Here is a link to my Monday column about the wonderful return of Jim Barnett as TV analyst of all Warriors games. The full text runs below:
A funny thing happened to Jim Barnett on the way to retirement. The Warriors unretired him.
The unretirement took place a few weeks ago. The Warriors, who wanted to replace Barnett as TV analyst, decided not to replace Barnett. So, all praise to the Warriors.
Barnett turns 70 next month and it seems the Warriors wanted someone different, maybe a little younger. Stuff like that. They would keep Barnett as a team ambassador. With his enthusiasm and energy he’d be great. Then there was talk of Barnett doing some road radio games. Then there’s this — forget everything you learned about Barnett stepping away. It’s like it never happened. Barnett is not gone. He will do all TV games next season.
“Last year, we had reached a mutual agreement that I was going to retire,” Barnett said over the phone. “I never asked management who they were thinking of. I went about my business, did my job. I knew I was going to be involved with the Warriors in some capacity. All year long, we just kept an open arrangement, we kept an open dialog and it was always good. Neither party was worried about it.
“People started writing things. There was a little groundswell, I guess. The way I look at it, nothing materialized for the Warriors. I can’t speak for them, but nothing materialized as a replacement. They realized how much the fans embraced the fact that I’d been around a long time. It just worked for both of us to say, ‘Hey do you want to do the games next year on television rather than work radio, rather than do this or that or whatever?’
“It’s something that never was quite in concrete (the retirement). The concrete never settled and never matured and never set. And we’re back in business again. I said, ‘We’ll take it one year at a time. I sign one-year contracts all the time. That suits me fine. We’ll just see how things go.’”
Let me pause a moment to say a few things. Jim Barnett is a local treasure the way Bill King was and Lon Simmons was before he retired. Barnett expresses something fundamental about the Warriors. I won’t define it. Define it for yourself. But you know it’s there and you know it’s special, and you know if it were to cease next season you would miss it.
I’m going to quote Barnett a lot more in this piece. You don’t need to hear from me. You need to hear from him.
How does he feel about coming back?
“I feel embraced by the fans. I’m grateful for what sports writers wrote. It’s very flattering. I’m humbled by it. I accept it with grace. And I embrace our front office. I trust these people. They realized they don’t have to replace me. They’re flexible.
“I’ve found a whole lot of energy. This is a very special team. These young men are the best I’ve ever been around in all the years of doing this. They’re only going to get better. They’ve got the personnel that can certainly challenge anybody in the league. I’m glad to still be a part of that and I’m kind of rejuvenated.”
Has Barnett talked to new coach Steve Kerr?
“One time. He’s the type of guy — just like Don Nelson did when he came back the second time — he reached out to me and said he wanted to sit down when everything settles and talk about the players. He realizes I’ve been around here and know these players. We’ll sit down and share ideas.
“He’s a real leader. He’s going to be terrific. I am so excited about Steve Kerr. He wants the best people around him. The first thing he said was, ‘One of my assistants has to have head-coaching experience.’ I love that about him. He’s secure in himself. He’s going to empower people around him who are going to share. That’s how you get better.”
Barnett did not mention deposed coach Mark Jackson. In my opinion, the qualities Barnett praises in Kerr are the very qualities Jackson lacks.
Barnett continued about coming back, his enthusiasm bubbling through the phone: “For me, basketball is more than a business and more than a game. It’s a way of life. There’s a spirituality to it, believe it or not. There’s a deeper thing that resonates within my soul with basketball. I realized I would miss that.
“I was going to cities like to Indianapolis and I said to myself. ‘I’ll probably never be here the rest of my life.’ When we went to Cleveland, I said, ‘I’ll probably never go to Cleveland again.’ When I think about the years of playing and the years of broadcasting, how many months have I spent of my life in each of those cities? When you add it up, I’ve spent months of my life in Cleveland. I’ve spent months of my life in Boston. Of course, I played there, too. Months of my life in Atlanta.
“I love traveling. I love going on the road. I love getting on that team plane. I love going to the beautiful hotels we stay in. I appreciate them. I enjoy flying on our charter flight. I don’t interact with the players. They sit up front. I love getting on that plane, going to the next city, going to that hotel, getting ready for the game, going to that arena. I would have missed that. I’m glad I have an opportunity to embrace that one more time. Obviously, a great deal of my identity is the game of basketball. It’s part of the essence of who I am.”
Call that final long beautiful quote Jim Barnett’s lyrical poem to basketball.
God, these are the nicest stories.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.