Matt Barnes knew he didn't belong in the NBA Development League.
But that's exactly where the Los Angeles Clippers' small forward found himself in the first year of his professional career shortly after he was waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers in October 2002.
"I didn't want to be there [in the D-League with the Fayetteville Patriots]. I just remember those terrible bus trips, and going to play a team in Juarez, Mexico, and no team showing up," said Barnes, who is hosting his EA Basketball Camp for children ages 7-14 today through Friday in Redwood Shores. "It was a grind, but I'm thankful for those experiences because it taught me how to work hard, and it gave me a new passion and hustle for the game."
Of that, there is no doubt. Of the many reasons why Barnes has 10 years of NBA experience under his belt — the 6-foot-7, 226-pounder is widely regarded as one of the league's best wing defenders, he cuts well off the ball and is a gazelle on the fastbreak — the biggest factor why Barnes has been able to last this long is his willingness to compete.
One of the NBA's best players coming off the bench last season, Barnes averaged a career-high 10.3 points per game while shooting a solid 46.2 percent from the floor. Barnes erupted for a career playoff-best 30 points in the Clippers' 118-105 Game 6 elimination loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs.
This month, the Clippers re-signed Barnes to a three-year, $10.2 million contract, marking the first time in Barnes' career he had been offered more than a one-year deal.
"It was definitely a long time coming," Barnes said. "There was a little back and forth [in negotiations] because others teams were offering more money, but the best decision for me to do was stay in L.A. because I'm comfortable here and I wanted to win."
Bay Area fans will no doubt remember Barnes, 33, for being a part of the Warriors' electric 2006-07 "We Believe" team that knocked off the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, becoming the first No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven postseason series. Of course, that season was the most vital in Barnes' career, as he was finally able to showcase all of his talent and hustle, elevating his status around the league.
"He [then-Warriors coach Don Nelson] was the first one who really believed in me," Barnes said. "It was huge. My first four or five years in the league were frustrating. I had heard tons of excuses from coaches [as to why I wasn't playing], and then I get to Golden State and everything changes."
Did it ever. For the first time in his pro career, Barnes could take the floor and not have to worry about being yanked immediately back to the bench if he missed a shot or committed a turnover. Making Barnes' story all the more remarkable is the fact that he beat out three players to make the team, all of whom had guaranteed contracts — almost unheard of in today's era. At an age when most players' careers are winding down, Barnes feels he's still got plenty left in the tank.
"My first four or five years I didn't play much," Barnes said. "My legs are still young by NBA standards."
Barnes takes pride in giving back to the community, and fighting for a greater cause. In addition to his basketball camp, Barnes established Athletes vs. Cancer, shortly after his mom, Ann, died of cancer in November 2007.
On Aug. 18 at Palisades Charter School in Pacific Palisades, Barnes and Snoop Dog team up to host the first annual Athletes vs. Cancer celebrity flag football game.
"It's a blessing to be able to give back," Barnes said. "With the basketball camps, it's not just about basketball — it's about teaching lessons beyond basketball. With Athletes vs. Cancer, it's about raising awareness and money in the fight against cancer."