In professional wrestling, the heel is the character who does whatever it takes to win a match. A thumb in the eyes, a cheap shot while the referee isn’t looking – all fair game for the bad guy.
That’s how former Del Campo High School star Matt Barnes explains his NBA career to his sons as he transitions to life away from the court.
“Not that I was acting, but I was the bad guy, the NBA bad guy,” Barnes said. “That’s who I was on the court.”
Barnes was at Monday’s game between the two teams he played for last season, the Kings and Warriors, to receive his championship ring from Golden State.
Barnes isn’t on a team so he picked Monday to receive his ring because his sons could be in attendance and receive their rings. Monday was also the 10-year anniversary of his mother Ann’s death. She died after a battle with cancer.
The Warriors surprised Barnes by having his football coach from Del Campo, Steven Kenyon, present him with his ring. Barnes joined the Warriors after the Kings released him following the DeMarcus Cousins trade.
Barnes, 37, said he’s at peace if he doesn’t play another NBA game. He’s traveling, spending time with his sons and working with his foundation that has paid for surgeries, medication and burials for cancer victims. He’s working to partner with UCLA, where he played basketball, to help provide scholarships for young cancer survivors that want to attend college.
So, just like in professional wrestling, the bad guy often is a good guy away from the ring. Or in Barnes’ case, away from the court.
“Just show people I’m a normal person off the court and I’m doing good things in the community, I’m not out getting in trouble,” Barnes said of his future. “... Shedding the image people have of me.”
Barnes doesn’t apologize for how he played in the NBA. A second-round pick in 2002, he didn’t stick with an NBA team until 2004 (Los Angeles Clippers) and lasted because he was willing to be basketball’s heel.
“I was one of those guys who really had to fight to make it in this league,” Barnes said. “Early on I had to do whatever it took, whether that be fight, rough people up, be physical, to make the team. I looked at it as them or me and it was going to be me.”
One reason Barnes is at “peace” is because, given how his career started, he’s grateful to have lasted so long and to finally win a championship.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be here,” Barnes said. “So for me to get this long, make the money I made, end with Golden State, I kind of feel like I was on borrowed time the whole time anyway. So to last this long is a blessing to me and I’m thankful for every opportunity I had.”
For Barnes to win his ring, he had to be cut by the Kings, who used his roster spot to take on the three players acquired in the Cousins deal.
Barnes said he hasn’t spoken to Kings general manager Vlade Divac since.
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“Sacramento, I love it there,” Barnes said. “A lot of funny things went down to make me understand and respect it leading up to the situation (being cut). It’s a business, it is what it is. There’s ways to do things and not do things.”
But it worked out for Barnes, so he’s happy. Now it’s time to show the world who he is.