Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes will sit on the Board of Directors for the NBA Foundation, created to promote social justice.
The 2015 NBA champion recently caught up with HoopsHype to discuss why he wanted to get involved with the NBA Foundation. He also touched on his experience in the bubble as well as what he learned from the late Kobe Bryant and plenty more.
Please note this interview was very minorly edited for brevity and clarity.
I wanted to chat with you a little bit about your involvement with the NBA Foundation, which seeks to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement. What is your role there and how did you get involved?
Harrison Barnes named to the NBA Foundation Board of Directors. pic.twitter.com/grR7BEPcKm
— James Ham (@James_HamNBCS) October 9, 2020
Harrison Barnes: NBPA director Michele Roberts reached out and asked if I had an interest in being a part of the foundation. I had seen information before about how big the funding for the foundation was going to be and what some of the principles were early on and so I knew what it was about. The main premise is that every year, each time will make significant contributions to the community. This will help with opportunities beyond simply just doing an event, whether that is helping kids go to college or giving them career skills. I was honored to be considered and I told her I would be ecstatic to do it. Now, I am really looking forward to working with the board members to hopefully make a change.
There are hundreds of players in the NBA. But you and Tobias Harris are the only two that are active on an NBA roster and will sit on this board. Why do you think the NBPA decided on you for that honor?
HB: That’s probably a question you’ll probably have to ask as opposed to me! [Laughs] Since I got drafted, literacy has been a big focus of mine. You need to educate yourself in whatever discipline you want to go into. Recently, I joined the board of First National Bank, whose parent company is Ames National Corporation. I’m going to work with them to promote financial literacy. For the NBA Foundation, the opportunity to promote financial literacy and help the community is very exciting for me. No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always tried to pay it forward. I’ve been blessed to have people pour into me and sacrifice and invest in my well-being so I’m glad to be a part of a foundation with a very big reach that will hopefully affect change for a number of different people.
I’d love to hear more about your experience with First National Bank. It is not often you hear about an NBA player sitting on the board of a bank. How did that relationship start and what have you gained from the experience?
HB: It’s my hometown bank. My family and I have been banking there for decades. For me, it’s all about understanding how community banking works. The financial services that they offer are the lifeblood for a lot of small businesses. I’ve always admired entrepreneurs who have what it takes to build a successful company. That’s one avenue I’m empowering myself by learning. But the other avenue is that this bank has a very capable management team. What I can learn from them aligns with their desire to promote financial literacy in the community, too. There is a lot of synergy between what they have been doing for a number of years and what I’ve been trying to do since I was drafted.
Before the bubble started, I know there were several conversations about how the league would contribute to social justice conversations that have been incredibly important this year. Did you speak up on those calls and if so, what did you say?
HB: The reality is that there were a lot of calls. At the end of the day, everyone’s intentions were to find the best ways to help our community. How do we influence change? I think you saw successful ways that people have done that whether they were in the bubble or out of the bubble. Now that the season has come to a conclusion, we have to figure out how to keep the collective engaged by using our platform and our voices. We have a big megaphone.
How would you assess what the basketball community has done in response to so many of the issues we are facing right now?
HB: NBA players play a huge role in using our platforms for social good. You look around society and there is so much division, hatred, racism, disenfranchisement. We are not only using our voice and using our platform but also have commitments from individuals have made with their time and their finances. As a collective, we have a role to play in that. I’m proud of all of the guys in the bubble and out of the bubble for using their voice and their platform throughout this time.
Are there any moments that stick out to you about ways these efforts have been successful?
HB: I was having a conversation the other day with my teammate Kyle Guy. He is a young player and I’ve seen him before more vocal about social issues. He was excited about coming in and joining that battle and being an ally and doing the work. He is a perfect example of what this moment has brought out of people. It’s brought out a level of awareness. It’s brought out a level of activism. Kyle is great, he’s been doing that long before now. But in this moment, it has been enhanced for him. Hopefully, that same process has been happening for a lot of younger guys and maybe even older guys around the league.
One thing that really stands out for me is that when people look back at 2020, a lot of the key moments apply directly to your life. You were friends with Kobe Bryant. You had COVID-19. You engaged with the protests for social justice. You played in the NBA bubble. What are you most going to remember from this year?
HB: The biggest takeaway that I’ll have from 2020 is to appreciate people when you’re around them. In so many instances, we’ve seen loved ones that we’ve lost, whether it’s been someone at the hands of police brutality or people that you played against or were mentored or if it was a loved one lost because of COVID. Whatever the case may be, really just taking the time to just appreciate them while they’re here. Give them their flowers. Give them their respect and love and communicate that. Far too often, we found ourselves in the cycle of thinking that this person was gone too soon, and it was unexpected, and there are so many things I wish I had said. When Kobe passed, it was like the floor gave out. It’s still painful, especially in the basketball community. But outside of that, you really value the opportunity every time you step on the floor against somebody else. You don’t take that opportunity for granted. I’m playing against someone and it could be the last time. You never know. Life can go so quickly. I’m just savoring the opportunity, communicating with guys, communicating with family. Life is short. You don’t know what’s next.
What was your relationship like with Kobe? He once said you were like a little brother to him.
HB: Man, there are so many stories about Kobe and the impact that he has had not only on my life but on society as a whole. The one thing that I can say about him that is very consistent is that he was always present. When you were talking with him, he was always present. That’s something that, when he passed, I wanted to improve on that in my own life. How do you stay present in every moment and every conversation? It’s one thing to be present in a drill or in a game. But everything he did, he was so present and so involved. It’s a really rare trait.
What have you done to stay grounded and keep yourself feeling well mentally while facing the hardships of this year?
HB: You definitely have to create space mentally to just be free from distraction, whether that is taking time to get off social media or taking time to disconnect with TV or movies or yoga or meditation. All of those becomes so much more important because we haven’t had as much face-to-face connection. You’re not going to events in large groups so figuring out ways to deal with so much uncertainty and frustration and pain. You have to find space to be at peace.
Now that you are a veteran in the league, what is some advice that you would give to younger players in the NBA?
HB: Just stay the course. Especially in 2020, there are going to be so many ups and downs that are completely out of your control. You can do everything right and sometimes it still won’t go your way. If you stay the course and believe in yourself and commit yourself to the game, you have an opportunity to achieve whatever goals you have in this league. Also, I’m an open book. Any time guys want to know what I’m doing, even if it’s off the court and giving back in the community, they’re more than welcome to join me and ask questions. Basketball is basketball. We come in every day and we’re going to work. They can see that. I came into the league with great veterans. Any knowledge that I wanted from them they were willing to give me.
Are there any veterans in particular that stood out in their ability to help you transition into the pros?
HB: There are too many names to list but Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry, Richard Jefferson, Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala. I was blessed to be around so many great guys. I can keep that list going but I was really fortunate that those guys put their arms around me and were an open book and they helped me through the ups and downs.
Do you have any goals for yourself that you are hoping to achieve, whether they are on or off the court?
HB: I have a lot of goals. I write them down before the season. I keep those close to my chest. But after winning a championship in your career, you want to be a part of that and you want to have that feeling again. You want to be a part of building something. The opportunity to be here in Sacramento, with the playoff drought, it starts there. Getting back to the playoffs is the top of the list.
How do you think the time together in the bubble will help the Kings next season?
HB: It’s hard to sum up but you were truly there with your squad. There is nobody else. There are no distractions, no commitments other than practice and treatment and extra shots and extra gym work. For the seeding games that we were a part of, every day was just basketball oriented. At the beginning of the season, we wanted the opportunity to make the playoffs. We had an opportunity in the seeding games to do that. From a team perspective, it was a missed goal. But it added motivation for us next year to have that same feeling.