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Harrison Barnes: ‘One night I’m in Dallas … the next night I’m in a Sacramento Kings uniform’

The new King discusses the trade and his passion for fighting social injustice

What is it like for an NBA player to be traded?

New Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes simply describes it as “crazy.”

“I went home that night. I was talking to my wife. Phone is blowing up. All of a sudden, I hear from my agent. Boom. You’re on a flight the next morning at 9 a.m.,” Barnes told The Undefeated. “You land. Boom. You do physicals. Friday morning I’m in the shootaround with the Sacramento Kings. That night, I’m playing the game. I’m playing at the end of the game and I don’t know the plays. I’m just playing hard. I’m running around.

“That’s just how quick things can change in 48 hours. One night I’m in Dallas and then the next night I’m in a Sacramento Kings uniform.”

Barnes, who was actually traded by the Dallas Mavericks during a game, is still adjusting to his new city and currently living in a hotel. But one of the NBA’s most outspoken players on social injustice and racial issues will allow his new fans to get to know him on Wednesday.

The Kings are hosting the Team Up for Change summit with the Milwaukee Bucks during a daylong event Wednesday to address social injustice. Both teams were involved with social injustice last year. The Kings supported protests and took part in a public service announcement after 22-year-old Stephon Clark, who was unarmed, was shot to death by police in Sacramento, California, on March 18. The Bucks, meanwhile, came to the support of swingman Sterling Brown after footage showed officers being physical with Brown while arresting him over a $200 parking ticket on Jan. 26. The Bucks called Milwaukee cops “shameful and inexcusable.”

The Team Up for Change summit will take place at the Golden 1 Center before the Kings play the Bucks and will be livestreamed on the Kings’ Facebook page. Rapper Big Boi will performing at halftime and take part in a conversation.

As for Barnes, he will speak to local youths after the game.

“I definitely wanted to be involved,” Barnes said. “Being proactive is something that is important, especially in the black community. To speak on a different platform about issues that are normally not talked about is important. For the Kings and Bucks to do that is huge. … I hope more teams continue to do that. I hope we continue to do that.”

Barnes sat down with The Undefeated on two occasions recently to discuss social injustice, his trade from the Mavericks and what he learned during his time with the Golden State Warriors.


Harrison Barnes (center) of the Sacramento Kings drives to the basket for a layup against his former team, the Golden State Warriors.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

There has been a lot of speculation about the details of how you were traded during a game. Can you reveal what happened?

There has definitely been a lot of back-and-forth about exact timing of when I heard and what was going on with the trade, what was said.

Out of respect for the guys in this locker room that I’m playing with every single night, I’m going to keep everything focused on Sacramento basketball. If somewhere down the line in the future I’m sitting back and I want to revisit it, maybe then that’ll be the time.

The biggest takeaway from it is that things happen in this league. Bizarre things happen. The biggest thing that I’m excited about now is that I’m playing for a team that has a chance to make the postseason. The last couple years it’s been difficult not being a part of the postseason. What’s exciting now is that every game there is so much on the line to make the postseason. That’s where my energy is right now.

Can the Kings make the playoffs?

I truly do believe we have the opportunity to make the playoffs. It would be huge for a number of different reasons. One, for the guys in this locker room. For the young guys that can see their careers catapulted, just experiencing what that postseason would be like. What it means to really get to that next level and to be an opportunity.

The second thing is when an organization like this has been through a lot of turmoil, who hasn’t been to the playoffs since ’06, that would mean a lot, just for all of the sacrifices that the organization and team has made to get to where it is, the coaches. Everyone’s put in the work.

How do you look back at your time in Dallas?

Dallas was a chance to learn under a championship pedigree. Learning underneath Rick Carlisle, to be around Dirk [Nowitzki] and to learn from him, to have a chance to have a bigger role and to see what I can do on the court to produce at a high level, I’m definitely appreciative of the opportunity that I had there.

Harrison Barnes (center) high-fives Golden State Warriors teammates Klay Thompson (left) and Andre Iguodala (right) during Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers on June 19, 2016, at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

What wisdom are you going to bring from your Warriors days to the young Kings?

The idea of competing together and playing for each other. When I first came to the Warriors as a rookie, there wasn’t a whole lot of playoff experience. There were a few guys who had been. But for the most part, it was a group that hadn’t done it. Just see what a catalyst that was for the group when we did make the playoffs, when we didn’t win that first playoff series. There you get that collective feeling like, ‘This was really fun, but who wants to be out in the first round? Let’s keep pushing things further.’

How did you first get passionate about social injustice and social activism?

Ferguson [Missouri] was a big catalyst for my interest into [calling out racial injustice]. Just seeing that stuff, seeing the verdict and all of that when it was happening, kind of lit a fire in me. ‘How is this happening?’ People have to learn the history. That’s what Dr. Harry Edwards said to me, ‘Learn the history of these things.’ These things don’t happen in a vacuum. A lot of this is not new. This has been happening [for] years, and you have to go back and try to educate yourself. That’s really what I’ve been trying to do, trying to take my time and really understand things. Be careful about what I speak out about and realize that I have a platform. Hopefully, that can be used to help and shine a light on things.

What sparked my passion for speaking out was just realizing that much of what we go through is influenced by politics. A lot of things happen because policy is made. Policy is made by our elected officials. How’d they get there? The vote. It comes back to that. So, for people that don’t vote, people that don’t take it seriously, people that really don’t know much about it, there’s something to learn from that. We have the right to vote. There was a time when people of color did not vote. It’s really important to know the history, the work and sacrifices it took to get to that and utilizing it.

How did you become confident in using your social platform?

It’s something you continue to do. I’m not an expert on every topic. That was one thing that I learned from [author] Ta-Nehisi [Coates]. He did case reparations, mass incarceration, this and that. And people were like, ‘Why don’t you do a story on this or that?’ And he was like, ‘I can’t do this for everything.’ For me, just as I get older and as I learn more and as I have more experiences, to just be selective about what you speak on.

What are you reading now?

The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist. It’s about slavery and the making of American capitalists. It’s good. It’s a history book. … Last year … [I went to] this really good used bookstore called Powell’s. It’s a crazy big store. I went up there and I was like, ‘Hey, you got any books on African-American history?’ They said, ‘You got to get this Audrey Warren book. You got to get this poetry by [Amiri] Baraka. You got to get this book called The Half Has Never Been Told.’ Superdense book.

How do you feel about the way NBA players are using their social platform?

I’m encouraged by the guys in and out of the NBA who are using their voice to speak. If you look at platforms that are being created, things that are being talked about, the dialogue that’s happening, it’s huge. There’s not one specific thing that spurned it. Yes, Ferguson started the conversation. Yes, [Colin] Kaepernick brought light onto that topic, but I think more and more players and more and more people are having that dialogue. I hope it continues, because the more that it’s talked about, the better chance that a way of action can be produced.

You have also been public about your Christian faith. What does Christianity mean to you?

My faith, that’s No. 1 for me. That’s in my bio. It’s what I’m about. I got no problem talking about that. If you look at where I’m at now, and there’s no way through all the ups and downs that I would be here if it wasn’t for God. I went from a single-parent household in Ames, Iowa, to all the life experiences I’ve had, it ain’t luck. Hard work doesn’t necessarily produce good things to happen. There are a lot of people that work hard. But God has definitely touched my life and blessed me with good people around me, people that are really sewn into me and given me good direction.

What Bible verse did you turn to after you were traded?

Joshua 1:9: ‘Do not be discouraged. The Lord is with you wherever you go.’ That’s the biggest thing that stuck with me. You never know what’s going on. You have an idea of how you think things are going to go. No matter what, my faith has carried me through a lot of different situations in life, from college to the NBA to doing all these different things. If I would have told me, ‘In year seven, all these things are gonna happen,’ I would have just been like, ‘You crazy.’ This was a blessing, really. That’s what I had to look at it as.

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.