Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, one of basketball’s all-time great characters, has died at 62, according to Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal.
Barnes spent two years in the ABA with the Sprit of St. Louis and then four years in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons, Buffalo Braves, Boston Celtics and San Diego Clippers. In that time, he developed a heck of reputation.
Really, he entered pro ball with a rep coming out of Providence. There, he attacked a teammate with a tire iron.
When he wasn’t getting enough playing time with the Pistons, he famously declared “News didn’t come here to sit on no wood.” As a Piston, he also went to prison for bringing a gun to an airport while still on probation from the tire-iron incident. When released after five months and declaring he’d stay out of trouble, Sports Illustrated profiled him:
But that was not the real Marvin. Not the Marvin who once said, “I sell more newspapers than a lot of people. I helped build the Providence Civic Center.” Not the Marvin who once missed a St. Louis team plane to Virginia, chartered one himself, arrived after the game had started and scored 53 points. Not the Marvin who once took 20 playground kids shopping and bought them all $30 sneakers and ice cream. People who know Barnes smile at stories like these, add a few more and say, “That’s Marvin.”
They would say the same sort of thing whenever Barnes got into trouble, which was often. The first time was during his senior year at Central High School. He was with a group of boys who decided to rob a Providence city bus. Aside from being 6’5″ and a local celebrity, Barnes had the bad judgment to be wearing a jacket that had “State Champions” and “Marvin” written in script across the front.
Barnes kept getting multiple chances because he was so talented. He just liked money more than basketball, and that led him down some bad roads. Via Riverfront Times:
“I would have been one of the 50 greatest players of all time,” said Barnes, 57, who now works with at-risk teenagers in his Men to Men program in his hometown of Providence, R.I., telling them the pitfalls of drugs. “I was one of the five best players on the planet period (with St. Louis). Just ask anybody (from) back then … I was kicking some butt. … But I was going on a downhill spiral. I met drug traffickers in St. Louis and they showed me another way of life. And that was detrimental to my basketball career.”
In return for $25,000 in cash, Barnes would receive 25,000 pounds of Colombian pot. Barnes would turn around and have people sell the pot on his behalf for $500 a pound (or “$300 if we like you”), bringing him more money than his ABA gig, which was a $2.1 million contract over seven years.
Despite all his demons, Barnes was immensely likable. As People magazine wrote in 1977:
“How could you not like Marvin?” asks his college coach Dave Gavitt in all seriousness. “If you get to know him, he’s a warm, wonderful human being.” Barnes’s lawyer, Neil Fink, admits, “I’ve almost quit on him five times, but the guy always charms me into staying on.”