Matt Barnes, Stephen Jackson unfiltered on NBA, China, the 'softer' modern game and overpaid players
The two former players talked with CBS Sports in advance of the debut of their new video podcast, 'All The Smoke'
Even casual NBA fans probably remember Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson for being two of the most outspoken players of their generation. They teamed up as part of the memorable "We Believe" Warriors in 2007, and now are teaming up again -- this time for their video podcast, "All the Smoke," which debuts on Monday on the Showtime Basketball YouTube channel.
In advance of the show's first episode, Barnes and Jackson spoke with CBS Sports in a wide-ranging conversation that touched on a number of NBA issues, both on and off the court.
*The interviews, conducted separately, have been edited for clarity and flow
On the focus of the 'All the Smoke' podcast
Jackson: A lot of times you hear people say, 'Man, I'm tired of hearing the politically correct answer.' A lot of times you hear people saying, 'Man, they just saying what they supposed to say for TV.' I've never done that. Even on TV I've always spoken my mind. I've always stood on how I feel and said what I really feel, and not care about the backlash on it -- and Matt's been the same way. This is the opportunity for us to be unfiltered, to say what we feel and what people want to hear. They don't want to hear everybody say the same thing just to stay on TV. We've never been that way, and this is the opportunity for us to really show, and give people the inside of the game, especially from two NBA champions, that they'll never get from anybody else.
Barnes: With social media, everyone kind of gets the surface of what people are about. I think us, with our backgrounds, our histories, our pasts, the road we've traveled and how we've gotten here, I think we're able to give people a deeper look into what players go through and what they might be thinking and the battles we face on and off the court and how the rest of the world affects us, even though we are athletes. Things in culture affect us and helps shape us, and the same time we help to shape culture and move culture.
On the situation between the NBA and China
Jackson: My take on it is that nobody can actually give the right answer when you ask that question, especially at the spur of the moment. The only way I would answer the question somebody asked me is that I love everybody. That's how I feel. I'm not educated on the situation, I'm not there, I'm not on the ground, I don't know what's going on. We're all on the outside looking in. But at the end of the day, when you say 'I love everybody' it's no way you can twist that -- it's no way you can twist 'I love everybody' and that's how I always stand on things I don't know about. And cameras have been thrown in my face, and it's not even close to LeBron [James] and Daryl Morey, but at the same time you've gotta be ready for stuff like that and you've gotta educate yourself before you speak on things. But the reply of 'I love everybody,' can't nobody twist that.
I'm neutral and I'll always be neutral because I love everybody, but how can someone say to a man that provides for his family and no telling how many other people, that he can't protect his investment? But then on the other side, how can you say that business is more important than people? It's just crazy man, but at the end of the day everything's a conversation.
Barnes: Obviously LeBron has been someone who's been out in the front, and not just for basketball players but athletes overall, you know, speaking on issues that are close to him and important to him. Obviously I think everyone looked for him to say something about the China situation. But at the same time I didn't really see anything to be gained from athletes speaking up on the China situation because there's just so much unknown that the outside doesn't know. You never want to compromise who we are or who we stand for for money. But at the same time, the business aspect of the NBA and the individual's businesses that tie into China, it's huge. I think after the heat that the Morey comment took, it took on a whole new, almost atmosphere. I think it's bigger than basketball now. I think it's something that you can tie into political means and the back and forth between the leaders of our country. So, like I said I didn't see anything positive coming from players speaking. I'm personally glad that players chose not to speak and they chose just to stick to their business and do what they do best.
On the evolution of the modern NBA
Jackson: I'd rather it evolve than go backwards. The bad thing about it now is that I think you don't have to be that good to get paid. That's the only thing I hate about the game right now. I'm not saying I don't like the fact that these kids are getting their money, but it kind of takes away from the competitive aspect. It kind of takes away from the hunger of the game when you've got to earn your spot and earn your position, but I always give LeBron his props for making it easy for guys. He's got a lot to do with the state of the game and how guys have been taken care of, from the main guys to the last guy on the bench. I love the state it's in, I just want guys to go out there and compete a little more.
You've got guys now that are getting $100 million -- like, there's no way you can tell me that Otto Porter would have gotten $100 million 10 years ago, or seven years ago. There's no way Otto Porter would have gotten $100 million. And I'm just speaking off his game, and his drive. It don't seem like he plays hard. Any time a team signs you for $100 million then trades you like a year or two after, then that obviously is a bad sign.
Barnes: I understand where it's coming from, and I think over the years it's gotten softer and softer. But at the same time I think the game has continued to grow and I think one of the main reasons why is they've taken the physicality out of the game. They've taken almost playing defense out of the game. And then on the flip side you're getting higher scores, you're getting more highlights, and highlights is what grows the NBA. You know, no one wants to turn on 'SportsCenter' and see PJ Tucker lock someone up the whole time. Someone wants to turn on 'SportsCenter' and see Steph [Curry] hit 45-foot 3-pointers and Zion [Williamson] dunking from the free throw line -- that's what rules our game and what continues to have people coming back and buying merch and being a part of our game. So, like I said, I understand why they do it. I don't necessarily like it, but everything has to conform and continue to move upward, and this is just the direction the NBA's going now.
On NBA players currently underrated, underpaid or misunderstood
Jackson: Guys like Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, that's just two. They're underpaid -- I think those guys are definitely underpaid. Lou Williams definitely should be somewhere around the max area, for the work that they do, for the consistency of their work. We don't talk about the consistency, we don't talk about the work that these type of guys do on both ends of the court. It's a lot of guys that I could name that I think are underrated, but at the end of the day, they're still making more money than they could make at any other job.
Draymond [Green] has always been misunderstood. He's still misunderstood. There's a lot of guys who are misunderstood. I think Carmelo [Anthony] is misunderstood. They can pick and choose when they want to make anybody misunderstood, just like they pick and choose to twist anybody's words. A lot of guys are misunderstood, but that's part of the game -- that's what comes with it. You can't expect everybody to understand you. You can't expect everybody to respect you. You've got to march to the beat of your own drum and do what you're paid to do, and that's play basketball. And I think the fact that a lot of players now are controlling their own narrative and getting into the media space, that's gonna be a great way to stop twisting their words and not fully understanding what they're trying to get across.
Barnes: I think, me personally, I was someone that was underpaid and underrated because everything I did didn't necessarily show up on the stat sheet. It didn't always make 'SportsCenter' but I was a key to winning and winning teams. I'm sure there's a lot of guys that play that way today that kind of just fly under the radar -- that don't necessarily get the recognition or credit they deserve because they're not scoring 30 points a game.
I think it's guys that play defense that are misunderstood. Like obviously, PJ Tucker, hard-nosed player, Patrick Beverley is a hard-nosed defensive player -- someone you look at like, 'what the hell?' but then when you have him on your team you love him. Trevor Ariza, someone that doesn't do too much talking, but plays hard-nosed defense, plays both sides of the ball and I think really goes unnoticed. I could continue to go down the list if I really sat back and thought about it, but those are three guys that come to mind that play on both ends. I think the common fan doesn't realize how important those kind of guys are to a team.
On the lack of passion in today's players
Jackson: More kids today are interested in what the game can do for them than loving to play the game. I think once people understand that aspect of it, they'll understand that guys like me, we're not hating on the younger players, we love them. I'm a big fan of all of them, I'm a big fan of the game. But the truth is the truth. More players these days love what the game can do for them than actually loving the game. We were willing to fight to win games. There's not too many kids that have that passion or are willing to do that no more. So it's a different type of passion in the game. We had to earn our spots, you know? We didn't have gyms and AAU coaches and protein shakes and all that growing up -- we didn't have none of that. It was a little harder for us. I'm glad it's easy for them now, but just how hard we had to work, our appreciation for the game is totally different. It's not even close.
Barnes: I guess it's just in each person -- you know, the way you came up. The way I came up was a grind, nothing was given to me, so I played every game like it was my last. I think this new generation is more comfortable. They're having more given to them at an early age. And I think you can tell in their style of play. Now that's not knocking their skill, ability and how talented they are, but when things are given to you, you necessarily don't have to have a certain type of mindset. So that's where you kind of see in this newer NBA with the younger players, they've been praised their whole life. They haven't been cussed out. They haven't been benched. They haven't really had to go through none of the trials and tribulations that possibly my generation came through because now, in this day and age, players are bigger than coaches. Players are getting coaches fired all the time. It used to be a tenure where a coach would sit in one spot for years and really make their home and really try to create something -- and now if you beef with a star player, you're gone. So it's a whole different mentality, and I think that does translate into the style and level of play and how hard some guys play.
On superstar players teaming up
Jackson: We wasn't doing that. We wasn't teaming up. We was just different. We wanted to compete. It's just a different time. I wouldn't want to work out with a guy that I know I've gotta compete against all year and he knows my game and my moves -- like, that don't make sense to me. ... So I never understood that aspect of working out together being on two different teams. You know, especially when you've got to compete. I don't see how that makes you better, but it's a different time. The game has changed, so you've gotta expect the players to change. I don't fault them for it -- it's not a problem, it's just something we didn't do. And maybe it's not for us to understand, but it's a different time.
On everyday issues facing NBA players
Barnes: There's always people looking for your downfall, praying for your downfall, trying to set you up for your downfall, so just really watching -- having eyes behind your back, so to speak -- keeping your circle tight, staying true to yourself. And still, we face a lot of things that the day-to-day person does. We lose family members, we go through divorces, we have sick kids, we get sick ourselves. But people don't understand -- they think that because we get paid a lot of money, none of that affects us. We go through the same stuff that everyone else goes through, but we just have to shake it off and play basketball, and sometimes that's harder than it looks. I personally lost my mom and played two days after she died. I was going through a nasty public divorce where my ex-wife was dating my teammate, and that was for the world to see. But I had to shake that off and continue to play. We're normal people -- we happen to get paid a lot of money to do our job, but at the same time we're still human, we still have feelings. And there's stuff people in the NBA have to do just like the rest of the world. ... People don't care. Someone lost their grandfather, but the fans and the crowd and the people that pay money to come see you play don't give a shit about that. They want to see you be that person that you are when everything is going well. I think people feel that because we are athletes, or because we are in a certain life, that you can just throw darts at us and say whatever you want to us and disrespect us and our families, and that's not the case.
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