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Harrison and Brittany Barnes focusing on change inside and outside of NBA bubble

The Kings forward and his wife use their platforms to serve the community

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – While the Sacramento Kings have been eliminated from playoff contention, Harrison Barnes is still playing for something with two games remaining.

During each of the Kings’ eight games in the NBA bubble, the eight-year veteran has been dedicating $25,000 to a different nonprofit and spotlighting each organization’s mission on social media. The different nonprofits were each created by the families of victims of police brutality and gun violence.

“While playing basketball is a privilege, there’s so much going on in society right now that’s more important,” Barnes told The Undefeated. “So, for us to be able to play, for us to be able to have a season, it’s only appropriate that the main focus remains.

“The main focus is causing change and allowing Black people to have a more equitable stake in society.”

Barnes appreciates that he was able to participate in the NBA restart at all. On July 14, he announced that he tested positive for the coronavirus, as did his wife, Brittany, and mother, Shirley. Thankfully they have all recovered, although his wife had a tough bout with COVID-19.

“I was scared because me, her and my mom were positive with all different symptoms and reactions to it,” Barnes said. “Brittany is in bed with all the symptoms. I, for the most part, had little to no symptoms. My mom had very minor symptoms. Just seeing how quickly it affected [my wife] and how long it took her to shake it was a big thing. She is fully recovered now with no issues.”

Barnes’ negative test results on July 24 allowed him to join the Kings in the NBA bubble. But if his wife’s health had not improved by then, he said, he wouldn’t have gotten on the plane.

“It put everything on hold. It put everything in perspective that is really important,” Barnes said. “There is no coming to Orlando if her condition remained that way or had gotten worse. …

“She had turned the corner. She was feeling much better. It wasn’t active. But if she was still in bed, I wouldn’t be here right now.”

The Kings were among the 22 teams invited to the NBA’s restart at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports with hopes of making the playoffs. Brittany Barnes had dreams of the Kings shocking the NBA world and advancing to the second round. In that scenario, family members would have been able to join the players in the bubble. But the Kings lost five of their first six games in Orlando, Florida, and were officially eliminated from the playoffs over the weekend.

While Barnes’ season will be over quicker than he’d like, he’ll soon be reunited with his wife in Northern California, where the hope is to remain focused on effecting change. The couple, who recently celebrated their third wedding anniversary, are very involved in their community and well-known for their philanthropic efforts, including paying for the funeral for Atatiana Jefferson, an unarmed Black woman who was fatally shot inside her home by a police officer in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2019.

During the pandemic, the couple teamed up with Sierra Health Foundation to donate $40,000 to buy weekly groceries for vulnerable families and senior citizens affected by COVID-19. Along with Dutch Bros. Coffee, they also donated coffee and pastries to physicians and staff on the front lines at Kaiser Permanente’s Intensive Care Unit. And on Juneteenth, they covered lunches for all patrons at South, a local Black-owned restaurant, to honor the special day.

Barnes and four teammates donated more than 1,000 meals to Sacramento, California, nonprofit organizations. Barnes also spoke at a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Sacramento following the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody on May 25.

“Harrison is incredible. He really is,” Kings head coach Luke Walton said. “And being more than just the ultimate professional, when you talk about leading a group, he’s not always the most vocal. But by his actions, by his work ethic. … He’s never looking for praise and does it because of who he is.

“He’s a very calming constant for our group.”

When Barnes returns home, he will also be involved with his wife’s plans to open a hair salon in Oakland, California, a dream that Brittany Barnes is finally pursuing after a conversation with renowned chef Tanya Holland and successful business owner Sherri McMullen – they suggested she open her shop in a complex called The Hive. (Brittany Barnes said actress, chef and cookbook author Ayesha Curry is also planning to open a shop nearby.)

“[Brittany] started putting up a business plan. She started taking it very seriously,” said Barnes, who played four seasons in Oakland with the Golden State Warriors. “And I thought it was just great because it was an area that she knew extremely well. The decision to come to Oakland, this is a special place for both of us.”

Brittany Barnes plans to call the salon Good Body and hopes it will be the first of her new chain of hair care salons for the “texture hair care community.”

“I just ran into the problem over and over again, that yes, there were always places where I could get my hair done,” Brittany Barnes said. “But there weren’t places that offered me an experience that spoke to self-care. …

“And I felt like there was just a gap in the community in terms of creating beautiful spaces for women, Black women specifically, to experience self-care. It’s not just about coming out and having your hair look good. It’s about you walking in and feeling like, ‘This place was created for me.’ ”

The shop was slated to open up in April. To Brittany Barnes’ surprise, Beyoncé highlighted its future opening on social media. But just days before she hired a new staff, plans were halted because of the pandemic.

“I mean it was a hit, obviously,” Brittany Barnes said. “I was about to onboard employees. Luckily I didn’t have anybody on payroll yet. So that was God, honestly, because that would have been a whole different situation.”

Harrison (left) and Brittany Barnes (right) look at blueprints of her salon.

Courtesy of the Barnes family

With COVID-19 cases still in California, Barnes said, his wife remains uncertain when the state of California and Alameda County will allow her to safely open her hair salon, which is still under construction.

“Once she is ready to go, opening day will be coming quickly,” Barnes said.

When that day comes, the salon will be another example of how they’re hoping to make a difference.

“Our goal is to dig into the community,” said Brittany Barnes. “Obviously things are happening right now, and protests are really important. But I think everybody has to take a look into their own personal lives and see, ‘OK, what can I do to actually effect change?’

“Harrison is using his platform to promote discussion around important issues right now. Defending Black life. But I just think that education and, really, just using your platform to encourage people to vote and to stay updated on what is going on in this world, and what we can reimagine for society.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.