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Barnes Finally Focused on Not Focusing on His Brand

I know. It's about time.

Excellent piece from the N&O's Andrew Carter examining the state of Harrison Barnes' brand management. As you recall, Barnes was very vocal before and during his time at UNC about the development of his brand. That included an interview with The Atlantic magazine where he openly discussed his brand management, including how intentional it was. That piece coupled with Barnes not quite living up the expectations on the court rubbed fans the wrong way. The very cynical were left to conclude that nothing about Barnes was genuine and the sophomore worried more about his branding campaign than his play on the court.

Now? Lesson learned it would appear.

Barnes said an artist friend from Iowa designed his logo. But on the day before the draft, Barnes didn’t want to say much else about his brand, or how his desire to create one originated. He seemed embarrassed by the thought of discussing such things.

“I said a lot of things when I was in college, some of them probably a little prematurely,” Barnes said. “So I think the best thing for me to do right now is just focus on the basketball court, focus on that and everything else will take care of itself.”

I suppose this would have been a nice place for Barnes to have reached maybe two years ago or even last October. Of course there is no way to know if it would have mattered on the court but at least those questions would not have been an option for critics and fans alike to ponder. In fact, it became fairly clear not long after Barnes declared for the draft that someone(his agent, mother, Roy Williams, etc) had this conversation with him. Barnes opened up a Twitter account and suddenly we began seeing a person that had been carefully hidden for two years. Somewhere along the way, Barnes figured out he needed to just be himself and on Twitter he has been just that. The shift from Barnes being a manufactured image presented for public consumption to a real 20-year old college players heading to the NBA via Twitter is nothing short of amazing.

Granted the Twitter account and Barnes' openness on it can be seen as yet another ploy in the brand management plan. Cynical reaction is the consequence having tried to artificially create an image for as long as people have been watching you. Kendall Marshall or John Henson do not have such issues in how they are perceived because they have always been out for the world to see. In fact, Marshall ended up with a brand, the "Pass First" campaign, by playing basketball and being an all-around great person and teammate.  Marshall, Henson and even James Michael McAdoo understand the brand takes care of itself if you take care of what happens on the basketball court.

James Michael McAdoo, the Tar Heels’ sophomore forward, arrived at UNC amid hype comparable to Barnes. Did McAdoo ever think about building his brand?

“No,” he said recently. “You’ll never hear that coming out of my mouth. That’s just not my style. I don’t know what brand [is]. I mean, I just play basketball. …

“If some team wants to sign me one day to play professionally, and if some shoe company wants to give me some money to wear their shoes, you know, I’ll do that. But I don’t really think about that stuff.”

Obviously McAdoo's shunning of such things will be a welcome change and at least when he plays poorly, that is one less thing to thing about. That being said, it is difficult to really quantify how much Barnes' brand snafu really impacted him. Speaking for myself, I don't think Barnes went 8-30 in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight because he was focused on his brand. However his focus on his brand makes the 8-30 more difficult to swallow and raises many doubts about where his head was at in St. Louis.

In the end, Barnes' situation is a cautionary tale for both aspiring NBA superstars or life in general. While minding your image/brand/persona is important it should ultimately be a mere by-product of how you live and work.