José Juan Barea (Puerto Rico, 36 years old) came to touch the NBA Moon from his 1.78m high. He conquered the ring with Dallas in 2011 and after three decades of career in the basketball mecca, he arrived in Spain in January , the land of his paternal grandparents, to complete pending experiences and rescue Movistar Estudiantes . He is the veteran and the new at the same time. Observe, learn and lead, mixing passion and patience, vertigo and pause .
Question. How are you living these first months in Madrid?
Answer. I have just received a visit from my parents, and I also miss my wife and children very much. I've never been without them that long. Because of the pandemic they cannot come and I am struggling to get permission. Family is key
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Q. What is your family like? How do you remember your childhood?
R. I am the youngest of three brothers and I come from a family of athletes. In my first memories, when I was three or four years old, my brothers already appeared practicing all the sports they could. Soon I wanted to follow in his footsteps. My father was a swimmer as well as an engineer, and my mother, a physical education teacher, tennis player and volleyball player; later she was also a coach at the University of Puerto Rico. One of my brothers played basketball and was also a professional volleyball player and the other played until his college years. Now one is a doctor and the other an engineer .
Q. At what age did you start playing?
R. At the age of five I was already playing organized basketball for my brother's team. At the age of seven my parents already realized that I had something special for this sport. It is important that children are allowed to dream and my parents gave everything to open doors for me, they made my life easier, they encouraged me. Without them I would not be here and they continue to help me a lot .
Q. Did you dream of the NBA soon?
R. No. As a young man I played basketball because I was very happy in that environment, I did not think about the NBA, just enjoying it. But, in my last year at university in the US, my coach told me: "If you keep improving, you will be able to have a chance there." That conversation was the ultimate encouragement to look at the NBA and decide to be a professional basketball player. There I did start to dream of going far.
P. Do you like to break limits?
A. Yes, but always with patience, step by step. At the beginning, in the leagues of Puerto Rico, when I was eight or 10 years old, I already stood out a lot, they always wanted to upgrade me, but my father was against it. I wanted me to grow up with children my age. And then they decided to set limits for me. They put a rule with which I could only score six points per game, then they raised it a little bit, to 10. My father gave the go-ahead and it was something that helped me a lot. I had to make my teammates better, pass the ball to them a lot, know the game well, see the spaces … have the awareness and responsibility to save points to use them at the end of the game. It was my best help for the future. Those limits drove me to grow. When I was forbidden to score, I learned to play.
P. That's how I grew personally and collectively at the same time …
R. Yes. It was the best way to learn the basic trade and understand team play. I was a point guard from the first minute I stepped onto a basketball court. I always had good ball handling, I liked to be in control of the ball, of the times … and that's what took me to where I am.
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Q. And why now the adventure of Spain? For prolonging his love of basketball, for keeping alive the challenge of returning to the NBA, for the vertigo of retirement?
R. A little bit of everything. From a young age, the plan was that, if the NBA door did not open, the option would be to play in Spain. That was always talked about at home. Then, thank God, I did very well in the NBA. I was much longer than I had ever imagined, 14 or 15 years … it's outrageous. But the illusion for an experience in Spain was always there. They called me from China, Turkey … and I said no to all of them, until Estudiantes called me to come to Madrid. There I jumped. There were barely four months into the season, I talked about it with my family, and I came. It was a success. It is being an incredible experience in a different context than I had. My knowledge of the game will improve for sure, because here there are great players and great coaches, very intelligent and very prepared.
Q. What are your plans for the immediate future?
R. When the ACB league ends in May we'll see. The idea is to return to Puerto Rico, play the league there in the summer to stay in shape and to close the circle where I started. And then I will decide if I go back to Spain to play one more season or if I stop .
Q. And, in these months at Estudiantes, how do you experience that mix of being the veteran and the new at the same time?
R. It is very rare. I feel like a newcomer and I like to listen a lot to learn. But, at the same time, they look at me as an example to follow. Everyone watches carefully what I do, they demand my leadership, so I have to balance all that and get used to everything quickly
Q. What is your leadership like?
R. The great lesson I learned over time is that the fundamental thing is to create good chemistry in the team, it is essential to then play well. In that I am very big. Also in transmitting patience in everything that is done in life. If this was easy, everyone would do it right. Now we are in a difficult moment, trying to improve little by little, but you have to be patient and trust your work. Each victory costs a lot, but it is also valued to the maximum, it is the good thing about this experience
Q. Have you had many difficult moments in your career?
R. Both in college, and in my beginnings in the US, there were many moments when I thought about catching a plane and going back to Puerto Rico. I knew it would be very difficult to get into the NBA, but I fought and fought for opportunities beyond the draft . It was hard to arrive, then it was very hard to endure the first two years almost without playing. I had to have a lot of patience and a lot of mental strength. But I am a very positive boy and that optimism rescued me many times.
Q. What impact did the NBA leave on you when you started enjoying it?
A. At first you don't believe it. Then when you feel like you are establishing yourself in the league comes confidence, and the constant challenge to learn and improve to grow. Only then do you get to other levels. Everything is impressive, the material means, the treatment of the players, the number of games, the speed at which everything goes. You think they are crazy, but then you create your family in the team and also in the league
Q. How do you analyze the evolution of the game in these years?
R. Basketball in the NBA and in the rest of the world now lives a Favorable weather for the short ones, but this will always be a tall sport. This is cyclical, now they are looking for very mobile centers and a lot of travel is required of them, in line with the fast game and the importance of the outside shot, but the greats always have their space and it will continue to be the case. We short ones have to look for survival. We have to be more daring, take more risks, be tougher… a little bit of everything. But talent has no measure and always makes its way. Now Luka [Doncic] proves it. He is going to be great because he wants to be the best. He loves to compete and transforms on the track
Q. What does winning the NBA compare to?
A. Winning the ring is the definition of culmination. It is reaching the highest you can aspire to. It makes up for all the sacrifice. All the members of that team were and will be friends for life because of what we achieved that season. Glory is a mixture of happiness and relief. I remember the faces of my family, their looks gave me the dimension of the feat. I have never experienced that feeling again. As I said at my farewell, Dallas will forever be my second home. Apart from Dirk [Nowitzki], who is the great emblem, nobody loved that shirt more than I, because of the link we created there.
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