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  • Dallas Mavericks star Harrison Barnes wants to help the community, and he knows there's a lot more to be done.
By Charlotte Carroll
December 18, 2017

Harrison Barnes spent last Monday at the Dallas Boys & Girls Club, turning it into Santa's workshop and unveiling a refurbished basketball court. 

While he won a title with Golden State, the star has also been working to improve relations in his newest community of Dallas, playing with the Mavericks for over a year now.

He's participated in a variety of events from this December evening to holding court with David Brown, Dallas' former police chief who is now assisting the Mavs with special projects—all with the hope of helping and learning more. 

The Crossover caught up with Barnes after the event to chat about community relations, the current political climate, his love of learning and, of course, his holiday traditions.

(Editor's Note: The following interview was lightly edited and condensed).


Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Charlotte Carroll: Was there any moment from this event that stood out to you?

Harrison Barnes: I think just going around and talking to some of the kids. A lot of them were very appreciative of the court and they were thankful they were able to get Christmas gifts that were on their list they had written down. It was great to see the kids excited. That was just a really rewarding moment for me just to be able to experience that. 

CC: This was in partnership with the NBA’s Season of Giving. What does the idea of the season of giving mean to you?

HB: Season of giving is acknowledging how fortunate we are and the ability to be able to give back. All of us got here because somebody cared enough about us to give us something—whether that was time, energy, attention, finances, resources, whatever it may be. So to be able to play in the NBA and to be able to have this platform to reach out to the communities that otherwise might not have stuff, I think that’s most thankful thing.

CC: You mentioned all of us have had someone who’s gotten us to that point, who would you say that person is for you?

HB: There are tons of coaches, family, friends and all kinds of people—especially my mom, as I was growing up, making sure I was always in a safe environment, herself being a single mother and being able to provide for your kid. I never felt like I lacked anything while I was growing up in her household. 

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CC: You’ve spoken out a lot about using your platform, what does it mean to use it at an event like this?

HB: It's really all about letting the kids know that somebody is caring about them. Somebody is thinking about them, you know regardless of their situation. A lot of times, you can get frustrated saying, "Why don’t I have this?" or "Why is this like that?" To be able to go there and give them a reminder, maybe it's a brand new court, maybe it's tickets to games or a new meeting center, whatever it may be, these are the things that hopefully can stay with them on to becoming whatever they want to be and help tell them they can become whatever they want to be. I think that’s important.

CC: What do you think is different about working with kids instead of putting your time into some other form of charity? What’s so important to you about being able to do that and work with kids and teenagers?

HB: Just the fact that these kids are impressionable. They have a lot of life ahead of them and the earlier they can start, the earlier they can have fun here, they can have something done for them, hopefully that can stir them on to make change. You know a lot of times, when people look at charity, they always try to go in there in the mindset of, “Oh, I want to go out and change the world.” I think I’m a little more realistic in the sense that I probably won’t change the world, but also I can celebrate the mind that does change the world because of something like this or something else.

CC: Do you think kids are given enough credit or do you think they’re overlooked?

HB: (He laughs) A lot of times, they can be overlooked just in terms of all the problems that go on in the world and things considered more important. So at the end of the day, a lot of us have the things we have because we had older people look out for us. I think of my experiences playing, I had family, friends, coaches, mentors, whoever it may be really reach out for me, pour it out for me and still to this day, even though I’m 25. Like I said, people still help me and give me advice that I lean on.

So to be able to give back and help those kids now, whether it’s in high school, middle school or elementary school, you know they’re all big basketball fans, you can get their attention that way but if you save that attention and help nurture that for them to grow, you’ve got a lot of influence. That’s all it takes.

CC: You played under a ton of scrutiny as a kid, do you ever think about what it would have been like growing up not in the spotlight, maybe when you’re at an event like this?

HB: Yeah (he laughs), you know, it’s kind of funny, I didn’t really notice until probably the end of my sophomore year of high school, so I didn’t really get used to that attention until later. But a lot of these kids at this age, it’s all about just loving the game and just figuring out what your passion is for. To get serious about stuff you can do that later, but at this stage, it’s such a new game for them, there’s so much to learn. I think the biggest thing they have to do is just enjoy that moment. Enjoy what the game is.

CC: What have all these events allowed you to see? How have they changed you?

HB: That there is a lot more work to be done, I feel like every time you do one thing or you have one event that you do, it’s always like, "Man, there’s four or five other events you need to do" or "This event needs to be done on a bigger scale."

In terms of how’s it’s changed me is just seeing the looks on these kids' faces and their parents' faces. Just the excitement, the appreciation, the motivation, the inspiration—all these things that you see when you do these things—I think that’s what keeps the flame going and to figure out new exciting ways to benefit these communities that often times are overlooked.

CC: In an essay for The Players' Tribune, you talked about putting down roots in Dallas, how have you seen those grow in the year you’ve been there?

HB: It’s been great. For example, for the last few years, I’ve been working with the Boys & Girls Club. Tonight to be able to see those kids again, kids who’ve been coming to games for a year, two years now, to be able to do the dinner with Santa and to see the court renovations. It’s like all the little things you are doing, seeing them all come together is pretty cool. It leaves an impact. I think they're starting to see the importance of look, “Hey, someone’s caring about you. Someone wants you to do well and really believes in you." And now you have multiple experiences to really draw from that, whether it’s a T-shirt, bike, a court, whatever it may be. So it’s pretty cool to see that, and I hope it continues to build.

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CC: What have you learned from the people you’ve surrounded yourself with?

HB: The biggest thing I did was learn as much as I can. Figure out how can I help the community, what’s the best way I can help the community? Talk to people who’ve been there before because there have been people who’ve been working long before I ever got here on the front of making the community better, especially in the black and brown communities. The biggest thing I learned is there is no cookie cutter way of doing this. Just go out there, be involved, give back, let them see your face, let them see you in the community and go from there. That’s pretty much the approach I try to take.

CC: Given the current political climate, what do think about the way activism is in the NBA verses the NFL? Do you think the NBA better embraces true change or is it because NBA stars have a bigger individual presence?

HB: There’s a lot of deep answers to the very deep questions you asked. I think the NBA is further along than the NFL just because we have more of an open dialogue. There’s a lot of encouragement from both sides of the NBA, whether it’s an individual or a team. Players are allowed to speak out and make their voices heard and we have the platform to do that. The NFL, obviously we’ve seen a lot this year, two years really, they’re just not there yet. You have to commend the players who’ve stepped up and used their voice, who’ve been courageous, and when it came to Colin Kaepernick, had to sacrifice tremendously to get their point across. You know, we’re all in this together. There’s a lot of work to be done. You can never not make your voice heard—there’s always more we can all be doing.

CC: On that, what do you think has changed since Kaepernick first started kneeling over a year ago? And where do you think we need to go?

HB: I think it’s brought awareness to the issue of police brutality and the discriminatory treatment of black and brown people in America. I think in some ways it heightened awareness in terms of putting people on notice about that, and in other ways it brought awareness that a lot of people are comfortable with the status quo. I think that over the last year and a half since the first kneel was taken, a lot of conversations and dialogues have happened, but the conversations have to continue to happen. It can’t stop. It’s going to be very uncomfortable but that’s how change is going to happen. Like I said, I commend all of the athletes across the many different sports who’ve stepped up, but also the activists who are not athletes who don’t necessarily have as big as platforms but have been putting in work long before any of us had the opportunity to use our voices. 

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CC: You’re focused on your career, but given your platform, how often do you see a change in someone when you get to have those difficult conversations?

HB: I learned a lot. I recently did an interview with Dr. Harry Edwards and I was asking about advice, about what’s the best way to move forward for athletes in general (doing more). The biggest thing he told me was just to study and respect the history. There have been so many people who’ve fought hard and made progress. Before you step out and want to make a statement and before you step out and want to make a stand, understand the sacrifices all those people have made.

In terms of how I approach it, my biggest thing is just to study and give back to the communities I’m in—to speak about issues that I see that I feel like I can add to the conversation. But more importantly just continue to learn and just continue to understand that this is a dialogue and it’s not a one-off conversation. Nothing is really going to change overnight.

CC: On Twitter, you’ve recommended books and different websites to check out. How often are you reading, studying, talking to people or learning more?

HB: I love reading. I’ve had the chance to meet some of my favorite authors, that’s been really cool. I just think there’s so much to read. History is so deep, especially black history, so I have a lot to learn.

CC: You’re an NBA star and you love learning, so do you ever regret leaving school or think you’ll go back to school when your playing career is over?

HB: I don’t regret leaving school. I’m definitely motivated and want to get my degree; I will get that at some point. It’s not like I left and am never going back. But I felt that in the two years I was there, I definitely learned a lot.

CC: You’re very young, but what more do you want to do, in improving relations within the community or even in your post-playing career?

HB: I’m not sure yet. Right now, the biggest thing for me is to be the best basketball player I can be—to obviously use my potential and the platform to the best of my ability. After that would be to reach out to the young kids who are in these communities who look up to basketball players, who are big fans of the game and just to speak about my experiences and all that I’m learning. Try to learn as much as I can and then just go from there. I think at that point, as I continue to get older and as I continue to have more life experiences, I’ll be more comfortable deciding what my next move will be.

CC: A quick switch back to the holidays... Are there any holiday traditions you’re looking forward to in your own family?

HB: I’ll be decorating the tree with my wife. That’s a tradition that we do so it’ll be fun to do that and have a good time.

CC: Any big things on your Christmas wish list?

HB: Just some wins, that’d be great.

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