Jose Juan Barea (Puerto Rico, 36 years old) came to touch the Moon of the NBA 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. Watch, learn and lead, mixing passion and patience, vertigo and pause.
Ask. 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 was never so long without them. Because of the pandemic they cannot come and I am struggling to get permission. Family is key.
P. 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.
P. At what age did you start playing?
R. At the age of five I was already playing organized basketball on 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.
P. Did you soon dream of the NBA?
R. No. When I was young I played basketball because I was very happy in that environment, I didn’t think about the NBA, only about enjoying myself. But, in my last year in college in the US, my coach told me: “If you keep improving, you are going to have a chance there.” That conversation was the ultimate encouragement to look to 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 boundaries?
R. Yes, but always with patience, step by step. In my early days, in the leagues of Puerto Rico, when I was eight or 10 years old, I already stood out a lot, they always wanted to move me up in the category, but my father objected. 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 conscience and the responsibility to save points to use them at the end of the game. It was my best help going forward. Those limits drove me to grow. When I was forbidden to score I learned to play.
P. This is how he 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.
P. 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. Later, 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 is going to improve for sure, because here there are great players and great coaches, very intelligent and very prepared.
P. What plans do you have 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.