A report by Stephanie Apstein for Time.
In MayagÜez, a city of 89,000 in western Puerto Rico where Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea grew up, 98% of the population was born on the island. So when he moved to Miami as a high school senior in 2001 to try to attract attention from Division I colleges, it wasn’t the food or the language that took getting used to; it was the diversity of the student body at Miami Christian School. He quickly grew comfortable in his new home and went on to play at Northeastern, where he scored 2,209 points over four seasons. Barea, 32, is on his second stint with the Mavs—he’s averaging 9.1 points and 6.2 assists since returning from a left calf injury on March 10—but he never feels prouder than when he dons the red, white and blue uniform of Puerto Rico.
ON PLAYING FOR THE PUERTO RICAN NATIONAL TEAM
It’s everything. It’s the most fun I have playing basketball. I get to play with all of my friends and we get to go around the world with a Puerto Rico jersey on. It’s just amazing.
ON HELPING THE NEXT GENERATION
I have a nonprofit foundation in Puerto Rico. Our biggest project is fixing or building basketball courts in public schools. I really think it would be huge to have a basketball court in every school in Puerto Rico. We’ve built 10, but it’s a long list. We just take it one at a time.
ON CULTURE SHOCK IN HIGH SCHOOL
Puerto Rico is just different. Even though I was in Miami, which wasn’t that far, it was my first time in a school with people from all over the world.
ON THE STATE OF PUERTO RICAN BASKETBALL
Hopefully before I retire we’ll get another player in the NBA. Basketball is the co–No. 1 with baseball down there now. It’s not just because of me—we had Carlos Arroyo [2001–11], too. Every summer I spend time with [young players] in the weight room and we talk about the NBA, what the workouts are like. The 18-and-under national team did a good job the last couple of years—I think more than half of them are playing D-I basketball—so hopefully one of them has a chance.
ON PLAYING AS A KID
My mom, Marta, was a tennis and volleyball coach, so I played baseball, tennis, volleyball and basketball. And I’ve got two brothers, so I was always around sports. Basketball was always my favorite, but it wasn’t until my last two years of college that my coach, Ron Everhart, said, “If you keep improving, you’re gonna have a chance to make it to the NBA.”
ON NOT GETTING DRAFTED
I was disappointed when I didn’t get drafted, but I never thought about quitting. I received a call the next day from Golden State [to play on its summer league team] and eventually from Dallas to play on its D-League team. I didn’t have a backup plan. I probably would have been a coach or P.E. teacher if basketball hadn’t worked out.