JJ Barea is that cool next-door neighbor. You know him. The person who would rally all the neighbors together and make sure everyone got along.
Barea has that unique sense of purpose, that sense of one for all and all for one. He’s the player that even fans from other NBA teams would want to root for.
That’s why on Thursday when the 36-year old from Puerto Rico was asked why Dallas is so special to him, he got emotional and nearly busted out in tears.
“Dallas is my second home, man, from Puerto Rico,” Barea said. “It’s just special, man. It’s the happiest place that I ever played basketball.
“The people, you (media) guys, my teammates, coach (Rick Carlisle). Coach is my favorite coach of all-time.”
Barea went on to give praise to Mavs owner Mark Cuban and general manager Donnie Nelson. They are, in essence, his second family.
And I know when the Mavs waived Barea on Thursday, that was one of the most difficult transactions this franchise has ever made. You don’t waive a player of Barea’s stature and say “next man up.”
Players like Barea tug at your heartstrings. When players like Barea hurt, you hurt. They cry, you cry.
And Thursday, there were some folks crying. Including Barea.
“They treated me the same way from Day One,” Barea said of the Mavs’ organization. “And then, when I made the team, it’s been the same.
“And the fans? You guys don’t know how when I go in the game and the fans, what they do, I just enjoy it. So, Dallas is always going to be the best special place.”
Standing 5-10 – depending largely on who was graciously holding the measuring tape that day – Barea stood tall in a league of giants. Old, young, black, brown, white, he had relationships with everyone that made you feel just a little bit better about yourself after you left his presence.
“I think fans particularly identify with J.J. because when you look at J.J. when he walks into a Dallas restaurant or shopping center and you’re like, ‘You know what, that gives all of us hope,’ “ Nelson said. “People that are normal size.
“And I think that connectivity is the thing that he stood for on and off the court.”
Nelson got emotional when discussing Barea, who he has known since the now former Mavs’ guard was just 17 years old. Nelson watched Barea beat the enormous odds, earn a college scholarship at Northeastern and eventually sign a free-agent contract with the Mavs in 2006, and ultimately play a pivotal role on the team’s 2011 championship squad.
“When you have a relationship with someone when they’re 17, you’ve literally watched them grow up,” Nelson said. “His championship ring should have been a little bit bigger, because that heart inside of that 5-10 body is unmatched and will be sorely missed.”
Indeed, Thursday was a mixed bags of emotions for Mavs followers. It was a day Mavs fans never wanted to come, but a day every Mavs fan knew would one day arrive.
It’s always difficult to say goodbye to heroes like Barea. They become a crucial part of your sports family, a vital piece of your heart, and you wish they could pull up a chair and stay and play for your favorite team forever.
That’s why Carlisle said: “It’s a somber day. I don’t really know how else to describe it. I look back at everything that (Barea) accomplished and everything that he did for this organization and it’s a career that we should all celebrate.
“He was a decisive factor in this franchise’s only NBA championship. This is a very difficult day because just what he has stood for as a competitor, as a family member and how important he has been to this franchise.”
Carlisle discussed the times when Barea and Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki were on the court together, of how they were so synchronized that an offensive basket was practically inevitable nearly every trip up the court
“When those two guys were together, we were going to get amazing offensive productivity,” Carlisle said. “Those two guys together really had a sense and a feel for how to play with one another.
“J.J. knew exactly how to read defenses that were trying to figure out how to stay with Dirk and keep him out of the lane. He still had a sixth sense of how to get great shots for himself and still get shots for Dirk as much as people were trying to keep the ball out of his hands. (Barea is) a very special person, very special player, very special competitor.”
And Barea especially loved playing for the Mavericks.
“Other than Dirk,’’ Barea said, “I don’t think nobody loves to play with the Mavericks more than me. It’s been special.”
Barea played 11 of his 14-year NBA career with the Mavs. And he still wants to play some more, and likely will get picked up by a team on the brink of a championship who is searching for some more savvy veteran leadership.
And after Barea finally hangs up his sneakers, don’t be surprised if he lands on Carlisle’s coaching staff.
“He has all the tools to be a successful coach,” Carlisle said. “There’s no doubt about that. He has the automatic respect of really a legendary playing career. Not many guys have that when they decide to get into coaching. Jason Kidd had it, Steve Nash has it.
“(Barea) has great leadership abilities, he has great leadership presence, he communicates well with players and with people. Those are all tools that are vital for success in coaching. I have no doubt that if that’s the path he decides to take that he will be very successful.”
In the meantime, as Barea cleans out his locker and waits on the phone to ring so he can secure his next destination as a player, tears of joy are probably being shed all across the DFW Metroplex. That’s what happens when the cool next-door neighbor leaves the neighborhood.
“He is class on class, has been a representative of this franchise and this team in the community internationally, and will always be welcomed with the Mavericks’ family,” Nelson said. “We want to thank him for carrying the flag for this many years.”
Share and comment