It’s the end of my first season in Dallas, but my work here — on and off the floor — is only getting started.
By Harrison Barnes
This city has such an enthusiastic spirit. It’s a big family here. But there’s a lot of work to be done.
Earlier this season I wrote an article for The Players Tribune about my experience working with former Dallas Police Chief David Brown and other key members of the community to discover ways to create change. Since then, I’ve received so much positive feedback about the article and our plan. I’ve had a lot of offers from people who want to help, who want to get involved, or want to be used as a resource. That’s very exciting to me, because it means I’ll have people to lean in as I get to work this summer and hopefully in the years to come.
It’s been phenomenal working with Chief Brown. I’ve learned so much about the City of Dallas from him. A couple months ago he took my fiancée and me to South Dallas to teach us about the area, to show us different schools throughout the community, and to give us an idea how how Dallas has changed and evolved over the years. It’s very important to us to promote academic achievement and hopefully reward kids for reading in the summer or even for getting good grades. That was such great instruction for us, just to help us understand the landscape, because we’re still so new here.
When Chief Brown first opened up at that dinner, I think in a way he broke the ice for the rest of us, and let us know we can have an open, honest conversation together. Some who were there said they had specific ideas for solutions to the problems we all recognize, while others said, “I want to help, but I don’t know how.” Coming together, and being so honest with each other, was the best way that we could go about creating change. Dallas is a family. We’re all in this together.
Giving back to the community is very, very important to me as a basketball player. No matter where you go, there’s always a court, and there’s always a kid who wants to play. Sometimes it’s hard to sit there and try to talk to a kid who’s just sitting in a room, or when you’re meeting each other for the first time. But if you use basketball as a tool to provide some life lessons, as we players all have learned and gone through from playing the game, you can develop a very powerful relationship.
Fred Hoiberg used to do a camp every year in Ames, and I always attended. That was my very first experience being around an NBA player, someone who had literally come from my same exact situation, making it from Ames to the NBA. Not only was that a way of showing us all that someone can make it to the league from where we came from, but I also still remember how nice he was to us kids, and how involved he was in every camp. That left a deep impression on me.
This summer I’ll be doing free camps in Dallas to give kids an opportunity to experience something they otherwise might not be able to afford. I want them to have the same experience I did. Hopefully some of my teammates from the Mavericks can come by, as well, and play with the kids. I did the same thing while I was in Oakland with the Warriors. I did a free camp every single year in Richmond. We had kids and police officers all in the same gym, everyone having a good time and interacting, where they can see each other in a different light. If a police officer has some fun with a young kid playing basketball, maybe he won’t feel as threatened around the next kid he sees. The opposite is true, too. If a kid sees the police officer rebounding for him, or maybe he makes a few jumpers on him, they can have a little fun. It paints a different picture. Unfortunately most of the time if a young kid encounters a police officer, it’s usually in a negative context.
Remember Your Roots
There’s something to be learned from the Tar Heels’ National Championship.
I watched the title game with Devin, Dirk, and some of the coaching staff. We were on the road that day, so we all huddled around a TV and took in the action. And man, was it sweet.
It was a long year for the Tar Heels, just in terms of losing in the National Championship the year before on that dagger shot, and then battling through everything they faced this season. The media was extremely harsh on Coach Williams, especially with all the academic stuff going on at the school. They were under so much pressure all season long, so I’m so proud of the players for redeeming themselves and winning it all. That was an emotional night. (And I won a few friendly bets. It seems like no one else on this team believes in UNC!)
UNC alumni are very tight-knit. Whether it’s current or former players, current or former coaches, or anyone who’s ever been involved with the program, we all keep in touch. That made watching that title game so much fun. My phone was blowing up all night. I’m tight even with guys like Vince Carter, who played college ball in the ’90s while I was still in elementary school. He always came back to Carolina when I was still playing. He’s a a guy I’ve leaned on throughout my career as a young guy coming up, because he’s been there and done that. He and Marvin Williams have both been tremendous resources for me. That brotherhood, that fraternity, is always there.
What can be learned? North Carolina almost climbed the mountaintop last season but came up short. But the Tar Heels are a proud group, and they kept pushing all year long and finally accomplished their goal. Every day in the tournament is about surviving and advancing. It’s different than the NBA, but in order to go on a run, you’ve got to stay together and stay focused. Having made the NBA playoffs my first four years, it’s something I expect to do for the rest of my career. The Mavericks have always been in the playoffs too, going almost every year of Dirk’s career. It’s humbling for us to fall short of our goal, but it reminds us of how much work needs to be done in the offseason, and now we’re all motivated to do that. We’ve got to have the mental fortitude to persevere, just like the Tar Heels.
I love being busy in late-June. That’s a good thing for every player and ever team. It’ll be different to have time off.
I don’t want to say it’ll be nice, because more than anything I want to be in the playoffs competing for a championship, but it will be different. I just have to stay in the moment and embrace it. I plan to take a few weeks off, just to unwind physically and mentally, but I’m ready to get back to it.
The biggest step I took this season was learning to score consistently. I had a higher usage this year than I’ve ever had before, but it was very rewarding to experience that while also increasing my efficiency. This season was about showing who I am and what I can do. This summer, it’s all about sharpening my skills and figuring out how to get even better. That means adding a thing or two to my game, but also doing the little things better. I’ve got to get to the free throw line more. I’ve got to rebound more, too.
That goes for all of us. We can all get better, and the offseason is the time to build that chemistry. I’ll be talking with these guys a lot, because most of my teammates will be back next season. We’ll all go out to the Las Vegas Summer League to see our young guys play. Most of them will be working together and getting better out there, and then once they come back, I’ll continue to check in on them and make sure they’re working hard, because I know I’ll be putting in work. We had a rough start to the season, and we battled back but we just fell short. But at the same time, Miami had a bad start, too – they were 11-30 – but they bounced back and only missed the playoffs by a game. We have to do a better job of showing and playing with that determination to make the postseason.
The thing I love about this organization is we are all so invested in helping each other improve. For example, Coach Carlisle has given me the freedom and he’s called all the plays. He’s allowed me to do my thing, and he’s trusted me the whole way. Dirk has been such a great vet to me, and he’s always kept me in the right mind. He’s been in this position for 15 years, being the guy on his team, the No. 1 option that I want to be. He’s given me so much advice, and we’ve put in extra work every single day. He made going to work fun.
Dribbling was a huge weakness of mine coming in to Dallas. That was something that plagued me through my first four years. But God Shammgod has been the most important figure in terms of helping me rectify that, working on it with me every single day to help me get better. We’re going to continue to do the same thing all summer, too… But I’m getting married at the end of July, so I’ll be out of commission there for a little while. That will be the biggest highlight of them all, taking that next step in my personal life.
That’s been the story of this year. It’s been about personal and professional growth as a basketball player, as a figure in the community, and as a man. I’ve learned so much and accomplished so much, and I’m so grateful to the people who have helped me reached this point in my career and in my life. Without them I wouldn’t be here. But I also recognize how much work there is left to be done in schools and on the basketball floor, in the community and within this organization. The season might be over, but now it’s time to get to work.