There are under two minutes to go inside American Airlines Center and the crowd is on its feet. Fans are screaming and both benches are standing, watching anxiously for what is about to happen. Harrison Barnes has the ball at the top of the key with a defender in his face. The clock is ticking and Barnes drives the lane, a scenario that Mavs fans have seen and cheered through a plethora of times over the past three years.
Except this time, Barnes was wearing a Sacramento Kings jersey.
It was a scene we have all been familiar with. Barnes having the ball inside two minutes to go with a rocking crowd inside the AAC, but this time the crowd was chanting against Barnes instead of for him. A player that meant so much during those “rebuilding” years was now on the other side during a clutch, intense moment. In a way, it was weird cheering against him and it was weird for Barnes, too.
“I told J.J. (Barea) before this was just like practice but I just couldn’t make a shot today,” Barnes said after the Kings’ win over the Mavericks. “It was different being in those situations on the other side.”
Every franchise goes through different chapters similar to a book. In 2016, the Mavs had just lost to the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games and Dirk Nowitzki was 37 years old. What would Mavs basketball look like without Dirk? Who will help Dirk out during his last seasons? Could the Mavs land a big name in free agency?
Then Kevin Durant picked Golden State and suddenly, Dallas became the landing spot for the then-23-year-old Barnes.
Barnes would spend the next two-and-a-half seasons in Dallas. He led the team in scoring while being one of the faces of the franchise in the community. Especially for that second reason, Rick Carlisle said he will always look back fondly on those seasons even though the team wasn’t winning at the level it was accustomed to.
“I love Barnes as a person and love him as a player,” Carlisle said. “I love his approach and work ethic. He is playing really well for these guys which is not a surprise. Through three difficult seasons, he was very consistent with his approach and his high level of professionalism. He got significantly better each year which was great. It really spoke to the amount of work that he put in.”
During Barnes’ first two seasons in Dallas, the team won a combined 57 games. Those seasons were long not just for the franchise, but for Barnes as he was coming from a situation in Golden State where he won 73 regular-season games in the 2015-16 season. When Barnes looks back on his time in Dallas the thing he remembers the most was the guys he went to battle alongside.
“Teammates,” Barnes answered on what he remembers the most in Dallas. “We had some long seasons but there is a lot of friendships I still have and still maintain. The support is mutual.”
A lot of those ex-teammates in Dallas are now part of a Mavericks team that is one of the best offenses in the league and a top-four seed in the Western Conference. Barnes takes pride in seeing a lot of the younger Mavs taking the next step in their careers.
In 2016, Barnes was there when an undrafted Dorian Finney-Smith came to camp trying to earn his spot on the team. In 2017, it was the undrafted, German Maxi Kleber that came to camp trying to make the final roster. And in 2018, Dallas made the draft-night trade for Luka Doncic. At Doncic’s introductory press conference, Barnes was one of the few Mavs in attendance showing support for the newest Maverick.
“You see guys when they come in like Dorian, Luka, or whoever it may be,” Barnes said. “As a veteran guy, you are a part of their first impression of the league. You always want to see them do well. Even if you go your separate ways. It has been cool to see a lot of those younger guys grow and develop. Maxi, DP (Dwight Powell) is having a good season.”
So what’s been the biggest growth in Doncic since Barnes left?
“Confidence. He is doing a lot of the same things but doing it at a more productive level,” Barnes said. “He is definitely playing extremely well. He has grown and has a great system around him. He is making guys better.”
Even though Barnes is wearing “Kings” across his chest now, his friendships with people in Dallas will never go away. One friendship that he still maintains is with a former Maverick that now has his own street outside of the arena. As Barnes chuckled when asked about coming to the arena on Nowitzki Way, he admitted that Dirk was one of his first calls when coming back to town.
“It was great,” Barnes said of Nowitzki Way. “I hit Dirk up when I got to town. He is overseas right now, but it is a great honor for a guy that has meant so much to this franchise and city.”
Barnes might not ever put on a Mavericks jersey again during his career, but his impact on the franchise and city during his two and a half seasons in Dallas will always be a part of the Mavericks history books. Barnes had one word to describe his relationship with the city of Dallas: love.
Barnes will always have love for the city of Dallas and because of those long seasons and countless hours dedicated to the community, the city will always love him back.