Harrison Barnes on his free hoops clinic and shopping spree

Mavs forward Harrison Barnes dishes on his free basketball clinic with the Dallas PAL and back-to-school shopping spree with kids from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dallas!

It was hard to tell when the kids were more excited. It could have been in the morning, when they got to play basketball with an NBA player at a free clinic. It could also have been in the afternoon, when they had the chance to stuff a shopping cart full with school supplies, all on the house.

It’s impossible to quantify the joy these kids felt on Aug. 18 — although a $185 gift card goes a long way toward capturing just how generous a gift this experience was for the kids of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dallas. These events took place at different locations, sure, but it happened all in one day, all with the same kids from mostly the same part of town, all thanks to one player. Harrison Barnes has made it a point since joining the Mavericks two summers ago to meet as many children from as many different areas of Dallas as possible in hopes of making a positive difference in their lives.

“When I first got to Dallas, I think the biggest thing I noticed – not only with the organization itself, but with the community – is that it’s very family-oriented,” Barnes said. “Once you’re in the family, family takes care of family. That’s what I’ve tried to embody by trying to give back, trying to be in the community. There’s a lot of people who look out for me, cover for me, take care of me here in this area. (I want to) pass it on to the kids and let them know that, although I’m a Dallas transplant, I’m here to help, I’m here to serve, I’m here to lend my hand in whatever I can do and help these kids take the next step.”

This was the second year in a row Barnes held a free basketball clinic in South Dallas, and he was joined once again by members of the Dallas Police Athletic League as well as former Dallas PD Chief David Brown. Last summer, Barnes said his goal was for the kids’ first experience with police officers to come in a positive environment, and that hopefully the officers could similarly begin building relationships with those children and even their parents in the areas they police.

“It’s subtle because (the officers) are not in uniform. They’re wearing red shirts, and they’re blending in like any other coach,” Brown said. “But these kids know they’re officers, and so the mentoring is invaluable. It’s really a priceless relationship that we’re developing. Harrison Barnes’ foresight in this area, to include police officers with this basketball camp, is really critical. Building the bridges in the community through police officers and sports, you just don’t see it every day.”

Brown has been an active presence in the community with the Mavericks over the past year or so, but this camp is especially personal for the former police chief. His parents’ house is just down the road from the South Dallas gym, an area which unfortunately is overlooked. Barnes and Brown met in 2016, when Barnes hosted a dinner with some of the most influential figures in the city. The young forward wanted to make a difference, but he wanted to know where he should start.

“I could have come in with my own preconceived notions, but I wanted to ask the people who have been here what they felt was going to be productive,” Barnes said. “Chief Brown was talking about giving back to the kids, and me being a basketball player, a basketball camp is the best way I know how to give back to kids. So we were able to team up.”

Brown joked that he doesn’t believe Barnes is truly only 26 years old, as his bio would suggest, simply because he’s so mature for his age. “He sees the big picture about community relationships,” Brown said. “He sees it being about more than just basketball, although he’s a great basketball player.” By joining forces with police DPD and the Boys & Girls Club, Barnes is hoping the experience can begin to lift up an entire community whose needs are too often not met.

“It’s a really good moment in a landscape where we seem not to be able to beat the divisiveness we have in this country to have these moments, to see the smiles on these young peoples’ faces because they’re interacting with an NBA player,” Brown said.

“To be able to do a camp like this, to be able to have police officers work with the youth in the communities they police is really important,” Barnes added. “I’m glad I’ve been able to be a part of this, to help grow this, and hopefully grow for the years to come.”

Following the camp and a few slices of pizza for lunch, the kids hopped on a bus to Target, where Barnes surprised each of them with a $185 gift card. Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle also stopped by, greeting the children and helping to hand out their cards. After that it was a mass shopping spree, with children as young as six years old stuffing their bags full of all the essentials for the upcoming school year. (The Mavs would also later donate 100,000 activity trackers to Dallas ISD schools for student use, as well as basketballs and jump ropes.)

Connecting basketball to school was no coincidence. Barnes said he hopes the kids make the connection for themselves, that lessons they learned on the hardwood could and should translate directly to the classroom.

“You want to work hard, you want to be focused, you want to give your best effort so that you can try to be the best version of yourself that you can be,” Barnes said. “The purpose of me being here, the purpose of Chief Brown being here, and all the other volunteers is to encourage these kids by saying ‘We value you, we care about you, we want you to be successful, and here are the resources we can give you whether it’s advice, instruction on the court, literally back-to-school supplies, whatever it may be.'”

It was a day full of deserved smiles for the kids, who now each get to start their year with the best summer stories in school. Meanwhile, it was another day at the office for Barnes, who’s made it his mission to stay active both on and off the court as a Maverick. He’s taken a diligent approach improving his game, often coming in mornings and again in the afternoon in the offseason to hammer out the finest of details in his developing skill set. That’s carried over to his work in the community, as well, and in just two years he’s already made a difference in countless lives. He came to Dallas wondering how he could make a positive impact, and he’s already answered that question and then some.

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