(Please welcome TJ Macías as Sactown Royalty’s newest contributor! TJ lives in Dallas and also helps cover the Mavericks but is a native Sacramentan and Kings fan. You can also read her over at McCovey Chronicles where she helps cover the San Francisco Giants.)
For a slow few beats, Harrison Barnes’ eyeline was firmly glued to whatever it was that was currently taking place on the phone perched in his hand and not at the empty table seated in front of the carefully placed Dallas Mavericks logo curtain. If you’d blink, you’d miss him in the crowd altogether - a crowd composed almost entirely of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex press.
The attention wasn’t on him and based on his body language, he planned to keep it that way. Every now and then, he’d speak in hushed tones to fellow teammate (at the time) Dennis Smith Jr. and Dallas Mavericks insider Bobby Karalla, both of whom were seated quietly in his row. Everyone was there to see the apple-faced rookie from Slovenia, a golden goose the Mavs had snagged in the 2018 NBA draft the day before who had yet to enter the American Airlines Center upscale bar where the introductory press conference was being held, a bar that reeked of top-shelf booze and pungent coffee breath.
Regardless of the fact that Luka Doncic had already been introduced to his new teammates in the locker room below, Barnes wanted to sit in during the press conference. He calmly looked on with a stoic expression - a move he would recreate in a standing position less than a year later during the arrival of Kristaps Porzingis.
Inside that hectic moment, which was fueled with excitement and bewilderment where I was suffering from a mild hangover (as a majority of Kings fans did following the 2018 draft), some odd comfort arose when I turned to my left and saw Barnes sitting a couple chairs down.
In Dallas, Barnes would often display a panoply of politesse inside the Mavericks locker room when it came to the press. It was contagious. He didn’t walk around wearing his emotions smack-dab on his face like former teammate Wesley Matthews, or looked like a cornered spooked baby bunny like Luka (in the locker room at the start of the 2018-19 season, it was blatantly clear the rookie’s safe space was on the court, not in front of the lens). Barnes’ calm demeanor would often bring a sense of unconventional coolness to a locker room that, at times over the past several years, resembled some low-key chaotic fairytale land.
So, it makes sense that Barnes would travel down the rabbit hole and be traded to the actual Wonderland of the NBA: the Sacramento Kings.
Given, that specific label has managed to tone itself down thanks to a vigorous young core so Sacramento is simply looking like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland rather than American McGee’s Alice these days.
And part of that is thanks to Barnes ataractic presence.
Despite the fact that he was thrown into the baby shark tank straight out of the gate in February, Barnes was able to adjust to Kings head coach Dave Joerger’s up-tempo offense relatively quickly. It seemed that in the beginning, the forward wasn’t used to playing with an offense that didn’t revolve around some wunderkind man-child.
(Barnes would finish his season as a King averaging 14.3 points, 1.9 assists, 5.5 rebounds, .6 steals, 45.5% FG, 40.8% 3pt, in 33.9 min)
In terms of defense, Vlade Divac nabbed Barnes to fill the gap at the three. While his defensive numbers aren’t really something that gives fans some essential relief, he is more than willing to improve once he’s fully adjusted (especially when it comes to his perimeter defensive numbers).
With new head coach (….) Luke Walton, Barnes will make the appropriate adjustments during the offseason (Barnes played under Walton during his time with the Golden State Warriors), which shouldn’t be difficult because he’s such a cerebral and willing player.
But in the city of Sacramento, stats aren’t everything.
The little things that Barnes did in Dallas (up until the literal moment he was traded mid-game) are what makes him such a valuable asset within the Sacramento community. In the Metroplex, Barnes heavily supported National Mentoring Month with the children of Big Brothers Big Sisters and he and the Mavs ended up hosting 50 pairs of children courtside.
“I love being involved in community initiatives, but especially when it involves kids,” Barnes told Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Mavericks media. “We’re in a unique position where we can have an influence on the lives of young people and that’s something that I think all athletes should be very proud of.”
During his tenure in Dallas, Barnes along with former Dallas police chief David Brown hosted a Q&A with students at Café Momentum, which is an internship program for young individuals who were released from juvenile detention. On top of that, he runs HB’s Scholars, which is a program that provides groups from Boys and Girls Clubs to attend home games.
A particularly haunting phrase comes to mind when it comes to certain Kings players and falling down the rabbit hole: “Character matters.”
A familiar leitmotif with past and present Kings players is having an active role in the community around them, no matter how difficult the situation. DeMarcus Cousins immediately comes to mind there. In 2015, Grant Union High School suffered a massive loss when one of their own, a senior football player by the name of Jaulon Clavo was murdered as he and four other teammates were on their way to a team meeting. It was Cousins, who had dealt with his share of criticisms on the court during his time in Sacramento, who stepped up and paid for the funeral costs.
There’s a reason why the Sacramento fanbase is so extremely close-knit and passionate: because no matter what, our players give a city with limited sport options something to cheer for, something to thrive for, and something to actually believe in. And when the community is aching, those very same players we worship turn around without question, go over and beyond in order to help their fanbase no matter the personal cost to them.
Harrison, with his steady mindset and nonpareil calmness that echoes throughout the locker room and into the outside air, fits right in with the Sacramento community. Just look at what he’s doing during his offseason so far OUTSIDE the community itself.
As we know, Barnes is currently deliberating between taking his player option ($25.1 million for the 2019-20 season) or hitting the free-agent market this summer and appeared on The Jump recently to discuss it with Rachel Nichols and Richard Jefferson:
This is the Kings, so while the steps that Harrison as made this summer are a positive from fans’ perspective, you never effing know because Wonderland is a tricky place sometimes regardless of the calming breeze coming in from the south. It’s always been the little things when it comes to Barnes, and if he decides to make Sacramento his home for a while, it will be those little things that make a massive impact with the Kings franchise.
Because as Vlade once said before a very famous trade, “Winning begins with culture, and character matters.” Fortunately for the Kings, Harrison Barnes brings character in spades.