Matt Barnes to wear mohawk during playoffs in honor of his mother
Sitting down in a chair in the middle of his dining room, plenty of images greeted Lakers forward Matt Barnes within eyesight.
A plasma television hung on his wall featuring Game 1 of the Orlando Magic-Atlanta Hawks first-round series. A half a dozen boxes lay in his living room featuring black-and-white "Killah B's" T-Shirts he's individually sold and shipped through his brand, Elusion Clothing. To his right stood the entrance to his Palos Verdes home that oversees the Pacific Ocean.
But what kept Barnes' attention Saturday evening, a day before the opener of the Lakers' first-round series with the Hornets, weren't any of those images. Instead he kept staring at the red bracelet around his right wrist, the symbolic image of why he has had his friend, Demorea "Truck" Evans, buzz his hair into a mohawk before the NBA playoffs the last four years. His mother's name, Ann, is written in white between two hearts. As Barnes stared at it, he reacted in a way that hardly jibes with his on-court persona as a scrappy forward that mixes it up with opposing players, fights for loose balls and provides consistent energy off the bench.
His eyes teared up.
Barnes lost his mother on Nov. 27, 2007, only 26 days after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It had also only been seven months since Barnes had made a bold proclamation to former teammates Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson with the Golden State Warriors that he'd shave his head into a mohawk should they make the playoffs, a hairdo Barnes says his mother instantly embraced.
"I miss my mom," Barnes said. "But getting the haircut and thinking about the whole playoff experience and thinking how much she was a part of that playoff experience for 2007, it saddens me. But at the same time, I know she's not in pain anymore. I know she's looking down on me and I know she's excited for what I'm about to embark on."
That involves returning to the court after missing the last two regular-season games because of increased soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. As Evans began cutting Barnes' hair -- a 'do he expected would prompt ribbing from Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom -- his right knee was wrapped and attached to a compression machine that helps reduce the pain, swelling, tissue damage and muscle spasms by instantly freezing water into ice. Barnes has worn the device three to four times a day for 30 minutes each session ever since tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee nearly four months ago. But that's not the only thing he's doing to get ready for the playoffs.
Despite having a heavily loaded Saturday that consisted of a three-hour practice, acupuncture treatment and physical therapy, Barnes squeezed in an hour early Saturday evening to make sure he got his haircut.
"The mohawk may just mean a haircut to some people, but it means so much more to Matt," said fiancee and reality-TV star, Gloria Govan, who's also the mother of Barnes' two sons, Isaiah Michael and Carter Kelly. "It shows how far he's come in his career and how far the season is with the playoffs and importance. It's more than a haircut and attitude."
It's also a way to honor his mother, which is why Barnes started a foundation in 2008 called Athletes vs. Cancer, which Govan said has raised $225,000 in providing local screening programs. The initiative has paved the way for Barnes to help an unnamed high school friend get $6,000 worth of initial treatment for his throat cancer and for meeting a fan with brain cancer who later died and was buried with Barnes' autographed jersey. It's also paved the way for him to sell T-shirts titled "If cancer couldn't beat me, what makes you think you can?"
When Evans and Barnes met shortly before Barnes' mother died, the two formed an instant bond because Evans' mother, Jean George, had died of breast cancer on Nov. 5, 2005. That's why observing the anniversaries of their respective mothers' passing and rituals such as cutting Barnes' hair for the playoffs serve as a therapeutic exercise for both. It's so important for Evans, a minister at Word Assembly Baptist Church in Oakland, that he flew into Los Angeles to cut Barnes' hair on Saturday.
"It brought us together," Evans said. "It was an ugly way to come together, but I gained a good buddy. It's an ugly fraternity but the outcome is always good throughout the process."
To help with that process, Barnes keeps a picture in his living room of him and his mother during the 2007 playoffs. The photo combines many interweaving story lines during that moment. It marked Golden State's first-round upset against Dallas where Barnes posted 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the deciding sixth game, inspiring some Warrior fans to adopt Barnes' mohawk. It marked one of Barnes' first dates with Govan, who was initially repulsed by the mohawk but now finds the haircut "sexy." And it of course established a tradition in which Barnes sported the hairdo last season with the Orlando Magic all the way to the Eastern Conference finals and, Barnes hopes, a finals appearance with the Lakers.
"It makes me smile more when I think about the haircut," Barnes said. "She loved the haircut and was a part of that experience with us. Her dying shortly after, it was one of her fondest memories of me playing so it makes me smile a lot more."
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes will be sporting a mohawk during the NBA playoffs. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times