"Bad News" Marvin Barnes
Fans today think that the problem of players getting into trouble is a modern issue and that players of the past were more gentlemanly. Most players of yesteryear and today are actually pretty nice guys, even the ones who get into trouble. Very few players have been truly terrible human beings, they just end up with problems and are unable to cope with them in a socially acceptable way so they end up acting out, or they get addicted to drugs.
One such player who had their career cut short by acting out and drugs was Marvin Barnes. Barnes is one of the saddest yet most interesting stories in NBA history, yet it is one with a glimmer of hope. Barnes had the nickname “Bad News Marvin” because of his off the court issues.
Some of Barnes stories are something you would expect Charlie Sheen's character from his show Two and a Half Men to do. Barnes partied with hookers, had loaded guns in his locker and did cocaine at half-time. Yet he may have been one of the most talented players of his era but he never realized his potential due to the drug use.
By the accounts of most of his teammates Barnes had Hall-of-Fame talent, yet he never realized this talent. It was just another mess up in the messed up life of Marvin Barnes. He would publicly admit that he messed up and never blamed others, yet he habitually messed up. But by most accounts he was a fairly nice guy who was very likable, even if he did once attack a teammate with a tire iron.
Barnes seem to personify the negative stereotypes of the 1970s. He had a Rolls Royce with a fur covered interior. He wore high shoes and a hat with a feather and than there was the hookers and cocaine. The pimp caricature of the 1970s is almost a splitting image of Barnes.
He spurned the NBA for the ABA where he would go on the star for the Spirits of St Louis. With the Spirits he averaged 24 points a game and won Rookie of the year honors. But just as quickly as stardom came to Barnes, it faded because he messed up. Following the merger of the ABA and NBA the Spirits, who had became the Utah Rockies, had their players dispersed amongst the NBA teams and Barnes went to Detroit. While awaiting a flight he was arrested for having an unloaded pistol in his baggage. This was a violation of the parole he was giving for attacking a teammate with a tire iron. He was sentenced to 150 days in prison.
Detroit would trade him to Buffalo, Buffalo would trade him to Boston who would eventually cut Barnes. Barnes would play one more season with the San Diego Clippers before his NBA career ended. Barnes would play just four seasons in the NBA, and 2 in the ABA. He would stick around the basketball scene for a while playing in minor leagues, but he never could shake the cocaine issue.
Yet despite all his mistakes Barnes always was trying to get things right. He entered rehab numerous times and would succeed only to quickly get back in drugs. He began helping underprivileged youth in Providence to not make the same mistakes he made, but ironically he was making those mistakes while telling kids not to make them. On the morning of September 8, 2014 Barnes missed another court appearance, he was sadly found dead that afternoon at 62.
Barnes troubles would be one of many instances that would force the NBA to start evaluating players personalities and personal issues and not just their talent, it would also be a catalyst for the NBA to start doing something about its cocaine problem in the 1980s which ultimately lead to the league adopting a substance abuse policy. Unfortunately for Barnes it was too late.