No Apologies

Matt Barnes, the NBA's Last Tough Guy, Is Still Ready for a Fight

By Chris Palmer

September 27, 2016

Bleacher Report

Photo: Emily Shur for B/R

Editor's note: This story features explicit language some readers may find offensive.

There are beautiful places in this world.

Where warm, sparkling water clear as life slides on pristine beaches without making a sound under palm trees that grow sideways.

Where, a continent away, little black children dash through slums dressed in school uniforms with white beads in their braided hair—their ebullient smiles shielding them from every ill they never deserved.

There is beauty in every corner of this world, he thinks.

He wants their eyes to look upon them. He wants their hearts to know them. To feel every beauty that the gray place he escaped never let him.

They are not like him.

The boys are rambunctious and unaware. They crash into walls and run up and down stairs. They are not afraid. Their smiles cannot be erased, even though they are missing baby teeth. Not on this summer day.

They have football practice today.

The off-white carpet on the steps is ragged and browning slightly. This is what happens when children are about.

He lets them fight in the living room, the one with the 6-foot regulation hoop and panoramic view flooded with sunlight, because it's the only way they may ever learn how to be tough.

He still kisses them on the lips. But thinks they might be too old for that.

It's everything he never got, so he overcompensates. He hates when they push away.

Carter and Isaiah don't know the stuff that parents know. Their innocence protects them. They are just boys.

They know only adventure. They are cared for obsessively. They have never been apart in seven years.

They have never been called nigger.

He is not like them.

In a life of anguish and regret, they are his greatest joy.

Carter darts down the steps to show off his fresh cut. He's seven, six minutes older than Isaiah. His father, Matt Barnes, named him after listening to Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III late in Gloria's pregnancy.

During the ultrasound, as the doctor ran his wand with that cold, blue-green jelly across her round, young belly, Barnes noticed a foot. He was the first one to see him.

He had known Gloria 11 years. They cried that day. Right there in the doctor's office.

One twin has a Mohawk, the other a hipster comb-over. He can't tell them apart in the morning until their hair is done.

"Whoa," Barnes says to Carter, "you gonna drive them ladies crazy, aren't you?"

The lad is as shy as he is dashing. He recoils at the sight of a stranger. He puts his hands over his face to shield himself.

"Introduce yourself," Barnes says softly. "It's OK."

"Hi, I'm Carter," says the boy. He is wearing a Kevin Durant T-shirt, though he loves Steph Curry way more. He scurries to the back bedroom.

"Where you going?" asks his father. "You got football practice."

"I gotta use the bathroom."

"OK," replies Barnes. "Don't pee on the seat."


"We Can Fight or We Can Play Basketball."

In an alcove just off the master bedroom of his four-story Los Angeles penthouse on the water's edge, the NBA's last tough guy—an enforcer held over from a bygone era of brawny ethos, stinking attitude and righteous brutality at the rim whose game is fueled by angst and retribution and a permanent survival instinct—is quite melancholy.

He is 6'8" with almost no discernible body fat. He is cordial, soft-spoken and direct. He scarcely makes eye contact.

He is bored with the Asian fusion in the Tupperware container he picks at with a clear plastic fork.

There are throw pillows on the bed. One reads, "FUCK YOU." The other, "FUCK ME."

Barnes enters his 14th improbable year of NBA survival in the same lane he started, playing the role of a hard-fouling, profanity-spewing, irritating, throwback tough guy who has long taken up residence under the NBA's collective skin.

"Early in my career I had to be a goon to survive," says Barnes. "I did everything I had to do and probably some things I shouldn't have. If I didn't I was gone."

He mastered the art of the hard foul and seemed to have a preternatural understanding of when precisely to deliver one to prevent a run from getting out of hand.

Hip checking, bumping, the accidental elbow to the temple when long arms get untied after the whistle. The inciteful nature of it all.

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Matt Barnes has become one of a dwindling number of players willing to deliver a hard foul when necessary—and sometimes when it isn't necessary, too. (Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

The silver bullet in his holster: a two-hand retaliatory shove to an opponent who has committed a grievous act of disrespect, physical or otherwise, against one of his teammates, which generally results in the NBA equivalent of drop-kicking a hornets' nest.

And most important, he strictly adheres to the boldfaced tenet of that hallowed doctrine of the rogue: never back down.

"I grew up in the '80s in an era that was tough. The Pistons, Celtics, Knicks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason. It wasn't dirty. It was just men playing basketball. I was playing tackle football in the street at five years old. Always being physical. Always being tough, just like a man's man. It was just always about being tough.

"I love to be physical. I'm not trying to hurt anybody, but we're grown-ass men and they're making us play with flags on our shorts. You can't touch anybody anymore. Forget that."

Barnes' motor never stops. If it does, he dies.

"He's one of those guys you play against who makes you go ugh," says Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger. "There goes Matt Barnes—ugh!"

He was told outright by coaches that he wasn't going to shoot and would never be a star. He's never averaged more than 10.3 points per game or made more than $3.5 million in any given year before this season. He's made less than $2 million per year in nine different seasons and never played more than three consecutive seasons with any one team.

But his trademark, orchestrated violence, the hired-muscle thing, has kept him alive. It dovetailed with his reckless skill set and innate need to protect whomever he extended his important, desperate love toward.

"I look at my team like my family," he says. "I would literally die for my family. I'm the protector. That's what I've always done. For some reason I've been on teams with stars—Blake [Griffin], Chris [Paul]—who were picked on or people took cheap shots at. I needed those guys to win, so I had to protect them."

On November 13, 2013, during a Clippers-Thunder clash at Staples Center, Barnes came to the aid of Griffin, who has been the object of hard fouls throughout much of his career, after he got tangled with then-Thunder forward Serge Ibaka.

Barnes shoved Ibaka in retaliation, which set off a prolonged scrum and a three-year war of words between them.

"He's just one of the best teammates I've ever had," Chris Paul says. "You just love him to death. Our kids are friends, he gets along with everyone and he's got your back like no other. There aren't too many guys like that."

"He had our back when he was here," Griffin says. "Those type of guys are so valuable. They're just so hard to find."

Ibaka said Barnes was a clown, his bluster an act. Other detractors who have taken to social media after one Barnes fracas or another also have played down how serious Barnes is.

After scuffling with Serge Ibaka in 2013, Barnes and the former Thunder big man have traded verbal barbs in the media, including a claim by Barnes that he just "didn't like" Ibaka. (Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

"I get penalized for being too real sometimes," Barnes says. "But I've never been fake. My family's never been fake. I don't know what fake is.

"I've seen more than 90 percent of these motherfuckers on Earth. I've seen people get shot, stabbed. I've seen the drugs. I've seen the abuse. I'm real. The way I look, people call me a pretty boy, tough guy or a fake tough guy.

"But if you really have something to say then say it to my face and see where it goes."

After Mavericks guard Jason Terry knocked then-Lakers teammate Steve Blake to the floor in 2011, Barnes sprinted 30 feet to shove Terry, which touched off a near riot. He then pushed Mavs assistant Terry Stotts away when he tried to restrain him.

"You want guys who are going to take up for your teammates," Kobe Bryant told the Orange County Register at the time. "It brings us closer together."

Before Barnes was suspended for a game, his Elusion Clothing company released a T-shirt with a slogan that read, "Matt Barnes Will Kill You, If Ron Artest Doesn't First."

"He's not going to let anything happen to his teammates," Kings forward Garrett Temple says. "The only other guy I know like that is Stephen Jackson."


Nowhere is he more comfortable than in the middle of a scrum.

"I love it," Barnes says. "I absolutely do."

One of Barnes’ earliest notable dustups came Nov. 12, 2008, after an obliterating shoulder shot to the head of Rockets point guard Rafer Alston, who was trying to set a screen for Tracy McGrady. Barnes' maneuver prompted analyst Hubie Brown to say, "That's just a cheap shot. … Totally uncalled for."

The third-quarter hit sparked an epic 10-man shoving match that almost spilled into the stands and resulted in an ejection and two-game suspension for Barnes.

In December 2013 he was assessed a flagrant-2 and ejected after dropping a heavy blow across the brow of fellow former Bruin Kevin Love. He then dropped some acid-laced words on him for good measure. He got the same penalty for decking then-Timberwolves center Greg Stiemsma as he set a screen earlier in the year.

During a March 17 game against the Bucks last season after an exceptionally physical fourth quarter, forward John Henson swatted Barnes' layup out of bounds, after which the two briefly locked up. Henson was ejected after being assessed two technical fouls and Barnes was tossed out for a "continuing use of obscenities."

Moments later Barnes sprinted off the floor and down the tunnel, followed desperately by Bucks assistant Greg Foster.

Barnes raced to the Bucks locker room to confront Henson, although he later told reporters he had been led astray by an employee at the arena and quickly left. The NBA suspended Barnes for one game without pay for trying to enter the room.

"This is where you need law enforcement," quipped one of the announcers. "Let's get some security; let's get some policemen."

He eventually left the arena flanked by two security guards.

"He's tough-minded," says Temple. "His mindset is what makes him so difficult to go against. He just never stops grinding."


That Barnes traffics in a delectably barbarous style of play and relishes in the ensuing admonishment makes him a suitable object of scorn. He's the perfect player to love to hate.

"The NBA has heroes and villains," Barnes says. "I'm the bad guy but I'm real and I do real shit."

LeBron James will never return the finger. No matter how many jerseys they burn. Curry won't rip haters, despite his wife, Ayesha, being the NBA's leading lightning rod. Carmelo Anthony doesn't pepper his speech with F-bombs. He's perfectly good without the heat, thank you.

Hating Matt Barnes is an interactive fan experience.

"You suck, Matt" might earn you a "Fuck you" in return. For any antagonistic fan, the expletive would far exceed the value of a ticket.

He's been fined nearly $100,000 for directing inappropriate comments toward fans. Almost as much as he made with the Knicks in 2005-06.

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"I'm just one of those guys you hate from the other team," says Barnes.

The opinion is not exclusive to fans.

"The guys that don't know me probably think I'm an asshole until they get a chance to play with me," Barnes says. "Guys say I'm the best teammate they've ever had. I'm not trying to be an asshole; that's just how I play. When I'm on your team, you love me to death. If I'm not, you don't like me.

"I know Sacramento fans don't like me because I was always on teams that kicked their ass," Barnes says. "Once they see what I'm about and how hard I play, they'll love me."

"I couldn't stand that dude," says DeAndre Jordan with a smile. "With his good hair. Man, I hated him. But now he's one of my favorite teammates ever. He fits in so perfectly with everybody."

Barnes feels his unbridled outspokenness has given him near-pariah status with prospective employers. Owners think he will destroy team chemistry. He thinks it's the reason he still has to audition after 13 years.

"I speak my mind," he says, "That will never change."

Pariah or not, Barnes moved into the upper echelon of agitators with a supernatural effort against the game's ultimate alpha in March 2010, when the Lakers visited the Magic.

After a follow-up jam, he landed, only to drop an excessively unnecessary forearm across Kobe's chest and left shoulder. (He was whistled for an offensive foul.) He then purposely bumped Bryant after a dead ball. He hacked Bryant's shot out of bounds after refusing to bite on a baseline pump fake.

He shot Kobe a right elbow after a made basket. He bumped Bryant again. This time harder. Kobe raised his hands above his head to signal to the referee he wouldn't retaliate.

Kobe craved this. It was thrilling. He resented others who couldn't do the same.

Then it happened.

In his most gloriously egregious moment, Barnes tempted fate when he infamously pump-faked the ball within a half-inch of Bryant's nose while attempting to inbound under his own basket.

Bryant did not flinch.

"I have no idea why I did that," Barnes says.

Kobe finished with the most difficult 34, seven and seven of his career in a two-point loss.

Barnes' incendiary star as a tough guy had never burned brighter.

It was daring and risky. It was insanity. It was his finest work.

Barnes' willingness to challenge Kobe Bryant won over the Lakers superstar, who personally recruited Barnes to L.A. in 2010. (Photo: Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Lamar Odom was so incensed at what he thought was disrespect toward Bryant that he addressed the media with his back to them while sitting in his chair. Facing his locker, Odom spoke in hushed tones, mumbling obscenities about Barnes and calling him a monkey.

Barnes responded on Twitter thusly:

"Morning yall up early w/ the babies watchn Dora. Seems Lamar can't keep my name out his mouth maby I need 2 put my sons shitty diaper n it"

Other Lakers moaned about Barnes in the locker room. He had also floored Derek Fisher with a forearm.

But Kobe loved it. It was terribly difficult for Bryant to find any sort of meaningful engagement beyond a double-team or a rare lockdown defender.

When Barnes became a free agent at season's end, Bryant called him the same day.

"You want to come to L.A.?" Bryant asked.

Replied Barnes: "Hell yeah."

"I'm Glad I Never Did Coke Because I Probably Would Have Loved It."

The course of Barnes' life, the design of his game and the reputation that precedes him are largely the result of a ragged triumvirate of a burning need for respect, a disciplinarian father who found it impossible to love and daily barrages of scathing racism that wrecked his self-esteem.

Hell of a thing when you're seven.

They are intertwined like roots of a 100-year oak, and it's difficult for Barnes to separate any one from the other.

Barnes grew up in a 900-square-foot, three-bedroom duplex that his family rented for $286 a month in the sun-parched, lower-middle-class Citrus Heights neighborhood of Sacramento.

He was the first son of Henry Barnes, an African-American Marine with a short temper, and Ann, a white Italian mother who taught elementary school.

They married on a balmy Tuesday afternoon, November 13, 1979.

Henry, who found work as a butcher, moonlighted as a drug dealer, sometimes selling out of his house and, Barnes says, working in concert with police officers who helped keep the heat off his fledgling living-room operation in exchange for part of the take.

His father's associates were a constant in the house, which meant drugs were, too. At age six, Barnes would watch adults snort lines of cocaine in the living room.

His parents fought constantly—over money, infidelity and drug use. He didn't know his parents were drug addicts. But he knew how it looked. How it made him feel.

There was one positive with being in such proximity to heavy drug use as a child. It scared him, made him regret everything he saw in that living room. Having no one to hug made him sick. His bedroom door couldn't shield him from anguished cries. The way people acted while high—fighting, disrespecting loved ones, pointing loaded guns at each other—was an early turnoff and the sole reason he steered clear.

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Barnes, who averaged 13.5 points and 6.2 rebounds as a senior, reached the NCAA tournament four times in four years at UCLA. (Photo: Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

"I hated the way they looked and acted," Barnes says. "I'm glad I never did coke because I probably would have loved it. I'm glad I never did heroin or crank either."

His father was a street brawler and seemed to take pleasure in pummeling strangers. He got into hundreds of fights.

When a neighbor across the street hung a confederate flag, Henry marched over and lit it on fire. He and the flag's owner brawled right there on the faded asphalt. The neighbor sicced his dog on Barnes' mother, who was bitten in the leg. Dozens of neighbors joined in the brawl. It was suburban chaos.

The children were ushered inside but watched through the ragged drapes.

"The whole neighborhood was out there fighting," says Barnes' younger sister, Danielle. "Our dad was kicking everyone's ass. This was normal to us, but my mom tried to make sure we never saw him fight."

On weekends Henry would take Barnes to flea markets in the Bay Area, essentially for the purpose of picking fights with strangers. He would do it seemingly for fun. He never needed the gun or knife he always had stashed away. He just liked to fight. The boy would fight, too.

"I've been fighting since I was five years old," Barnes says.

When Henry Barnes wasn't battering strangers who cut him off or shorted him on drug deals, he turned his fists toward his family.

"My father came from an abusive background," Barnes recalls. "What he did to us wasn't considered child abuse back then, but you couldn't get away with that today. And he never missed an opportunity to discipline us."

Henry would wake at 3 a.m. for his shift at the butcher shop and work a double most days. His clothes would reek of meat. Exhausted from work, it would take very little to issue a beating to his wife or children. If he was drunk or high, the abuse would be more severe.

The worst days were when he would spank them bare-bottomed with his butcher's belt.

He would fly into a rage and beat their mother. The tearful objections of Danielle, the middle child, who would come out of the room she shared with the youngest, Jason, was the only thing that could get him to stop.

"I was six years old begging him to stop hitting my mom," says Danielle.

"He was there in my life, but it kind of made it worse for me," Barnes says. "There was just a disconnect. He never said, 'I love you,' or wanted to talk."

Barnes developed his pugnacious attitude from his father, Henry, who rarely shied away from a fight. (Photo: Emily Shur for B/R)

As a teenager Barnes would cut grass for pocket money. He'd get $5 or $10 per yard and spend the money on pizza. Before each school year his mother would only be able to set aside $50 for school clothes for each of her children. Because of his height he often wore ill-fitting clothes. Most of his pants were too short.

The walls of Matt's room were lined with Magic Johnson posters and pennants of his favorite teams. His closet did not contain a sneaker collection like most of his friends had. His shoes had to last a year. Or more.

Barnes learned to drive in the family's 1982 Lincoln Continental. Its faded blue and silver paint job was outlined by a ring of rust on the lower body.

The odometer was pushing 200,000 and the rear bumper was held in place by a bungee cord. The headlights woefully sagged. They held it up by hand as they drove. A sharp left turn would cause the passenger door to fly open. He held his long left arm outside of the driver's-side window to keep the door shut since it would no longer latch.

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The Barnes family, many years ago (from left to right): Ann, Jason, Danielle, Henry and Matt. (Photo courtesy of Danielle Barnes)

"That car was busy falling apart," says Danielle, "but that’s how we got around. Matt drove us to school every day."

The running joke in the family was that Matt was his mother's favorite. She would take extra babysitting jobs just so his school-clothing budget would be a little bigger. She would make her special lasagna—his favorite—whenever he asked.

Matthew was her baby boy.

She also spent a lot of time in bed feeling ill. They could not know multiple cancers were growing in her tired body.

It did not abate the abuse or anger in their tiny home.


Growing up a biracial child has always served to affect both Barnes' self-esteem and others' perception of him, which he has long lamented.

He was confused and did not feel normal. It was exceedingly difficult for him to find love or acceptance. He became quiet, reserved, angry.

The marriage of his black father and white mother was not popular around his native Sacramento. They would receive taunts and disparaging remarks when they went out. People would stare.

The union also caused endless infighting within the family, which led to near-constant unrest and anxiety for Barnes. His grandfather on his mother's side threw around racial epithets and wouldn't accept the children until Barnes was well into elementary school.

Then the name-calling started.

"These kids would be calling me nigger left and right," he says. "It was every day. So I fought every day. I was never black enough or ever white enough, so I got picked on constantly. And my dad told me to never come home crying. I had no choice but to fight."

The ones who didn't pick on him bombarded Barnes with questions about his ethnicity. His teachers did, too. It seemed to perplex them.

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"I was kind of like an oddball," he says. "I wasn't white, I wasn't black, I wasn't Puerto Rican, I wasn't Asian. People kept asking, ‘What the fuck are you?’

"To this day people think I'm the tallest Mexican in the NBA."

After leaving Will Rogers Elementary, the trouble really began.

Racial tensions decimated his social life. He lost his virginity at 14 but wasn't intimate again until his senior year of high school. Nobody could figure out what he was—but he was black if he wanted to date.

Despite everything, he became an athletic star. As a senior on the football team, he hauled in 58 catches for 28 touchdowns. Still, they yelled "nigger" when he found the end zone on game-winning drives. On the hardwood, his nightly near-triple-doubles were interrupted by opposing fans throwing bananas on the court.

At Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California, 18 miles outside of Sacramento, his battle with racism made the local papers. During his senior year, Danielle, then a 15-year-old freshman at Del Campo, was spit on by a classmate who routinely peppered her with the N-word. Several moments later, with saliva still in her hair, she told her brother, who spotted the attacker and proceeded to give him the beating of his life.

Days later a skinhead-laden white-power movement vandalized the school with racist graffiti. They spray-painted the word "nigger" and swastikas on school walls. Die Matt Barnes was sprayed on the school's front entrance. There was a mannequin hanging by a noose from the tallest tree on campus. Confederate flags were laid out in the courtyard.

The local chapter of the NAACP worked with police on the investigation.

The experience hardened Barnes. Demanding respect for himself and his family, just as his father had taught him, became a paramount theme in his life regardless of the consequences.

Shortly after the incident, he began to embrace his identity.

"That's when I knew I was black," he remembers. "While I identify with my Italian heritage, I'm black because I'm not treated as a white person. Still to this day I'm still discriminated and profiled against."


"What Happened Between You and Harden's Mom?"

Take your faggot ass back to L.A.!

There's no way that nice old lady just said that.

Take your faggot ass back to L.A.!

OK, now he was sure.

He didn't need to hear it again. But again it came, Barnes says. Now he was pissed.

It was Game 2 of the Clippers-Rockets Western Conference Semifinals in 2015.

According to reports, Barnes whipped around and yelled, "Suck my dick, bitch." (Barnes denies this. He says he mouthed something different.)

She was a 55-year-old woman named Monja Willis. She used to work at a phone company in Pasadena; she also happened to be James Harden's mother. Barnes says he regretted his actions immediately yet did not know who the woman was.

Barnes had been aggressively guarding the Rockets star for most of the game and drew a technical foul for bumping him on Harden’s way to the foul line in the first quarter.

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After engaging in a duel with James Harden that became physical, Barnes unwittingly found himself arguing with Harden's mother in the stands. (Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

At halftime, still unaware of her identity, he approached Willis and said, "Excuse me, I apologize. It's the playoffs and I let my emotions get the best of me. I don't disrespect women like that. I lost my mom to cancer."

Barnes says he reached out his hand but Willis left him hanging. After the game (a 115-109 Clippers loss), still feeling guilty, Barnes spotted her by the players' bus, walking with four men who shot him dirty looks.

Barnes approached Willis and grabbed her arm to apologize once again.

It wasn't until he got on the Clippers bus and sat near DeAndre Jordan that he realized the scope of the situation.

"What happened between you and Harden's mom?" asked Jordan. Barnes sighed. Harden's and Jordan's mothers were close friends. Jordan's mom had just called him.

The next day back in Los Angeles, Doc Rivers ripped into Barnes for losing his cool and causing a distraction during a crucial playoff series (which the Clippers would lose after holding a 3-1 lead). Ultimately, the rebuke would fracture the coach-player relationship.

Rivers and Barnes had what Barnes calls an "explosive" relationship and butted heads more often than not. The day after a late-season loss to the Warriors several weeks earlier, during a film study session, Rivers spent an inordinate amount of time harping on Barnes' mistakes the night before. The forward felt the throttling was excessive. Barnes' teammates began to nervously look in his direction.

"He was talking down to me like I wasn't a man," says Barnes.

Barnes shot back at Rivers in front of the team and the two had it out.

"That's Matt," says Rivers with a chuckle. "He's a man. He's fiery."

Rivers didn't so much mind heated discourse. He thought it was a constructive way to hash out problems between men, which seemingly made Rivers an ideal coach for Barnes.

Coach Doc Rivers and Matt Barnes had a complicated relationship when Barnes was with the Clippers. (Photo: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

But it was window dressing. Barnes was traded that summer to the Charlotte Hornets for Lance Stephenson, much to Barnes' dismay.

The next season Barnes and Rivers spoke to clear the air and each expressed how much he had enjoyed working with the other.

This summer Barnes had aspirations to return to the Clippers. He had been receiving frequent text messages from Paul, Griffin and Jordan.

The consensus was the team wasn't as tough as it had been with Barnes. They wanted their protector back. Late in June, Barnes and Rivers had begun to communicate via text. They agreed to have dinner the following week. But the day before they were to meet, Wesley Johnson and the Clippers agreed to a three-year, $18 million deal, effectively ending Barnes' hopes to return.

The next day, Barnes agreed to terms with the Kings.

"We wanted Matt back," says Rivers, "but we just couldn't afford him."

Doc later sent Barnes a text: "Just saw you signed with the Kings. Think it could have worked out for you here. Obviously it didn't. We didn't have the money. I'm happy for you. I sure wish you were 25."


"There's Just Too Many Other Women To Play That Game."

Carter held the phone in front of him. He saw his dad's sharp jaw through FaceTime. He laid his head down on the couch and put a pillow in front of his face.

"Carter, baby, what's wrong?" Barnes asked nervously. "Where's your mom at?"

"She went to the store with Isaiah," he said.

His shaky voice scared Barnes. He then FaceTimed Isaiah to ask him where he was.

"We just got back from the airport," his other six-year-old said.

"Who did you pick up?"

"Your friend, Derek."


The headline-grabbing exploits of blazing a 95-mile warpath from Santa Barbara to Redondo Beach to issue the beating of a lifetime to a former teammate and current head coach lit up Twitter, gave life to memes and inspiration to Kanye West (who included the trip on his song "30 Hours," singing, "I'm about to drive 90 miles like Matt Barnes just to whoop a nigga ass…"). It is the stuff of myth, half-truths and legend.

The Memphis Grizzlies had settled into the picturesque University of California at Santa Barbara campus for their seven-day training camp in the fall of 2015. Since it would be the last opportunity for Matt to see the boys for several months, his ex-wife, Gloria, brought them up with the idea they would all drive back to southern California at camp's end before Barnes would leave the next day—a Sunday—for Memphis.

They stopped for food a half-hour into the two-hour trip home. Gloria made the food run as she talked on the phone. When her conversation was picked up on her car's Bluetooth speaker, Barnes heard a familiar voice. It was New York Knicks head coach Derek Fisher, who was supposed to be in the middle of his own training camp. Barnes muted the boys' cartoons.

Barnes confronted her when she got back in the car with the order, but he didn't want to make a scene in front of the twins. An hour-and-a-half later, she dropped Barnes off at his condo in the marina so he could pack for Memphis.

Thirty minutes later, Carter FaceTimed him.

"Carter, baby, what's wrong…"

Barnes kissed him goodnight through the phone and ended the session.

His blood began to boil. His mind was a succession of explosive scenarios. None of which ended well.

He ran downstairs to the basement parking lot, jumped in his luxury sedan and lit out for his old house in Redondo Beach, four miles away.

By the time Barnes arrived, he was an inferno. Lessons from Henry—fighting, respect, family—coursed like molten adrenaline in his veins.

There were cars in the driveway he didn't recognize. The front door was locked. He went around the side to gain access to the backyard. He tried to reason with himself as his heart pounded.

Think about Isaiah.

Think about Carter.

Don't forget it's a contract year.


Matthew Kelly Barnes met Gloria Govan briefly at a family gathering when she was 12 and he was 18. His best friend dated her older sister. They reconnected eight years later after Laura Govan, who was dating Gilbert Arenas, set Barnes up with her little sister, by this time a 20-year-old college athlete.

The 2006-07 Warriors of Baron Davis, Stephen (Captain Jack) Jackson and Monta Ellis were taking the league by storm, and Barnes was getting his first taste of celebrity. The spotlight was intoxicating and worth the wait. He also was coming into his own with the ladies.

"I had a Mohawk and was really feeling myself," Barnes says.

Gloria didn't seem to be impressed. She never asked for tickets. Not even after the Warriors' historic first-round upset of the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks. Not even his 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in Game 6 helped.

She withdrew. Barnes pursued. Finally he convinced her to go out. They went on their first date to a sports bar called Kimball's that Govan's parents, who were married 41 years, owned in Oakland. It was a blowout. Her father danced on a table in his underwear.

At some point during the night, Barnes had to do a quick radio interview he scheduled several days before. Gloria found him in the back kitchen as he hung up. Without speaking, he turned and kissed her for the first time.

Twenty-six days after Matt and Gloria's first date, Barnes' mother died after being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Barnes went into an emotional tailspin. His play suffered. The aura of the "We Believe" Warriors had long worn off. The team would keep him only one more year. Gloria seemed to be the only one there. Her own mother had beaten cancer. He fell in love.

Then everything hit fast forward. Their romance was a whirlwind of parties, famous friends and drunken nights.

"We never really got to know each other," Barnes says. "Everything just moved so fast."

Barnes' relationship with ex-wife Gloria Govan moved quickly and saw them married and divorced in a matter of two years. (Photo: Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty Images)

They were on the verge of breaking up when Gloria told Matt one morning she was pregnant with twins. They flew to Las Vegas in the summer of 2012 when the relationship was on the rocks—Gloria cried that day after an argument. While knocking back Patron at a daytime pool party, they decided to get married, so they bolted for a tiny Vegas chapel.

The following summer they had a proper wedding in Santa Barbara. The afterparty is still revered among its NBA guests as a Hall of Fame-level blowout after Barnes spared no expense and chartered several planes to fly guests in.

At the height of the revelry, DeAndre Jordan stood up and declared, "This is the greatest party ever! You guys should get divorced just so we can do it again!"


It's two years later, and Barnes can barely control himself. He jumped the fence and made his way to the backyard. He could hear voices. There was laughter. As soon as Barnes smelled the embers from the firepit, the one he had spent so many nights around with Gloria and the boys, he lost it.

He was blind with rage.

When he turned the corner, the first thing he saw was Fisher with his arm around Gloria.

Barnes rushed him. Chaos ensued. Laughter gave way to screams. Drinks went flying. Fisher ran. He pleaded with Barnes to calm down so they could talk. The only thing that bulged more than Fisher's eyes were the veins in Barnes' neck.

There was a security guard Fisher had brought along who worked for the Lakers when Barnes and Fisher were teammates. He looked at Matt. He did not intervene.

Each time Barnes managed to grab hold of Fisher, several people jumped on Barnes in order to restrain him.

"I've never been that angry in my life," Barnes says, "and I've been pretty pissed off before.

"When I think back now I'm glad there were people there to jump on me. If it had just been straight up one-on-one it would have been…"

His voice trails off.

The fallout from the altercation ranged from nearly $100,000 in fines for Barnes to putting him on thin ice with the league to cementing his rep as one of sports' most go-hard rogues.

In the aftermath, Barnes vowed to be more conscientious about how his decisions affected his boys—especially when they heard about the altercation at school and asked him about it.

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Barnes, ex-wife Gloria Govan and their sons, Carter and Isaiah, during happier times. (Photo: Michael Buckner/KCSports2014/Getty Images For Nickelodeon)

Barnes says he has completely come to terms with his new reality.

"Look, I divorced her," he says. "I left."

"I'm fine with it," he says. "Gloria and I are friends, we get along and we co-parent great. We're connected to each other forever. We know it's all about the boys."

Barnes insists that if Gloria is happy and the boys are safe, then he has no complaints.

On Fisher: "I respect him for the fact that that's who my ex loves and makes her happy. So I respect him on that level. He makes her happy and he's around my kids and they like him. But other than that, man to man, I don't respect him at all. There's just too many other women to play that game. At the end of the day, a man is going to be a man.

"He doesn't owe me anything. I just thought we were better than that. You gonna move in with my wife and kids? And not have the courage to tell me? Nothing about that sounds like what a real man would do. I see him at my kids' football games and he won't even look at me. He stares at the ground. He won't make eye contact. The way he moved was foul. But hate is too heavy to carry. I've forgiven him but I just don't respect him. Just be good to my kids. The day that stops there's going to be a real-life problem."

Barnes says he's gotten dozens of calls from NBA players ("the biggest stars in the game") to NFLers to rappers giving him respect and saying they would have done the same thing. Barnes adds that general managers, coaches and referees offered him support when they saw him at games.

Barnes is back on the dating scene and "enjoying single life" but in "no rush." He'd like to get married again someday and maybe have a girl. He often talks about a baby girl. He would do her hair.

On the day of our final interview, Fisher hints he wants to attempt an NBA comeback. Barnes' social media feeds light up with instigators, memes and crying emojis.

"I'll mark it on my calendar," he says. "It'll be like the NBA Finals. I'll make sure I'll guard him no matter what."


"They Want to Be Football Players. They Want Tattoos."

Matt Barnes stares out the window of his car. There are so many boats in the marina. They bob on the water and dodge each other just so. Some have huge sails, others outboard motors. It is choreographed confusion. The waterway spills out into an infinite oceanic wilderness, then blurs into a shiny blue nothingness.

Seagulls levitate on the perfumed afternoon air, as they do, sharing the horizon with clouds pink from the sun.

Matt Barnes, who came from ugliness and pain, with his good hair, is still here.

A shaft of sunlight lands on a ragged collection of random ephemera: DVDs, magazines, hats, game controllers.

A bottle of half-empty Fireball whiskey sits undisturbed next to a large framed photograph of Ann on Mother’s Day.

He saw coke. He was abused—though he would never say. Times were different back then. But nothing that happened to him can ever be undone.

As a kid he searched for fireworks in the street to light off. He played outside all day unlike kids nowadays. He used to cut lawns for spending money.

They see Matt Barnes and wave.

At least they don't yell nigger anymore. They just want selfies now.

Matt Barnes, the one who was never white enough or black enough.

He has two boys. They are rambunctious and unaware. They don't know what their father knows.

He has not seen a day that could match their happiness. Their peaceful oblivion is more than he could ever ask.

They want to be football players. They want tattoos.

Last week Carter got an interception. Oh, when he turned upfield. He was so fast. He gave the ball to his dad. He was missing a tooth.

The world beyond the window of their father's car goes on forever.

It is vast and scary. It holds such reward. Their kind hearts will love it, he thinks.

Their father will never know what they know. Their stories will be their own.

And they will be beautiful to tell.


Chris Palmer covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Reach him on Twitter @ChrisPalmerNBA.