My Mom, My Hero: Shirley and Harrison Barnes
Learn more about Shirley and Harrison Barnes' incredible journey from homelessness to the NBA, and how Harrison and the Mavericks support single mothers in the community!
DALLAS — Shirley Barnes always dreamed of becoming a mother.
Just not in this way.
In late 1991, the future mother of Dallas Mavericks veteran forward Harrison Barnes was unmarried, facing difficult financial times and soon discovered a baby boy was growing in her womb.
“Growing up in the church, part of my thought process was I would never be a mom that was having children out of wedlock,” Shirley said. “So here I am now 26 years old and have 40 weeks to prepare for a beautiful young life to come into this world.”
As little Harrison grew in his mother’s belly, Shirley spent a large chunk of her free-time obsessively analyzing film of her favorite basketball player, Michael Jordan. She was meticulous, dissecting the way MJ slashed the lane, dazzled opponents with impeccable shooting and shrugged his way to greatness. Most of all, she loved his competitive fire and commitment to excellence on and off the court.
It was May 30, 1992, and Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals when Shirley gave birth to Harrison Bryce Jordan Barnes. That night the man he was named after would go on to score 16 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter as Jordan and the Chicago Bulls soared into the NBA Finals for the second straight season.
“I was blessed to have a son first,” Shirley said. “Obviously I didn’t know how to raise (Harrison) as a man, but I wanted to surround him with positive male influences.
“I wanted someone who could contribute to society. I just didn’t expect for things to start out like they did. It was challenging at first.”
One of the biggest challenges for Shirley came when Harrison was three months old. It turned out to be the first time she and her son became homeless.
Shirley was making preparations to move into public housing when two weeks before her move, officials called and said she didn’t qualify. Desperate and left with little resources, Shirley was forced to swaddle her son up in a baby blue blanket and walk through the doors of a local homeless shelter.
“It was my first time being in a shelter,” she said. “You have to be out at certain times of the day.
“The shelter is infested with roaches and bats and other homeless people. We are sharing showers. In my mind I didn’t think we were homeless, but I guess we all were.”
Shirley was telling this story to a crowd gathered at the American Airlines Center last week for an event called “My Mom, My Hero” to honor Shirley and other single mothers’ commitment to raising children in positive, nurturing homes. An organization called “Helping Hands for Single Moms Dallas” also announced plans to assist single mothers in North Texas with Harrison and the Dallas Mavericks organization contributing $100,000 to back the new initiative.
It’s the night before Harrison is set to meet with the press for his third Dallas Mavericks Media Day, and Shirley couldn’t be more proud of her children. Only she doesn’t talk about her son’s $94 million contract or her daughter’s new internship at the U.S. Senate.
Instead, Shirley reflects on those early days when the family fished for coins between seats to get a few dollars for gas, or ate very little to afford basketball registration fees. All these years later, the memories are still fresh.
“Sitting in that shelter I felt isolated, but I didn’t want pity,” Shirley said. “My faith never wavered, I just kept praying, believing, and begging God to intercede on my behalf and help give us a chance.”
It wasn’t long before God answered her prayers and Shirley and Harrison left the homeless shelter, moving into Section 8 housing in Ames, Iowa. Months later she went on to work in various departments at Iowa State University.
Harrison was too young to remember his humble beginnings. But he can vividly recall the extraordinary life his mother gave him and his younger sister, Jourdan-Ashle Barnes — who also was named after Michael Jordan.
“There are three things that come to mind with my upbringing with my mom,” Harrison said. “Giving, support and sacrifice.”
When Harrison and Jourdan-Ashle were young, their mother started an organization called “Suited For Work Clothing Closet” that provided free clothing and accessories for unemployed individuals looking for work.
“If they were to get a job, they’d go back and get a couple more outfits just so they could look good for their first couple days,” Harrison said. “When people would make the donations my sister and I would have to go and organize and put away all the clothing.
“It really made an impression on me. That’s why now I do a lot of non-profit and charitable work because I saw the sacrifice and giving mentality that she had an early age.”
Even though Shirley didn’t play basketball, she was relentless when it came to the children’s school work, church, serving in the community and playing sports. Shirley and Jourdan-Ashle would spend hours rebounding for Harrison at the gym and then his mom would buy “every instructional video available” to teach her son new techniques and ideas.
Harrison said it was around the seventh grade when his mom started filming his basketball games. And at night the family would sit down to review, analyze and dissect his performance.
“Growing up in a single home, income is low,” Harrison said. “She was working, she was tired, but she put all of that on the side to always be there to support me, whether I was in seventh grade, high school, at North Carolina or in the NBA.”
Harrison now knows that’s the unconditional love a mom has for her children.
“My mom has watched every single game I played,” Harrison said. “She sends me a text after every single game I play and gets upset when I don’t get 10 rebounds.
“She always comes to the first game every season since I ever started playing and she will always be wearing some type of gear with my number on it. Having that support, especially at a young age, always left an impression on me that I could always be the best.”
Shirley says her son was in the fifth grade the first time he got a job. By then, Harrison was climbing the ranks as a basketball player on the traveling circuit and spending his summers competing in track and field.
As a single mother, funds were limited, so Shirley was thrilled when 10-year-old Harrison landed a job with a local farmer.
“At one point he had $1,000 saved up, which was quite a lot of money for him,” Shirley said. “I kept thinking, ‘Harrison, if you want to play basketball I will find a way to support it, but don’t use your own money.’ But then as I started to see these bills come in, I said, ‘Yeah, you can chip in a little because we need this.’
“Money was so tight that we were looking for pennies between the seats in the car just to make ends meet, but that was on me. The thing is, he wanted to play basketball and I wanted to support that and do it all without being on public assistance. Sometimes our pride gets in the way of our blessing. I didn’t want to be that person who got herself in this situation and then needed to depend on the state to take care of her family. I wanted to try and do it on my own.”
Thus, Shirley ultimately dug out of the trenches and built a better life for her family. The little infant she once carried into an Ames homeless shelter came out of high school as one of the nation’s best players and rising stars.
Harrison also led a Bible study group at his school, completed nine advanced-placement classes before graduating from high school, started playing the cello in fourth grade, marched two years in the band while playing alto saxophone, started college at University of North Carolina as a sophomore academically, and was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. He also won an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, played for USA Basketball, won an Olympic gold medal, and led the Mavericks in scoring the past two seasons.
In addition, Harrison married his wife, Brittany, last year.
“We haven’t crossed the parenting bridge yet, but marriage (has) allowed me to see the sacrifice that my mom made to raise my sister and me.
“My mom didn’t complain, even when she was tired. I am sure there were days she wished she could have raised my sister and I with somebody. But she gave us one of the very best homes — probably the best home — that we could ever imagine.”
And Harrison could feel the love coming from his mom in so many ways.
“We never felt like we were unloved,” he said. “We never felt like we didn’t have support. She always made us feel like we were the love of her life at all times.
“She was always so giving, not only to us, but to those around us to create that community. We never felt like we were lacking anything. I am truly honored to be here tonight to honor my mom, my hero, the person who set the foundation with who I became.”
And Harrison and Jourdan-Ashle are proud that Shirley is their mother.
At the end of the “My Mom, My Hero” event, Harrison stood with his sister and Mavericks CEO, Cynthia Marshall, along with organizers to present Shirley with an award. Presenters said she was recognized as a mom “who has shaped and stepped up in the worst of times and the best of times to take charge of her family and provide them with the hope for a better tomorrow. The award is given to Shirley, who represents the values of successful mother. She has provided love, encouragement and a vision for her children, while tackling the task of being both parents in her household.
“We are delighted to present Shirley Barnes this award. You have honored your children, stood in the gap. You have sacrificed for them. You have a great reward in each of them because they are successful.”
When asked if she had a message of hope for single mothers currently facing tough times, Shirley had this to share.
“Times are tough, but this will pass,” she said. “Never waiver. You will make it. Surround yourself with a circle of support and a network. A village.
“Positive people who have your best interest at heart and who will give you an extra push through those dark times. There will always be dark times, but just remember, one day the light will shine again.”
Shirley remembers the first time she met Mavericks CEO, Cynthia “Cynt” Marshall.
It was shortly after Marshall was hired by Mark Cuban in late February to become the new leader of the Dallas Mavericks.
“She’s amazing and just so warm,” Shirley said. “She bleeds Maverick blue and she’s the biggest cheerleader for the team and the organization. She’s a cheerleader for single parents and just wants to make a difference and do what’s right. You rarely meet people like her. Her energy makes you feel like she’s your best friend.”
The ladies instantly bonded over their relentless faith and deep love for family, the community and the Dallas Mavericks.
Marshall served as the honorary chair of this year’s “My Mom, My Hero” event hosted by Helping Hands for Single Moms and the duo later chaired a panel, dissecting the challenges and battles single mothers face right here in North Texas every day.
“This event brings together things I love,” Marshall said. “It brings together education and motherhood — something very important to me. It takes me back to my past and I just think about how good God is and what he can bring us through. This organization really is about using our hearts, our minds and our hands. At the Mavs we are passionate service people and we are champions on and off the court. Shirley and Harrison Barnes embody everything we stand for and the culture we want to create.”
Marshall told the audience she actually first met Barnes years ago while he was playing college basketball at the University of North Carolina.
“I told my husband then, that boy was raised right. I never met his mother, I never even knew I’d one day meet his mother. Now to actually be able to meet Shirley, and present her with this award — it is an amazing honor and no one deserves it more.”
The night ended with the Dallas Mavericks and Harrison Barnes donating $100,000 to “Helping Hands for Single Moms” in recognition of Shirley Barnes.
It’s an honor Shirley said she never envisioned would happen 26 years ago when she first became a mother.
“I remember first hand what it was like and all the people who helped me get through that time period. This program will help single moms get scholarships, assist with car repairs and other barriers they face each day. I am thrilled that the Mavs are embracing this project and single motherhood and giving these women a chance to be empowered and have a legacy for their children.”
A legacy, just like the one she instilled for Harrison and Jourdan-Ashle Barnes.