Home is where his art is (tattoo)..Matt Barnes wants to be a King badly

Home is where his art is

Del Campo graduate Matt Barnes is trying to live up to the motto he wears on his arm.

By Joe Davidson -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 am PDT Wednesday, October 27, 2004

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The first thing you'll notice about Matt Barnes is the tattoo.

Bold in its declaration of greatness - "Sac Town's Finest" - yet bearing a degree of truth, it adorns his left arm like a sleeve.

Barnes wears it like a badge of honor, an extra burden in his pursuit of employment with his hometown NBA team. And in his mind, more motivation. Barnes still can see the other sort of paint that scarred him, the death threats on school grounds that targeted him - "Matt Barnes Die" - when he was a Del Campo High School senior.

His parents, Ann and Henry Barnes, still wonder about the closure of that chapter. The pages they do recall fondly are the elementary school journals in which Matt Barnes would detail his Kings hopes, and they remember the first time Sacramento got a real good look at their son, 12 years ago at Arco Arena. With shorts practically down to his ankles and twigs for arms and legs, Barnes dazzled a halftime crowd at a Kings game, skunking all comers in a "Hot Shot" competition.

On the way home that night, Barnes reminded that he'd be the property of the Kings someday, just watch. His folks patted him on the head and smiled, muttering inside, Sure, son. Barnes is with the Kings now - almost - at age 24.

But the ink he really covets, a contract signature, is tenuous. He's a free agent without a guaranteed contract, competing with several other free agents in a scramble for one of the precious few roster spots. He could be cut today. Or tomorrow, or next week. Or he could make the team, as a 6-foot-7 backup to Doug Christie or Peja Stojakovic, sort of a longer, leaner Gerald Wallace.

To make the team validates the tattoo. To be cut? Well, he might as well wipe his arm clean with sandpaper. Not that Barnes would ever do such a thing.

"A lot of people might look at the tattoo as me being cocky or stuck up, but that's not what it means," Barnes said. "I'm trying to represent Sacramento. We haven't turned out too many NBA guys. I want to be one of them."

Barnes in a sense has already made it, playing in 38 games for the Los Angeles Clippers - starting nine - last season, but he really wants to make it. He wants security, a team to call his after a vagabond voyage through two minor leagues and three NBA tryouts.

And Barnes knows his history. He knows the list of area NBA products is short, including Bill Cartwright of Elk Grove, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento High, James Donaldson of Burbank, Darnell Hillman of Johnson, Rich Manning of Center and Michael "Yogi" Stewart of Kennedy. Cartwright and Johnson were good NBA players in the 1980s and '90s. Manning showed promise as a reserve big man with the Vancouver Grizzlies before his ankle betrayed him, requiring reconstructive surgery in 1997. Stewart is still in the NBA, a reserve center for the Boston Celtics.

"I'm pulling for him," said Manning, a mortgage banker in Sacramento.

And the tattoo? A good thing?

"Oh, absolutely," Manning said. "He's approaching it the right way. He wants to let people know that there is some good basketball coming out of Sacramento. There's been a lot of good players over the years, but so many of us were 'tweeners,' guys who didn't have a position. I'm excited for Matt. I remember the last thing I wanted to do before I retired was to get a tryout with the Kings, but I got old pretty fast."

Stewart had his dream realized when the former Kings ballboy made the Sacramento roster as a rookie free agent in 1997. He parlayed that solid season into a contract with Toronto the following season before going to Cleveland and then winding up with Boston last season.

"It's hard to play for your home team," Kings guard Bobby Jackson said. "I couldn't do it. It'd drive me crazy, all the expectations and ticket demands. But Matt loves that kind of pressure."

Barnes has some deep-rooted reasons - well beyond the joys of playing and earning a nice living - for making it with the Kings. It goes right back to the graffiti that can never fully be erased.

He was the target of racial epithets and threats that were spray painted on the Del Campo campus weeks before his graduation, with walls emblazoned with white swastikas and phrases such as "KKK" and "Matt Barnes Die." No arrests were ever made.

Barnes, a product of an interracial marriage, was otherwise one of the most popular kids on the predominantly white campus.

Barnes also experienced racism during prep basketball games on the road, including students spitting at him or waving bananas, though some students were reprimanded.

"I don't look at the tattoo as any real pressure, but with all the tough times I had with the racism growing up here, it's a driving point, a real reason to do it," Barnes said. "I know there are a lot of people who want me to make it with the Kings or the NBA. And I'm sure there are just as many who want me to fail. There were people who didn't like me when I was in high school for whatever reason. I want to make it for those who never knew me, the doubters."

Ann Barnes said she marvels at how her son has been able to bite his lip all these years. She said that while she is a nervous wreck watching him from her seat at Arco, she senses a calmer player.

"He looks more natural, more at ease on the floor than I can ever remember," she said. "He seems so confident, like he really belongs. And he really wants to make it. I know those high school incidents left a mark on him, and for him to come back here, in spite of that and because of that, it really motivates him."

Barnes has an NBA body and some legitimate NBA skills. But does he have enough of them? When he excelled as a four-year starter at Del Campo, he didn't have a position. He played everywhere - point guard, shooting forward, the post - and pretty much did what he wanted. The game came easily to him.

He was a swingman during his four starting seasons at UCLA, with versatility still his motto. And he played that role last season with the Clippers, averaging 4.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and nearly one steal a game. But the Clippers didn't re-sign him.

Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy told Barnes to broaden his game, and Barnes spent a tireless summer with Jackson doing so, taking hundreds of shots, working on his dribble, adding eight pounds of muscle.

He turned down NBA camp offers and some guaranteed money (upwards of $40,000) from several NBA teams, though his agent, Bill Neff, tried to sway him otherwise. He chose the Kings and the long odds instead, making the tattoo on his leg, "Against All Odds," seem fitting.

Rick Adelman said he knows what Barnes can do. The coach said all of the rookies and free agents are under constant evaluation. Pete Carril, the Hall of Fame coach who assists Adelman, said Barnes will play in the NBA. With the Kings? Who knows?

Carril said Barnes has an NBA game, with shooting his only real weakness.

In his week of uncertainty, Barnes on Monday and Tuesday headed to his Folsom home that he shares with two high school buddies, recalling his preseason efforts: the 14 points and five rebounds against Utah and the four points, eight rebounds and four assists against the Lakers. Will it be enough? Will the tattoo bear more meaning? "It's a big risk considering I could have had contracts with other teams," Barnes said. "But I knew the Kings needed help behind Christie and Peja. I came in blind, with no protection of even a partial guarantee, but I think it'll pay off. This is where I want to be."



Don't Make Me Use The Bat
Staff member
At this point I would be surprised if he doesn't make it. While he's not exactly blowing me away, he might well be the most impressive of the FAs and rookies we have in camp other than Martin.
Matt Barnes doesn't blow me away too, but this guy hustles. He makes plays and isn't selfish. I've watched him play in the preseason games and from what I've seen he's a "team player". I sure hope he makes the squad!
Not being the Sacramento area, I haven't been able to see Barnes play this preseason. But I was at the Kings game last year vs. the Clippers in LA, which was Barnes' first w/ the Clips (Jan. 19). He did well and impressed me then. Being a hometown guy shouldn't get him on the team, but hustle and heart should play a BIG role in Adelman's decision to keep him. Jimmy Jackson played hard and Kings fans and coaches loved him for it. I know that Barnes may not have JJ's skills, but he DOES work hard and has that desire to improve and make an impact. The paycheck is obviously not his motivator, and I respect that. I hope he gets a shot and makes the team.