Steph Curry don’t give a shit. Draymond Green really don’t give a shit. Klay Thompson don’t give two shits. Harrison Barnes? He gives too many shits.

Basketball players have to not give a shit to reach their potential. This is a scientific fact. I know because it happened to me. And anything that happens to me is a universal truth for all. Or so I believe.

See, growing up I was a really good basketball player – when no one was watching. Shooting by myself in a park or in my front driveway, I was Steve Kerr in Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals. But put me on the court with anyone else, and I became Josh Smith. When there was an audience, I gave too many shits – meaning I cared too much. Be it pick-up games or playing for my school. I cared what my coach thought. What my teammates thought. The other team. The fans in the stands. Whichever girl I was trying to get with at the time. The game would start and I’d worry. And if I missed my first shot, that was it. My confidence was destroyed.

Here’s a real life example of what I mean. Growing up, my best friend was always the top player on our basketball teams. One day, we were playing 1-on-1 in my front driveway and like usual, he beat me. Then he left on his bike. I stayed outside and kept shooting, not knowing that once he got to the end of the street, he got off his bike and snuck back to my house. His plan was to jump out and scare me, because in addition to being a great basketball player, he was also a dick. But as he kept getting closer to my house, he saw something he had never seen before – me draining 3-pointer after 3-pointer in my driveway.

He dropped his ambush plans and asked me to explain how I made all those shots. I told him that I was much better by myself than around other people. He was perplexed. He was one of those guys that didn’t give a shit, and he couldn’t understand my issue.

Basketball will expose players who think too much. My mindset was completely different with football. There was something about wearing a helmet, pads and having your entire body covered. I didn’t give a shit because I felt more comfortable. With basketball, you are completely exposed on the court and it can mentally affect you. I mean, look at these short ass shorts I had to wear back in high school.

Short shorts

[Side note for all you young ballers out there: Don’t misinterpret my “don’t give a shit” theory. Basketball players have to both give a shit and not give a shit, if you catch my drift. They have to give enough of a shit to work their asses off to be the best players they can be, while also not giving a shit about what anybody thinks of them. Case in point, my friend who was always the best basketball player on our team. By the time he got to the varsity level in high school, he was washed up, because he didn’t give a shit about hard work. He once told me, “I’m the best player on the team – why should I practice?” My response was, “So you can be the best player in the league.” “Man, fuck that shit,” was his response.]

This leads us to Barnes. Mentally, I can relate to what Barnes is going through. My belief is he cares too much about what people think. His teammate Andrew Bogut agrees (from the Bay Area Sports Guy):

“Overthinking in this league can kill you. (Harrison’s) very, very smart. He knows what it takes to be great and he’s working at it. But I think sometimes he probably over-stresses things, much like I do. Sometimes you can’t think, you’ve just got to play. That’s where guys like Draymond, I really respect what they do because Draymond doesn’t care what you say. If he airballed his last shot by five feet, he’s shooting the next one. He’s got that confidence. I think sometimes the thinkers overthink it too much. Draymond thinks it, but once he’s on the court, he just lets it ride. It’s good to see.”

I came up with my theory prior to Bogut’s comments based on some ongoing interactions I had with Barnes. For a period of about 10 weeks over the summer following his rookie year in 2013, I had regular conversations with Barnes as part of our Barnes Breaks Bad TV recap series and got to know him a little bit.

I’ve never met a professional athlete as committed to something as he was to our ongoing interviews – and that’s saying something based on my six years doing PR in the NBA and two years working with athletes at Reebok. Granted, he is a huge fan of “Breaking Bad,” but I’ve also interviewed guys about things like their love of hip-hop or favorite movies, and no one ever came close to the time, effort and deep thought Barnes put into our interviews. He did research and analysis on his own after each show prior to our conversations. He once called to apologize for having to postpone our interview because he was going to “Breaking Bad” cast member Bill Burr’s comedy show in San Francisco. His goal was to interview Burr back stage for our next article. And guess what? He was able to spend time with Burr and get quotes from him for our article! It’s all here. I’m pretty damn positive no professional athlete has ever done anything like that for an interview.

I admire Harrison for his smart, analytical brain and the effort he put into our conversations. But I’ve also watched every NBA game he has played in two years and believe his bright mind can play against him on the court – just as Bogut says.

Harrison Barnes Crossover

Can he get over it? Can he stop giving a shit? That’s the million-dollar question for the Warriors and their fans. Here’s what I wrote after his break through Game 2 performance against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the 2013 Playoffs:

Like Monta Ellis thinks of himself, Barnes actually does “have it all.” The size, athletic ability, basketball skills, work ethic, coachability, smarts, character, confidence and killer instinct. Now it’s a matter of consistently putting them all together like he did in Game 2.

Do I still believe that about him? Not as much. But I haven’t lost faith … yet. A player’s third season in the NBA is the most critical year. During my time working for the Miami Heat, Pat Riley had a college grad student work on a project to determine what was the most important year for his front office to base their player evaluates on. The student researched every year of every NBA player going back some 30 odd years. Far and away the most obvious year that determined a player’s future performance was year three. Some players had great first two seasons and then fell off. But outside of injuries or other odd circumstances, it was rare for a player to have three great seasons and not continue that trajectory. Additionally, if a player had two average or below average seasons, but found success in year three, it was highly likely that he would keep going strong – having found his NBA groove. But the reverse is also true; meaning a bad third year often meant a bad career. So this is why judging Barnes this season will be more important than ever.

If I could provide any gift to him, it would be to ingrain in his DNA the famous words of William Purkey: “Sing like there’s nobody listening.” Harrison Barnes needs to play basketball like there’s nobody watching. Just like I did shooting by myself in my front driveway so many years ago.

3 Responses

  1. J Haskins

    I appreciate your column. The premise is similar to what QB Aaron Rodgers said to the media last month. R-E-L-A-X. I get it. Barnes should just relax, forget everything else and let the game come to him. Just play basketball right?

    Well, I disagree that this is Barnes problem. Imo Barnes just simply can’t play that well and is a border line bust. Another problem is, he has a very low BB IQ. For example, polar opposite of Draymond Green and Iguadola. I believe after the Warriors see no progression from Barnes this season, they’ll try to trade him in the off-season. But the problem is, that ship has already sailed. Barnes trade value will be almost non-existent at that point. GM Bob Myers tried to trade Barnes for a first round pick during the draft, but the best deal he came up with was a straight up deal for Aaron Affalo. Nobody wanted to give up a draft pick. So imagine what Barnes stock will be after this season as he continues to regress.

  2. Nghiem Nguyen

    Harrison Barnes is going to be a star in the making. I’ll always be a fan. He will have his best season. The Bay Area loves the Falcon.

    • J Haskins

      I actually met Barnes at a fundraiser. Extremely nice dude, but he’s just not a great basketball player. He should focus on being a role player and a defensive stopper. Imo, that could be his niche to stay in the league for more than ten years. Much like former first round bust, 3rd overall pick, Marvin Williams.