It was ironic that on an evening Kevin Durant was unable to play due to injury, Matt Barnes received his long-overdue championship ring in Oracle. Barnes, the blue-collar hooper whose roots extend back to the “We Believe” era Dubs, re-joined the team last spring under emergency circumstances after Durant was severely injured.
As the shorthanded Golden State Warriors stumbled to a 110-106 loss to their NorCal rival Sacramento Kings, I wondered if maybe we could have suited up old “Matty B” one more time.
In celebration of Barnes’ fascinating legacy, please join me in a deep dive look over his 14-year career, his impact on the Warriors, and his love for the Bay.
In the beginning
“This is hands down probably one of the best organizations in the league now, but back then it wasn’t,” Matt Barnes said. “But it was still, me being from here, and the love that I got, and the crowd support for this team throughout the years is something I definitely wanted to experience with this team, with a chance to win (a championship), and being here a second time around is even sweeter.” - Jason Jones for the Sacramento Bee (2017)
Reading that quote from Matt Barnes actually sent me backwards into a time warp.
To fully realize what he symbolizes today, I had to think back. Back into the dark ages of Golden State Warriors basketball when it hurt so bad to represent that laughingstock, that I almost had to disassociate myself from the failure and pain. The Warriors were inept and shameful.
This I bore with a heavy sigh and resigned bowing of the head; the fatigue of perpetual defeat evaporating our future hopes. Basically, I felt like Tywin Lannister in Game of Thrones except instead of harboring open resentment for my son, I had Joe Smith for a #1 draft pick.
That all changed in the 2007 playoffs when an angry band of cast offs, misfits, and malcontents (and a superhero mascot named Thunder) charged into the realm of hoops consciousness proudly waving the banner of Golden State. When the Warriors returned to Oracle for their first playoff home game in 13 years (the second longest streak in history), the hometown fans unleashed the slogan “We Believe”. Actually, not just a slogan: it became the rallying War Cry of a city, and a franchise, that had enough of being the butt of the joke.
Enter the lanky, edgy, raw, scrappy 6-foot-7, 225 pound complementary player and team captain: Matt Kelly Barnes.
He seemed to always be in the right place, ballin’ (his "We Believe" playoff run numbers: 11-5-2 in 30 MPG while shooting 42% from three!). Remember the half court shot Baron hit to tie Game 4 at halftime and retain the momentum against a Dallas team fighting for its life? Guess who fast balled it to him like Dennis Eckersley from under the basket 45 feet away?
And guess who put the exclamation dunk on the MVP to seal Dirk’s shame? Matty B baby!
Did you witness over this summer when Matt Barnes took the podium next to Ian Clark and James Michael McAdoo at the parade? If not, click this link, and fast forward to the two minute mark and hear him reflect on being a champion. Did you notice how when he thanked the fans, he made sure to emphasize the fact that he was from the Bay?
I think on Parade Day, Matt was letting us know that he was enjoying the same cathartic release the faithful have felt since the Dynasty was born out of the ashes of Shame and Todd Fuller. Born in Santa Clara, Matt Barnes grew up in Sacramento, quite familiar with the Warriors. In fact, before his mother Ann passed in 2008, she literally asked to be buried in a Warriors jersey.
So how did he get back to the Dubs?
Matt Barnes’ post We Believe career was looking rather suspect.
He bounced around the league with six teams over the next decade. Reports of issues with law enforcement issues started popping up. Rumors exploded about a bizarre scenario made for TMZ’s wet dreams involving him allegedly assaulting former teammate Derek Fisher over Barnes ex-wife after a 95 mile drive from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles.
(My group chat exploded: “Remember Matt Barnes?!” “Dude I heard he beat Derek Fisher’s ass over his girl!” “He is a real GOON!!” “SAD”) As the Warriors’ success turned around in the Splash Bros era, Barnes seemed like a hooper on his last legs, his name only popping up for unfortunate non basketball publicity.
Until Zaza Pachulia did what Zaza Pachulia does — and that’s (#unintentionally) take out a lower extremity of a Western Conference all-star small forward (See Spurs fans? He’s equal opportunity).
The crash into Kevin Durant’s knee in February sent Dub Nation into stomach churning anxiety. As reports about the injury swirled in uncertainty, the question became who would the Warriors sign to fill his place? Patrick “Future Hall of Famer” McCaw showed promise, but could you trust a rookie to fill in for a spot occupied by a former MVP?
Even Rick Barry had his concerns. That’s when Warriors GM Bob Myers went in a direction that proves yet again why he is the top man in his position. He went with a man who could restore the faith: someone with the versatility to defend multiple positions, marksmanship to knock down the three, cardio for the speedy pace, and the unselfish nature to swing the rock.
Return of the Goon!!!
What are the odds that during the 10-year anniversary of the first glimmer of Warriors’ hope in many moons, the team would bring back a crown jewel from that squad? A 37-year-old Matt Barnes came back and jolted Dub Nation. He is the bridge between then and now.
Barnes rewarded our organization’s trust and gave us everything he had left in the tank. Even though his best playing days were behind him, he helped the Dubs go 15-4 in a crucial late season stretch with SlimVP recuperating. After KD returned, Barnes ended up playing 20 games (starting 5) in the regular season, shooting a serviceable 42% from the field, and a respectable 34% from the downtown in 20 MPG (Per NBA.com).
It was pretty cool to see Barnes running around with the new young guns, and GSoM's own Apricot broke down how his presence on both ends helped patch the KD sized wound before the playoffs . My favorite part of that article is when Apricot refers to footage of Barnes fearlessly jacking up shots to make the Milwaukee Bucks’ defense pay for loading up on the Dubs’ All-Stars. It was almost as if Barnes was saying, “Once a gunslinger, ALWAYS A GUNSLINGER”.
In the playoffs, Durant returned, and the coaching staff tightened up the rotation. We saw less and less of Barnes. It was during our one and only post season loss that Barnes still managed to remind of why we love him.
It was in the midst of a hellish NBA Finals Game 4 when the league conspired to stretch the series out past a bloody sweep — the Cavs had a great shooting night and blew us out. There, during a time out was Matt F’ing Barnes, knees bandaged, in a long sleeve warmup tee, JAWING WITH SOME RANDOM UNWASHED CLEVELAND BELLIGERENT.
Don’t stop believing!
To close, I want to share a Matty B story that is dear to my heart. My good friend Dave and I attended Game 1 of the second round of the 2017 NBA playoffs against the Utah Jazz, “We Believe Night".
We got there early, milling around the arena and wondering why they didn’t have the actual "We Believe" war cry shirts on our chairs (Seriously though, wtf?). In warmups, there were two enormous cheers. The first was for the Unanimous Death Angel Steph Curry. The second? For Matt Barnes opening his warmup jacket, revealing he was wearing the classic We Believe shirt.
I actually teared up watching Barnes humbly amble around. He was moved, but still fully focused on the task at hand, despite the adulation. He’s from the Bay; he’s one of us. He will always live on in that 2016-2017 banner in our arena.
And for now, his (Warriors) watch has ended.
Thank you, Matt Barnes!
Matt Barnes Championship Season Grades
This poll is closed
A: He did his job, and redeemed the "Barnes" name for Dub Nation
B: He was a nostalgic symbol in memory of the We Believe days
C: He took a roster spot from the worthy Jose Calderon! Lack of PG depth will doom us!
D: I'm a Derek Fisher Fan
F: I'm Derek Fisher