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The Business of Barnes

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A very intriguing piece on Harrison Barnes from The Atlantic(wait...what?)

The focus of the article and interview with Barnes is on the business and brand side of basketball, something the Tar Heel sophomore has paid careful attention to even before he got to UNC.

Barnes, now a sophomore at UNC, has lived up to the hype, both on and off the court. A 6-foot-8 small forward with a silky jumper and a knack for hitting game-winning shots, he’s also widely touted as college basketball’s most cerebral star since Bill Bradley. But where Bradley devoted his analytical abilities to hoops and academics, Barnes has added a third area of interest: the business of basketball. Barnes’s business acumen is what brought him to UNC—and accounts for the fact that he’s still there.

After his freshman season, Barnes would have been a certain top-five pick in the NBA draft. But he decided to pass up the league and return to college. Part of his rationale for doing so was the prospect of an NBA lockout. He also genuinely likes school. But a big reason he came back to UNC was that he believes remaining in college for at least one more year will eventually increase his endorsement potential. “The longer you stay in college,” Barnes explained, “the better a brand you build.”

We were meeting in the press center just outside the UNC locker room, beneath photos of past Carolina stars who went on to the NBA: Antawn Jamison, Rasheed Wallace, Ty Lawson. (Indeed, as if to affirm Barnes’s choice of school, a recent Wall Street Journal study found that since 1985, former Tar Heels have earned more money in the NBA than basketball alumni from any other college.) Barnes had arrived in a suit and tie—not the kind of flashy outfit commonly seen on NBA draft night, but a simple, conservative dark suit and gold tie. That morning, he’d attended three classes at UNC’s highly regarded Kenan-Flagler Business School (including his favorite, Entrepreneurship), and he looked more like a college student interviewing for a job at an accounting firm than a soon-to-be-multimillionaire sports star. His manner was similarly restrained, one might even say businesslike. He sat bolt upright in his chair and paused carefully before each answer.

“The NBA is a business,” Barnes told me, elaborating that players are akin to pieces of inventory that, if they don’t produce, get replaced by other pieces that do. “But on the brighter side,” he added, “you do gain a lot of capital, and you have a platform from which you have avenues to do just about anything you want to do.” Indeed, Barnes seems amazed that more basketball players don’t take advantage of those avenues. “I think if anybody has an opportunity to play professional basketball,” he said, “to not transcend that into off-the-court endeavors is really a waste.”

In a word Barnes is quite impressive for a 19-year old sophomore in college. Obviously he is immersed in his school work, by all accounts works very hard on his game and has a long term vision of what his career that goes beyond even the next 1-2 years. The way he discusses some of these areas might be a little off-putting for some fans especially the notion that one of the reasons for his return to Chapel Hill was to build his brand further. However, unless someone can prove to me that has affected his play on the court or takes something away from the team(which hasn't happened in either case) then it is fine. As Barnes notes, a lot of players waste the opportunity afforded to them as a professional basketball player to explore off-the-court success. It is clear Barnes wants to flourish in both arenas which makes him very similar to Tyler Zeller in that regard.

What remains to be seen in the next three weeks is to what extent Barnes takes the proverbial bull by the horns to help UNC reach the Final Four and win a national title. Since he players with John Henson and Tyler Zeller, it is not necessary for him to always be a dominant player. However I do think UNC needs six games of consistency from him on this, the biggest of all stages. If that happens UNC will likely win a title and Barnes will have the legacy/brand building championship moment he needs to propel his career forward.