Hector Amezcua hamezcua@sacbee.com The Clippers' Matt Barnes drives against DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings in Wednesday's regular-season finale.

Hometown Report: There is more to Barnes than his reputation

Published: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Saturday, Apr. 20, 2013 - 6:38 pm

Matt Barnes isn't all tattoos, razor-hard stares and venomous tones.

There's a soft side to the man. You just have to tap into it.

The Los Angeles Clippers forward by way of Del Campo High School says basketball is his profession, but he explains that his family is his purpose.

His twin 4-year-old sons Isaiah and Carter get a rise out of him. Wife Gloria Govan of "Basketball Wives" fame, Barnes admits, is the most talented one at the dinner table.

There is sadness, too. Barnes remembers his mother, Ann, in spirit and in something of a mural, a tattoo on his abdomen depicting her wearing angels wings.

Ann died in 2007, 26 days after calling her son, amid tears, to explain she had stage 4 lung cancer.

Barnes said he'll never fully recover from that loss, but he has never blended family and hoops better. This also happens to be the best campaign of Barnes' vagabond 10-year career. He's averaging 10.3 points and immeasurable effort off the bench for the playoff-bound Clippers.

"He's given us a lot that you don't see in the stat sheets," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's been great for us."

Barnes, 33, started his career with the Clippers in 2003, bounced around with seven teams and returned to the franchise as something of a hired ringer. And if the NBA grind of locking up with players such as DeMarcus Cousins doesn't wear him out on game night, trying to chase down the twins on the beach surely does.

"I've got the greatest jobs in the world," Barnes said Wednesday before the Clippers and Kings played in a regular-season finale.

"First greatest is being a dad, the best thing that's ever happened to me, and then playing basketball. Very happy."

Barnes will never be confused for a choirboy. He neither looks the part nor acts it. He's as reviled an athlete as you'll find in the NBA. Barnes said he has to play nasty to maintain employment. Set picks, mix it up, run the floor, rebound, deliver follow-up dunks.

Barnes has been good enough to stick in the NBA this long but has never been able to stick with a team long term. He's always a welcomed addition but on a short-term basis. Barnes will be a free agent again this offseason.

"I'm used to it, and that's OK," Barnes said.

He also understands why. This is a business, as unforgiving as it can be rewarding, with instability an unwanted passenger.

"I probably have learned that more than anyone," Barnes said. "Reputation can be a good thing. It can stick with you, no matter how good or bad. I've had both reps. I had to learn. You live and learn, and you grow from everything. I can say I'm a different person now than I was earlier in my career, a different man – skill-wise and mentally. But I'll always play one way."

Barnes was suspended for a game this season for striking Minnesota's Greg Stiemsma in the neck, a flagrant 2 penalty. Barnes said it was to counter an elbow he'd received earlier, then confessing later, "I lost my control, and I apologize for it."

Barnes also speaks his mind on Twitter. In questioning a Serge Ibaka low blow to teammate Blake Griffin this season, Barnes tweeted that the Oklahoma City forward was assessed only a flagrant 2 because of his clean reputation.

Tweeted Barnes, "Me or Metta World Peace do that and I guarantee it's a five-game suspension."

And on Kobe Bryant going down late this season with an Achilles' tendon rupture, Barnes tweeted: "Shame they ran him into the ground."

Barnes is booed in virtually every NBA arena – sometimes, just because. Barnes' first game following his mother's death was at Arco Arena, where he was cheered during introductions that night. He had played high school playoff games there and with the Kings in the 2004-05 season.

"My mom, her loss weighs on me in a lot of ways, and I remember after she died I played the Kings, and the crowd gave me a lot of support that night and I remember that," Barnes said.

Wednesday, he was heartily booed by Kings fans.

Said Robert Nelson, a longtime Kings fan, "I used to cheer him when he was here, but he's the enemy now. I can't like any player from L.A. That's all."

Said fan Cynthia Morris: "I don't like him. I just see tattoos, he being tough and mean and all."

Yep, that's Barnes.

Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD.

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