while doing pregame stretching drills.

The game begins and Barnes sets to work. He hits a corner three. He throws a subtle elbow at Wall. He jockeys with Pierce, grabbing his jersey away from the ball. When Griffin gets called for a blocking call, Barnes acts as if a grave injustice has occurred. Three possessions later, he’s still talking to the ref. Then another call goes against the Clippers and Barnes can’t control it. He grabs the ball and walks away, staring up into the crowd, past all the gelled L.A. folk in their V-neck t-shirts with their pursed lips, up past the rowdies and into some far away place.

And then the aspiring mayor of Sacramento, best teammate ever and devoted father of two—a man who has made friends everywhere and is one of the more candid, thoughtful men in the league—stares up at the rafters, incensed, fists balled up.

Shaking his head, he screams loud and enough to be heard in the second deck.

And, no doubt, a certain percentage of the crowd thinks to itself, at roughly the same time: What an a--hole.

 

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