More Than A Basketball Player: Harrison Barnes Discusses The Responsibility Of Using His Platform

If you walk into any Black barbershop, you can guarantee there’s a conversation about sports happening. From the latest trade deals to who’s the best player in history, there’s always an influx of amateur sports analysts waiting on their next edge up. And they’re more than ready to tell you why they’re the premier source for sports and entertainment.

This concept is nothing new for organizations like the NBA, who want to keep fans and enthusiasts excited about the game they love.

Etched into the fiber of American culture, basketball resonates with just about everyone. From the thrill of athleticism to the fashion and culture that surrounds it, people find a deep connection to the sport and its intrinsic value. However, it’s not just fans who have this energy. The players are just as invested, and they’re dedicated to making sure the NBA is both entertaining and socially responsible.

Because it’s more than a job for them. It’s their legacy.

Using His Voice

Recently, AfroTech sat down with 9-year veteran forward for the Sacramento Kings — and inaugural NBA Foundation board member — Harrison Barnes. A former UNC Tar Heel, Barnes has roots in Ames, Iowa, and it was this environment that shaped his rich understanding of the importance of representation and community work. To that end, while Barnes and many connected to him love basketball, it’s more than a game for Black people. It’s deeper than that.

“Whether it’s been civil rights, entertainment or things that have been going on socially, there has been the presence of sports figures,” Barnes remarks.

Fostering this deep connection to culture and society is one of the ways the NBA has evolved. On the one hand, players are now in multi-positioned roles. The game is faster, and everyone has a small-ball line-up. On the other hand, they’re also using their platforms for more than sports. Barnes and his colleagues are aware of the power of their voices and use them to advocate for and inspire change.

But not everyone agrees with this shift. Some loud critics suggest athletes should keep it to themselves and just play. But this doesn’t impact Barnes’ commitment to the causes he believes in.

“The critics haven’t challenged me too much. As athletes, what do we not endorse? We endorse shoes. We endorse beverages. We endorse financial literacy. We are already considered endorsers and role models for all of these different things. So, in the same vein, we should be able to speak about things [happening] in our communities. We should be able to speak about all things,” Barnes passionately explains.

Barnes’ fearlessness off the court translated to him and his wife, Brittany, choosing to highlight and donate money to different racial justice organizations during the restart of the 2020 NBA season. Barnes notes that entering the bubble was a time filled with so many emotions. From the ambiguity around the pandemic to the social unrest displayed across every platform, Barnes felt the need to do something. Dedicating the games to organizations was vital for him and Brittany because it raised awareness for causes special to them, like those that combat gun violence in local communities.

It’s the Legacy for Me

Barnes and Brittany recently welcomed a baby girl into the world, and for him, part of his advocacy work is making sure the world is a better place for her. “As a father, I want my daughter to live in a country that’s better than her parents and her grandparents experienced,” he says. Providing solutions to make this better world a reality is at the forefront of Harrison’s work.

An official piece of this work is the role Barnes holds with the NBA Foundation. The one-year-old foundation is committed to furthering economic empowerment for Black young people. As an inaugural member on the board of directors, made up of current and former players and league executives, Barnes is inspired to do work that will have a residual impact on communities for years to come. One of the highlights of working with the NBA Foundation is being on the board with his favorite player, who he considers the greatest of all time: Michael Jordan.

“Not only to have gone to UNC after he went there but to be a Jordan brand player and work with him on the NBA Foundation [board]… It’s special,” says Barnes.

The Game of Basketball and Beyond

Averaging a little over 16 points per game, Barnes is an asset to this team. With great expectations for the future of his career, he’s already reached some significant milestones. One was winning a championship during his time with the Golden State Warriors. Other memorable moments include his experience of being on the court with other stellar players.

“I think coming into the league, playing against great players was something I initially took for granted. I’m playing against Kobe. I’m playing against [Tim] Duncan and Dirk [Nowitzki]. But as you get older, you cherish those moments,” Barnes says.

In addition to his on-court presence and social justice advocacy, Barnes uses his voice for Conversations with Harrison, an online discussion series. Birthed from a dinner in Dallas with some leaders, what started off as a written column evolved to a video format where Barnes has thought-provoking conversations that round out the depth of who he is and what he cares about.

Throughout his 29 years of life, there’s no doubt that Harrison Barnes has made an impact on and off the court. Proud to be more than a basketball player, Harrison is committed to making sure all that he does will lead to more than just baskets and wins or losses. He wants to be remembered as someone who gave back and impacted the world.

And just in case you wanted to know how he feels about an age-old question: Harrison presses play on Tupac before pulling Notorious BIG out of the crates. Do with that information what you will.

 Learn more about the NBA Foundation and the players making major moves for the community here. 

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with the NBA Foundation. 

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