Barnes Hones Her Game Against a Different Kind of Stars

Many WNBA players spend their off-seasons playing overseas or returning to college to pursue their degrees. Few get the opportunity to use their off-seasons by hobnobbing with the rich and famous.

Seattle Storm guard/forward Adia Barnes is one of those lucky few. Barnes has joined a handful of other WNBA players playing against actors and singers in the NBA’s Entertainment League. Since 1999, the Los Angeles-based NBAE League has provided Hollywood’s hoopaholics a chance to play in an organized setting. The league mimics the NBA, from the presence of referees to the authentic NBA jerseys.

So how did the Storm’s five-year veteran end up playing against competition like singer Justin Timberlake and actors Frankie Muniz (Malcom in the Middle) and Tobey Maguire (Spiderman)? “I actually had a whole bunch of friends who played in it,” Barnes says. “They were always like, ‘Adia, you should come play in it. It’s awesome. It’s a lot of fun’.” Those friends include both the entertainers and WNBA peers. Three other WNBA players – Nicky McCrimmon and Nikki Teasley of the Los Angeles Sparks and Trisha Stafford-Odom, who played for the Miami Sol last season – play in the Entertainment League.

Still, for the most part, Barnes is on her own in a league largely populated by men. That’s given her a unique experience. Of the actors, she says, “On TV, they look tall, but when you see them in person you’re like, ‘Wait a minute. They’re all shorter than me’.” Barnes also believes that the entertainers play a little harder to try to show her up. “They’re actors, so already a lot of them have egos,” she notes. “They really try to challenge us, push us, and get after us.” However, this treatment is all worth it when she embarrasses an opponent with the skills that allowed here to start 17 games last season for the Storm. “Some of them think they’re really good, but they’re awful,” she says with a laugh.

Helping Barnes in ignoring the big names she’s competing against and just playing basketball is the fact that she’s spent little time stargazing. Barnes can think of only one player in the league she’s excited to play against. “One of the guys who I’m really excited to play against is Boris Kodjoe,” Barnes says, probably more because of the supermodel-turned-actor’s (Soul Food, Love and Basketball) looks than his game.

Instead of looking to meet her idols, Barnes is playing in the Entertainment League both to hone her game for the upcoming 2003 WNBA season and have a good time as well. “It’s a lot better than you’ll get any day in pickup,” Barnes says of the level of play. “Some games are better than others. There are some good players, like Brian McKnight. A lot of the players actually played D-I basketball before they crossed over to acting.” Entertainment League mainstay Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), for example, played alongside San Antonio Spurs All-Star Tim Duncan in college at Wake Forest.

There has been just a little networking for Barnes, one of the league’s main benefits to entertainers. “You make a lot of connections, meet a lot of great people,” she says. And while it may be a long time away as her basketball career takes off, Barnes wouldn’t mind turning the table on the basketball-wannabe actors. “I think that if the opportunity came about, she says, “and it was a good situation, I would consider that, most definitely.”

Barnes speaks at one of her many community appearances. / Storm Photos
Fun as playing in the Entertainment League may be, it’s not her real job, and Barnes says she and the rest of the Storm roster is looking forward to getting the upcoming season underway. “We’re all excited,” Barnes confirms. “Coach (Anne) Donovan was a player, she coached Sue (Bird) on the USA team, and we’re just excited to have her.” Coming off of last season’s strong finish that saw the Storm win seven of their final nine games to lay claim to a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference, expectations are going to be high this year for the team.

On an individual level, Barnes is also expecting a lot of herself. “I think that I can most definitely contribute a lot more,” she says. Last season, Barnes contributed 3.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game in addition to her excellent effort at the defensive end of the court. Improvement for next season will likely come in terms of better shooting. Barnes shot just 33.3% from the field, down from her career mark of 37.5%.

While she works out in preparation for next season, Barnes is still unsure what role she’ll play next season with a new coach in Donovan. “She hasn’t set down any roles,” says Barnes, “but I’m sure that will happen right away in camp.” Last season, Barnes played both forward positions and finished the year as the Storm’s starting shooting guard. It was no coincidence that the team’s playoff run came with Barnes in the starting five.

In addition to playing in the Entertainment League, Barnes has used the last few remaining months of her off-season to help sell the Storm as part of the team’s “Stormin’ the Sound” campaign. Barnes has made appearances at local schools, basketball tournaments and clinics and has immensely enjoyed the experience. “I think it’s awesome. I’m having a great time,” Barnes says of her work in the community. “They’re really putting us out there and getting fans excited about this upcoming season.” She believes these efforts will help improve the Storm’s fanbase for next season, while at the same time acknowledging, “You win more games, you get more fans.”

That’s okay by Barnes, though, because she knows winning. After helping lead the Storm to its first-ever playoff berth last season, Barnes’ Clippers team in the Entertainment League is 7-3 so far. She’s joined on the Clippers roster by stars like Muniz, Ashton Kutcher (Dude, Where’s My Car?) and Ice Cube (Boyz in the Hood). Still, on the court, it’s Barnes whose star shines the brightest.