Whether it's in his best-laid plans or the triangulating energy of the world around him, Harrison Barnes, somehow, has a habit of making history.
He was the All-Time leading scorer for his High School in Iowa, the number one ranked college recruit in 2010. He poured in the buckets in college for the University of North Carolina and made history in the ACC tournament. In an NBA jersey, he became a key starter for the Golden State Warriors, contributing to their surprising 2015 NBA championship, and then playing a big role in the squad that finished with a historic-best 73-9 regular season.
This was also the first team, alas, to collapse in the Finals from a 3-1 lead. While the Warriors loaded with Kevin Durant, Barnes started a new journey for the Dallas Mavericks. And two-and-half-years into the most productive scoring stretch of his NBA career, he was traded-mid-game-to the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings were younger, faster, and placed him back in his golden-state origins of California. But there was an added perk: suddenly, Barnes had become one of the faces of a team that was scheduled to participate in a new kind of basketball history, thousands of kilometres away.
The Kings-who are owned by Indian-born Vivek Ranadive-and the Indiana Pacers will face off in the first-ever NBA India Games, two preseason exhibition matches on October 4-5 in Mumbai later this year.
More: When are the NBA India Games 2019?
Fate, and the complex evolving demands of NBA rosters, placed Barnes once again in the midst of an exciting, new dimension. Less than three months after playing his first game in a Kings jersey, Barnes was now the team's and the NBA's representative in India. In an extensive week-long journey, the smooth-scoring forward worked with children of the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA programme, trained elite young athletes in the fray to join the NBA India Academy in Greater Noida, visited iconic Indian landmarks and stopped by Mumbai to help spread his love for basketball.
I met Barnes on the last day of his journey when he was back at the NBA Academy in Greater Noida for the finals of the ACG NBA Jump National Finals.
After a three-day camp where NBA coaches scouted between 49 of the top young prospects in the country, six players were announced as the chosen few to join the ranks of the Academy on a full scholarship.
After he helped felicitate the winners, I spoke to Barnes about preparing at the NBA India Games, the high-flying Kings, how the Warriors revolutionised NBA basketball, and the one playoff series he will never forget.
Q. You've been in the country for almost a week now: what have you seen about the development of talent in India-both grassroot level and the elite players-that has encouraged you the most about the future here?
HB: I think the biggest thing that's encouraged me with the youth here is the passion they have for the game. You'll see kids come out here and compete. It's not necessarily about skill-level at this age. It's mostly about the passion, the drive, if they love the game? I think these kids have it.
They wanna play, they wanna be good. You see it when they make a mistake, how personally they take it. And when they do something good, how excited they get. That's a real mark of loving the game.
Q. Just over the last few years you've been in the NBA, there's been a revolution of the three-ball and guard play. It started when the hand-check rules changed, but really changed with the Warriors this decade. I'm sure you were asked a lot of questions about size, and if basketball players should be tall to succeed, etc. But do you feel it's now important, more than anything, for every player to learn how to shoot and handle the ball?
HB: I'd say it's less about how tall are you, and more about how many positions you can play. How versatile you can be. There are lineups nowadays where there's no one specific position for each player, but a need to be able to everything. I think that's really important. For the kids here in India, for them to have the best chance to be the best player they can be, being able to do everything is really important.
Q. In your own game, how has this change affected the way you go out and play? Have you had to be more versatile about how you approach the game?
HB: Well, it's funny… We, in Golden State, were one of the first teams that went smaller. We kinda changed the positions. You know back in the day, everyone used to say, 'Look, you gotta be either this or that'. Coach Kerr's philosophy was, 'I'm going to put five good basketball players on the floor'. It doesn't matter what position they are. We'll figure it out. I think that's been the progression of saying, 'Look, I'm not a 3 or a 4… I'm just a basketball player'. I can play 1, I can play 5… however it shakes out.' I think that's been the biggest difference, not only in my game, but in the league, from my time in the league [2012 to 2019].
Q. You're gonna now be a part of the historic, first-ever exhibition NBA game to be played in India. And I'm sure when the season began this was nowhere on your radar. How do you feel about getting this opportunity now that you're actually here?
HB: It's crazy to be a part of something as historic as this game. I think of Vivek's [Ranadive] story: he was a basketball fan, became the owner of a basketball team, and now he's taking that basketball team to Mumbai for the first preseason game-that's crazy! I think just to be a part of this historic moment, not only for him, for the franchise, for the league, for Indian fans, it's huge.
A spectacle awaits #NBAGamesInIndia pic.twitter.com/5Yk0uDHF8z- NBAIndia (@NBAIndia) December 20, 2018
It means a lot to be personally to be a part of this. I came here with an open mind. To see the Indian fans perception towards me, the love that they showed me. They were very welcoming. To see the basketball talent here has really encouraged me to wanna continue to expand the game now, to give back to the people here.
Q. What has Vivek told you about India?
HB: Just knowing me, he told that I'm going to love it. That I'll love the people here… the culture, the experience, and obviously the food! Everything he said was right on par.
Q. Is there anything that has surprised you, beyond whatever you could've imagined?
HB: Just the amount of people! We went to the India Gate and it was a droves and droves of people just walking back and forth, and so much going on. This was Sunday night, too! Man, I thought, this is... wow!
Q. Now you're with the Kings, and it's a young team. What should Indian fans expect to see in your style of play when the preseason games roll around in October?
HB: We play a very fast-paced style! We get up and down, we run… We're a young team, so we like to play fast and play above the rim. It'll be a great game for Indian fans to watch us play.
Q. You were one of the young pieces in that historic Warriors team. You guys won 73 games in a season, went to two finals, got a championship. Now, you get to be a veteran in a team that's even younger. How are you changing your approach towards leadership, from where you were, to now?
HB: Everything that has happened to my career up to this point has put me in a position to be the leader that this team needs me to be. To be able to talk to these young guys. To be able to try to lead this group back to the playoffs. I think that's one thing I take very seriously. I don't take that responsibility lightly. And I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Q. The Pacers made the playoffs and may get Victor Oladipo back for the Games in India. Either way, they're a strong defensive unit, they're pretty well disciplined. What are you looking forward to when you face them here?
HB: First, they're a playoff team. They're gonna be extremely well coached. They'll be tough to play against. For us, as a young team, it will be good for us to play a team like that in the pre-season; they'll get us ready for the regular season. It will be a good match.
Q. Do you still keep close tabs on the Warriors and how they're doing? Do you follow them in the playoffs?
HB: You know, I pretty much have my head down in trying to figure out what's going on with the teams I've been on. The Dallas teams I was on, we struggled. There was a lot going into that, trying to get us back on the right foot. Then I got traded to Sac mid-season, we were in the playoff push, and we just missed…So, I'm mostly focused on what we got going on, what we can build and achieve.
Q. It could've been an incredible First-Round matchup against Golden State if you guys had made it…
HB: I know!
Q. Do you feel, as the playoffs go forward, that there is anyone that can stop the Warriors from completing the three-peat?
HB: Yeah, it's the playoffs. Anything can happen. I think the biggest thing about being in the playoffs is that you can't take anything easy. You can't just assume that games are gonna be won. You have to go out there and push to get the win.
Q. You've been part of so many great teams, at UNC, the Warriors, the 73-9 team… What would you look back at, so far, as the most important or memorable experience of your career?
HB: You know, probably when we beat Memphis, the Second Round in 2015… I think that was when we turned a corner. I think that was when we really broke it open and were able to win a championship, when we were able to get past a team that had notoriously been difficult for us to play. That was huge.
Q. What do you feel you need to do in your own personal game to elevate yourself to the next level, to the All Star level?
HB: Just continue to be more consistent. I've shown I can do it at times. But being more consistent, helping my team win more games… I think that'll take care of myself. I'll be able to elevate myself and elevate the franchise.