Matt Barnes is known around the NBA as a tough, hard-nosed player who doesn’t draw a lot of attention to himself. If Barnes were an NFL receiver, he swears there wouldn’t be any sharpies coming out of his socks, and he wouldn’t change his name to Matt Veintedos. Instead, he’d bring the same quiet toughness that defines him as a basketball player.
“I would talk trash a little bit but it’s really just about getting those touchdowns and helping your team win,” said Barnes, 29. “I’m more about the team than myself. I just see myself as someone who goes out there and grinds and does what he’s supposed to do.”
The comparison is relevant because had his life gone a little bit differently, Barnes might be an NFL receiver. Barnes was a football star at Del Campo High in California, leading the country in touchdown catches with 29 during his senior year. At 6-foot-7, he was nearly unstoppable on corner routes and fade routes in the end zone. But he inevitably chose basketball over football at UCLA.
“Football was my first love when I was growing up and I didn’t play basketball until I was in the eighth grade,” Barnes said. “But in terms of longevity and wanting to be able to walk when I retire and play with my kids, I decided I wanted to play basketball.”
Barnes’ interest in playing high-level football didn’t end there, though. In 2006 — after playing for four teams in his first four NBA seasons — Barnes nearly gave up on basketball and pursued football. He signed with Golden State the summer of ‘06 and said he’d give basketball one more year. If that season didn’t go well, he’d bolt to the NFL.
“I had seven NFL teams willing to give me a tryout, a walk-on tryout,” said Barnes, whose brother plays in the Canadian Football League. “I was dead serious about making the jump, but I’m glad Golden State worked out. These last three or four years have been great.”
This summer, for the first time in his NBA career, Barnes was courted by several of the league’s best teams in free agency. He chose Orlando over Cleveland.
“With the acquisitions we made, this is going to be the year for us,” Barnes said of this season’s Magic. “Watching them play in the finals, I knew this is the team I wanted to play for. I love their style of play.”
Barnes added that he fits in with the Magic because they play “like a Western Conference team” with four shooters, a dominant big man and an emphasis on defense. He said it doesn’t matter if he starts or not because he doesn’t want to disrupt the team’s already-established chemistry.
But he added that “players would be lying if they said they didn’t want to start.” (Mickael Pietrus, liar?)
Regardless, Barnes is saying all the right things if you’re a Magic fan. “This is hands down the most talented team I’ve been a part of,” Barnes said. “I’m excited to get to work.”
Special thanks to Chris Cornell for this report.
Month of Magic Each day leading up to the season, we’ll take a look at the Orlando Magic by featuring a different player, coach, or storyline.