Golden State rookie Harrison Barnes has placed a premium on personal branding since he was a high-school standout in Ames, Iowa.
In 2009, he produced his own personal selection show, broadcasted live by ESPNU. Wearing a sharp suit, he lined up on the dais six placards, each representing one of the final six universities competing for his services. At the climatic moment of the event, Barnes announced he would Skype his future coach. After the oohs and aahs of the audience hushed, University of North Carolina's Roy Williams appeared on the screen.
Athletes can be programmatic in one-on-one conversations when the camera is rolling, but the opportunity to catch up to Barnes at summer league was exciting!
Here was a young guy who was vocal about approaching an NBA career as both a business venture and an athletic endeavor.
He even valued the press!
"Without the media, which shed light on my skills, I would not be here, and I am grateful for that." Barnes said at the opening of his selection show.
At summer league last week, we caught up with Barnes, who was visibly exhausted after a Warriors practice. When it came time to discuss the power of personal branding as a 21st century athlete, Barnes, who had told Jason Zengerle just weeks before, "[Y]ou 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," was remarkably quiet.
The 20-year-old didn't want to talk about personal branding, or the historic impact of Michael Jordan, or the NBA as a commercial platform. That line of conversation went nowhere.
Discussing the interview later with a colleague, we wondered: Had someone of influence told Barnes to put a lid on the opportunism? Or was putting a lid on all the talk about personal branding actually part of his new personal brand -- an NBA rookie who, after years atop the recruiting charts in high school, now had to learn the intricacies of the small forward spot for a demanding coach?