PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. – Most people involved in the NBA G League hope to make it to the NBA one day. For Northern Arizona Suns assistant coach Earl Barron, he’s been there, done that.
Barron has, quite simply, an incredible story. He describes his life as “a long, crazy journey.” From the highest of highs, winning an NBA championship, to the lowest of lows, getting waived after winning an international league’s MVP award, Barron has seen it all.
It all started in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where an almost seven-foot tall high school kid stuck out like a sore thumb in his town of about 15,000 people. Barron was highly coveted out of Clarksdale High School, recruited by most of the Mississippi colleges. The biggest schools in the state were recruiting him, but Barron “waited until the last minute to sign.”
“(Ole Miss and Mississippi State) said they don’t have any more scholarships, we want you but we want you go to prep school,” Barron said. “I was like, ‘I’m not going to prep school, I want to go to college.’”
Also wanting to stay in-state but realizing the situation, Barron chose to go to the University of Memphis, which was only an hour north of his hometown. His collegiate decision tuned out great because family and friends got to attend most of his games. His college games were even broadcast on Clarkdale’s local station. He thrived playing under head coach John Calipari at Memphis, but went undrafted in 2003.
Barron decided to go overseas to get ahead financially before continuing his NBA dream. He went to Turkey and played a season, making it back in time to play for the Huntsville Flight. He loved playing there because it was close to home, so Barron stayed with the Flight, earning a training camp contract with the Orlando Magic along the way. He then played in the Philippines for a couple of months before heading back to the States to play at Summer League with the Miami Heat. That’s when things really started to get going.
“By far my favorite year was 2006. Just the road, the year, the 12-14 months of going from the Huntsville Flight to the Philippines to Summer League, not having any expectations after hearing stories in the D-League saying when you go to the Summer League you don’t get any minutes, they’re going to play guys that they drafted,” Barron said. “A couple guys got hurt, one guy had knee inflammation and another guy sprained his ankle, and they were just like, ‘Hey, you’re the only big we have. We have two fours, but you’re the only true center.’ I was nervous the first game and coach told me to relax and when I’m open to shoot. I’m a pick-and-pop guy, I’ll post up here and there.
“Summer League was just a breeze. Guys were like, ‘You’re going to get signed, you’re going to get signed.’ I said, ‘I just play hard man, whatever.’ They said, ‘If they don’t sign you, they’re tripping.’ The next day for sure my agent called me and said, ‘They want to bring you to training camp.’”
Barron shined in training camp with the Heat and made the opening night roster, fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“I never thought in a million years that I would be on an NBA roster. Opening night, my mom came to the game, my family came to the game. Then fast forward, the end of the season we won the NBA championship,” Barron said. “Going from a G League team not knowing what to expect, to a year-and-a-half later winning the NBA championship celebrating with guys who played their whole careers – Alonzo Mourning, Gary Payton – who played 14-15 years and never won a championship and to see how much that meant to them to finally be on top and say, ‘We finally won.’ It was unforgettable.”
Barron would remain with the Heat until 2008. He then went back overseas to play in Italy, a decision that quickly turned into controversy. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot the very first practice, but his team didn’t think he was injured because there wasn’t visible confirmation (i.e. swelling). After a month-and-a-half, he was finally diagnosed with a stress fracture and was forced to miss months in recovery mode, gaining 30 pounds in the process.
After a short stint with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, he needed to get his body right again.
“I’ll never forget, I did P90X that summer and lost 35, almost 40 pounds. I was in some of the best shape in my life,” Barron said.
He signed with the New Orleans Hornets for training camp that year before he took his talents to Iowa and played a year with the Energy. Over the next few years, Barron played for the New York Knicks, the Phoenix Suns, the Milwaukee Bucks, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Golden State Warriors, the Washington Wizards and back overseas in Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
He ended up in Bakersfield with the Jam after that. In the middle of their season, he went to China for two weeks, came back, played one game and got called up to the Suns. After his stint with Phoenix, he played for the Atlanta Hawks before finishing his playing career in Taiwan and Japan.
“I was in Japan for four months. I left Japan in December (2016) and then I went to Taiwan in January and then I ended up getting waived. I was just like, ‘You know what? I can’t deal with it.’ It was the same team I played on the year before and got MVP of the league, led the league in scoring and rebounding, led the team in scoring and rebounding,” Barron said. “It was just a really good year and to come back following Japan, coming off an injury and getting cut, I was just like, ‘You know what? I can’t deal with the whole political side of overseas basketball, it’s crazy.’”
Barron continued training in the offseason in 2017. He took his son out of daycare and tried to train at the same time, but staying in shape “was super, super difficult.”
Fourteen years, 10 NBA teams, five NBA G League teams and many other international stints later, Barron’s professional playing career was done.
In late October, the Northern Arizona Suns called, asking if he’d be interested in helping to coach training camp after three of their four coaches were called up to the Phoenix Suns. Barron talked with his fiancée and they both agreed it was the perfect opportunity since they were living in the area.
His “long, crazy journey” has had the latest chapter in Prescott Valley, Arizona, where he spent his first year coaching. Making the adjustment from player to coach has been challenging for Barron at times as he said, “I hate losing, so a lot of games I wish I could just put on a jersey and go out there and play to help the team.”
Through the ups and downs, Barron enjoys it and would like to continue coaching in the future. After he gets married this summer, he has plans to help out at Summer League.
“I talked to coaches at the Showcase and a lot of GMs and asked, ‘What’s going to separate me from the rest of the pack?’ So, we’ll just see going forward. It’s something I’m definitely going to continue to work at and get better and learn and try to be successful some day,” Barron said. “Possibly even a head coach, maybe not in this league, but in college, maybe even the NBA, you never know. It’s just a matter of staying on the right track, continue to learn, watch games and pick up on little things. We’ll see.”
Looking back at the past, it can’t be easy never knowing for certain where you’ll be from one day to the next. Barron said he has no real regrets though.
“It’s a real blessing because traveling – coming from a small town of 15,000 people – it just puts things in perspective. It makes you humble, it makes you appreciate, it makes you love the game,” Barron said. “When things like that happen to you – some guys you see, they just don’t understand how far this game can take you. I would have never gone anywhere out of the country had it not been for basketball. Taking care of the game, taking care of your body, being a professional, you know what I mean?
“Treat the game right, the game will treat you right.”
After 15 straight years of playing and coaching at the professional level, it’s safe to say they both know how to treat each other right.