Barea’s humanitarian trip to Puerto Rico

Practice Report: J.J. Barea

J.J. Barea describes the devastation that hit his native Puerto Rico and the relief efforts he's made with help from Mark Cuban and the citizens of Dallas.

DALLAS – From a logistical standpoint, there were a lot of important moving parts that occurred in order for Dallas Mavericks guard J.J. Barea to make his humanitarian trip to Puerto Rico this past Tuesday.

For starters, a bevy of Mavs’ employees were heavily involved in the process of executing a journey of this magnitude. Particularly since Barea and a dozen of his close friends used one of the airplanes owned by Mavs owner Mark Cuban to fly into the San Juan airport while the once picturesque island is still recovering from the horrific devastation recently caused by Hurricane Maria.

Robert Hart, the senior vice-president of Mark Cuban Companies, admitted that this mission of goodwill was no ordinary road trip. And layers upon layers had to be uncovered before the trip could be consummated.

“It took a lot of people’s efforts,” Hart said. “This is the first time that we’ve ever had to do something this fast for a humanitarian kind of event. I know Mark has been really impressed with our aviation department, because of how fast they could turn this around. Mark is expecting everything at warped speed, and this was really done at warped speed.”

Hart said Cuban first approached him about flying to Puerto Rico last Friday afternoon. That occurred not long after Barea asked Cuban if he could borrow one of his planes so he could take supplies to Puerto Rico, and also bring back his mother and grandmother, among others.

Cuban’s 757 airplane, which the Mavs use to fly to road games, was available. Then came the arduous task of contacting officials in Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, to make sure the flight from Dallas could occur.

“I was in contact with the pilot and all the guys that run the Mavericks’ plane,” Barea said. “And after 100 or more emails and trying to get clearance from Puerto Rico – there were a lot of phone calls to Washington, back to Puerto Rico, back to Washington — finally we got cleared and then we were able to go.”

Since he is a native of Puerto Rico, Barea had to be the main ambassador in facilitating the trip.

“FEMA and the government in Puerto Rico were in control of what aircraft could land in San Juan,” Hart said. “J.J. facilitated and worked directly with the governor of Puerto Rico and his advisors, and was able to work with FEMA and facilitate our ability to fly into San Juan. There were a lot of limitations on our ability to fly in there. You couldn’t just be able to come in and give them a time and date. They had to make sure the traffic was free to bring in aid and supplies from the government and others.”

The Mavs also had to gently work around other pertinent restrictions.

“We were not able to fly at night, so we worked around how we were going to get in there at an earlier enough time that we could unload the aircraft and get out of San Juan before evening,” Hart said. “At that point we also worked with relationships that J.J. had as it relates to getting donations of a lot of soft goods that were needed down to Puerto Rico, as well as the Dallas Mavericks also had connections with charitable organizations who made some generous donations.”

The Mavs’ plane eventually left Dallas Love Field at 5:30 Tuesday morning and was back in Dallas at approximately 7:45 Tuesday evening.

“When we learned that J.J. wanted to take the plane down to Puerto Rico, we were happy to help in any way that we could,” said Katie Edwards, the Mavs’ director of community relations. “There were many emails and lots of people involved here and in Puerto Rico helping us get permission to land and arrange the flight, as well as coordinate donations from J.J.’s Foundation as well as several Mavs partners.”

Dirk Pettitt, the operations director for Mark Cuban Companies, said the belly of the plane the Mavs flew to Puerto Rico was full with supplies. That includes 32 generators/inverters that weighed 140 pounds apiece, 14,000 pounds of water, 10,000 pounds of food, 3,000 pounds of medical supplies, diapers, clothing, cleaning supplies, pet food and toilet paper.

“We bulked out our Boeing 757, meaning that we didn’t exceed our weight capacity, but we exceeded the maximum room capacity,” Pettitt said. “It was stuffed like a pig. And we took down enough fuel to circle for an hour. If we could not land (in Puerto Rico right away), we had enough fuel to get back to Miami and hold until we could get back down there. But ultimately we were able to get into San Juan, we did get fuel and we flew back to Dallas non-stop.”

Danny Bollinger, a photographer for the Mavs for the past 17 years, was on the plane with Barea and 10 others so he could chronicle the images which so many have seen on TV. Bollinger said it took approximately four hours to load the plane with its supplies, and just 90 minutes to unload it.

“On the trip, we just stayed on the tarmac of the airport,” Bollinger said. “They brought in big military-type trucks (to unload the supplies). A bunch of marines, a bunch of locals, J.J.’s family were all there.”

The entire scene was so surreal to Barea. To see the once quaint island of Puerto Rico struggling to stay afloat nearly brought him to tears.

“It’s awful,” Barea said of Puerto Rico. “We’ve been through it before, but nothing like this. Emotionally, (Tuesday) was a little tough when my mom saw me.

“My other brothers are in the states, too, so she was out of contact, but now they’re good. They’re here and they can do a lot, my mom especially. . .Now she can really get on the phones and start helping out a little bit more.”

Dallas attorney Braulio Gonzalez, who grew up in Puerto Rico and is a life-long friend of Barea’s, painted a dark description of things back home.

“It’s like landing in Dallas in December as opposed to landing in Dallas in July,” said Gonzalez, who was on the plane Tuesday with Barea. “Puerto Rico is a beautiful island where mountains are green everywhere, the beaches are amazing blue — and now it’s just brown.

“It doesn’t look like paradise any more. I’m sure it will again, but when we were flying in you start looking and it just looks like a bomb went off. You were lucky if you saw trees with leaves on them.”

Gonzalez credits the Mavs for stepping in and helping the folks in Puerto Rico during this stressful time in their life.

“Mark has always been gracious,” Gonzalez said. “Mark is a true dude, he’s got a big heart and he’s always there. It takes a lot of guts to say, ‘Hey, here’s the plane, take it, whatever you need.’ Mark is truly family.”

Gian Clavell, an undrafted rookie from Colorado State, said one of the reasons he signed with the Mavs this summer was because of the family-like atmosphere they instill.

“That’s why I picked the Mavericks, because of the kind of people that they are,” said Clavell, who also grew up in Puerto Rico. “They care about you.

“From top to bottom, they’re the best people and I couldn’t have made a better decision. That tells you what kind of guy Mark Cuban is, and the Dallas organization. That lets you know that they care about you and your family.”

That message of family-first was amplified even more when Mavs coach Rick Carlisle allowed Barea to skip the first day of practice on Tuesday so he could fly to Puerto Rico.

“When you play for the Mavericks or you work for the Mavericks and you’re a part of Mark’s family, he understands these types of situations,” Carlisle said. “It’s a catastrophic situation down there. People like Mark, they give their heart and soul to people that are the most important to them. It’s great to see, because I know it’s a really tough thing for J.J. to be going through. There’s a lot of attention on it, a lot of turmoil down there, no power, the streets are flooded, four-five hour gas lines. Just craziness down there.”

While the myriad of challenges the Mavs had to overcome in order to get to Puerto Rico were almost like trying to thread a needle, they deemed the critical mission as a success.

“Communication was extremely difficult, as there are no phones and many places are running on generators,” Edwards said. “Wal-Mart and many others donated supplies, water and generators.”

“And we had staff jumping in to leave their normal jobs to buy satellite phones and extension cords and all sorts of things to make sure they had the most critical needs taken care of. I think one thing that is amazing about working for the Mavericks is how quickly we can come together to make things happen.”

Hart said the Mavs will continue to jump through hoops and make other humanitarian trips to Puerto Rico to help those affected by Hurricane Maria.

“We received good news that we now have clearances for both our aircraft to make humanitarian aid flights to (Puerto Rico),” Hart said. “Our 757 will be making a second trip tomorrow (Friday).

“Also, in conjunction with our 767 operator — Atlas Airlines — our 767 will be making its first trip to (Puerto Rico) this coming Monday.”

Hart pointed out that Pettitt was able to accomplish his duties during the mission to Puerto Rico while basically working with half of his staff.

“It was a herculean task what he did to coordinate the logistics of being able to work with our operator of the 757 as well as all the different entities that were donating supplies to the airport, and handle the loading in time for the plane to leave at 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning,” Hart said. “Usually we have two people like Dirk that’s working on that.”

“But Dirk was going solo during this period, so it was quite a challenge because Dirk’s colleague was out of town on vacation.”

Indeed, the mercurial behind-the-scenes activities where the Mavs had to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s in rapid-like fashion were remarkable.

“Mark Cuban was awesome, and all the staff with the plane situation,” Barea said. “It’s awesome the way this franchise and this team and the head guy, Mark and coach – they run this.”

“It’s a family and I’m proud and I’ll always be here.”

Hart, meanwhile, complimented those Mavs employees who dropped whatever they were doing to help Barea make this memorable trip to Puerto Rico, where 96 percent of the folks are without power and 48 percent are without drinking water. The response time is an accomplishment the Mavs are proud of.

“We’ve had to do things quickly in a task on certain things,” Hart said. “But this was kind of a lot of different moving parts that had to be addressed in very short order with limited communications on the other end, because we couldn’t get a hold of all the people because there weren’t any cell towers and there wasn’t any electricity in some areas, so it was very difficult.

“I think it was an amazing accomplishment by all the different people that were involved.”

And for the Mavs, because they were able to accomplish all of this at warped speed made the outcome even more rewarding.