Money, fame, and talent can be the top priorities for most professional athletes, but for Harrison Barnes, it’s his relationship with God that comes first.
This past summer, coming off a NBA Finals loss with the Golden State Warriors, Harrison Barnes hit free agency unsure of what was next on the horizon. Would he stay in Golden State or would he be moving to a different city?
Then Kevin Durant chose to join the Warriors and long story short, Harrison Barnes signed a four-year, $94 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.
Armed with a massive contract and a new role in a new city, the majority of Barnes’ life changed. But his relationship with God remained the same.
This week, after a practice in Dallas, I caught up with Harrison Barnes to talk about the role that God has played in his life and the importance of his relationship with God.
Me: So tell me about your bracelet that you wear, what does it mean to you?
Barnes: “It says ‘In Jesus Name I Play’. Ever since I was young I grew up in the church, my faith has always been a big reason why I play. On the inside of my shoes I have TGBTG, which is ‘To God Be The Glory’ and I just play for Him. I realize how blessed I am, how fortunate I am. There is a lot of people in this world that love the game of basketball and want to play the game of basketball. Where the game has taken me, how good it has been to myself, my family, the communities I have touched…I just realize it is not my work, but His.”
Me: Correct me if I am wrong, but did you lead some Bible studies when you were in high school?
“What I have learned in my 24 years of being on this Earth and walking with Christ is just no matter what you do, allow people to try to see Him [Christ] through you.” -Barnes
Barnes: “Yeah, I had a bible study group my senior, might have been my junior and senior year, on Wednesday mornings called Word on Wednesdays or WOW. Yeah just a bunch of guys and girls, we would come together and talk about the Word a little bit.”
Me: You go from high school to Chapel Hill to the league. Some people have talked about that spiritual bond that Golden State Warriors team had. How unique was that? What did that consist of?
Barnes: “It was phenomenal. A lot of people know how strong Steph is about his faith, but we had 8, 9, 10 guys who all believed in God. We go to chapel together, go to church together. I even still keep in touch with those guys in a group chat and we all have bible studies we send messages to. When you’re around guys all of the time, especially in this type of environment, flying together, practicing together, staying in hotels together, you spend so much time with these guys you develop deep bonds. When you also have faith-based relationships, I think it just makes the team come together a lot more.”
Me: What is it like being a Christian in such a limelight, such a spotlight? Being a professional athlete, it’s a little different.
"Barnes: “Oh yeah, the scrutiny is huge just because people see athletes and immediately you are assessed as a role model, the standard, how you live, everything you do is critiqued and put under a microscope. What I have learned in my 24 years of being on this Earth and walking with Christ is just no matter what you do, allow people to try to see Him [Christ] through you. Not everyone is going to pick up a Bible and read it. Their faith may be based on ‘he wears a Jesus bracelet so how does he act?’ or ‘he talks about God, let me see how he lives his life.’ You may be the deciding factor in whether they choose to learn more about it or they say ‘he wears the stuff and does the stuff, but he really doesn’t live that life.”"
Me: What would you tell a young kid coming up right now playing sports that loves Jesus and wants keep that fire going? Since you went through it with the limelight and all of that.
“I think in every type of situation you have to give praise to God. There is no valley without a mountain.” -Barnes
Barnes: “I think in every type of situation you have to give praise to God. There is no valley without a mountain. There is always going to be an up with a down and it’s all cyclical. So you are either just finishing going through a tough period, about to go through a tough period, or you are right in the middle of one. I think no matter what, as long as you continue to just stay steadfast, stay in the faith, everyone has so many dreams and expectations, but at the end of the day it’s about putting God’s invitations before that. Whether it is to become an NBA player, or maybe a coach, or maybe you just become a fan of the game. Everyone has a role to play that is the most important thing. Be the best basketball player you can be, best athlete, whatever you want to do just pursue it with your best…at the end of the day realizing that God’s plan might align with yours or it might be completely different.”
Me: Obviously, with your schedule, you can’t go to church a lot. How do you find time whether it is podcasts, youtube sermons…how do you find that time?
Barnes: “I do a personal devotion every morning to start off the day right. We have so much travel, but what has really helped me is the chapels pre-game. That’s a great time for me, just because we are on the road so much. Just to take that time and have different preachers/chaplains come in. When I am here on Sundays I try to go to different churches and see different pastors whether it is Tony Evans or Freddy Haynes or whoever it may be. I just try to get in the Word as much as I can.”
Me: This past summer with moving cities, new contract, getting engaged…what would you say God has taught you the most over this past year?
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Barnes: “[long pause]….I would say that God always has a plan. Each thing played out. Losing the Finals, what’s going to happen then? Free agency, what’s going to happen then? The first time I called Dallas they were like ‘we have other people on the report, it’s not going to work here.’ Being able to come out here, playing in the Olympics and not playing much. Going through that, you always sit back and wonder if you are doing things right. Should I be frustrated? Maybe I should feel bad for myself. But just realizing that God has a plan. You know when you always look back, hindsight is always 20/20 [laughs] that wasn’t that bad! But when you are going through these things you don’t know with new city, new team, we start off struggling, and I was like ‘what is going on?’ Did I make the right decision? All that stuff. But I realize that God has a plan and He will never leave you nor forsake you.”
If this summer was the valley for Harrison Barnes, the climb up the mountain is just beginning in Dallas.