Q and A: Lakers’ Matt Barnes can remember his mom through his Athletes vs. Cancer foundation

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Matt Barnes lifted his jersey to show the tattoo he has of his mother, Ann, across his abdomen.

It’s actually something that the Lakers forward refers to as “a mural” — her image, with wings of an angel. He had it put there two years ago.

“This keeps her around,” he said.

Four years ago this November, Barnes started a foundation, along with a website, called Athletes vs. Cancer. That coincided with the anniversary of the Nov. 27, 2007 passing of Ann Barnes, just five days after Thanksgiving and 26 days after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

Mother’s Day doesn’t get any easier for the former UCLA star, but knowing that he’s doing more to help others get checked early for cancer, to prevent the kind of pain that the 32-year-old once went through while watching a loved one suddenly slip away, can make him feel much better about his mom’s memory.

Barnes discussed this special day and his foundation after Lakers practice the other day:

Q: What has Mother’s Day meant to you over the last couple of years?

A: You never want to say you take your mom for granted, because you think she’ll always be there. That’s just the kind of sense you have. I think the day means more now. She was my best friend, someone who I could confide in, who had the answers. She always everybody’s mom when I was growing up. The whole neighborhood it seemed relied on her as a mother figure. Mother’s Day now is a lot more special to me than maybe it used to be.

Q: What makes you smile when you think about your mom these days?

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A: Seeing my kids (twin 3-year-old boys boys Carter Kelly and Isiah Michael) every day – I know how much she loved kids – and seeing my girl (Gloria Govan) and what a great mother she’s become. My kids were actually born a year and a month after she died. Seeing my family and knowing that meant everything to my mom. I think I do have a greater appreciation for family now. That makes me think of her on a daily basis.

Q: When your mom found out she had the lung cancer, you were playing for the Golden State Warriors, she was living in nearby Santa Clara. How did she take the news and then relay it to you?

A: She went in to the doctor about five times in a year-and-a-half complaining of shortness of breath, not feeling right and always tired. She was an overweight woman, so they told her to start eating right and working out. She did, and lost 75 pounds, but she still felt terrible. There were no CT-scans, no blood work, none of those kinds of tests taken. One day, she had a minor heart attack at work, and had to get rushed to the ER. They had all her vital signs down and tried to get her out of there in a couple of hours, but she happened to run into the doctor as she was leaving – the same doctor that had just done knee surgery on my dad (Henry) – and she told him that she still didn’t feel good. So they went to take a scan to see what they could see, and there was so much cancer that the scan was just blurry. She had four different kinds of cancer at the same time. She was once a smoker, but she hadn’t smoked in 10 years. So that’s a possibility of how she did get it. But there was never really any reason they found out after she was diagnosed. And she only lasted 26 days after that.

Q: What led you to starting the foundation, rather than any other way to honor her?

A: My family and girlfriend started it a year after my mom passed, and really just to raise awareness about the preventative side of cancer. We want to get people to know their body, know what to look for, be aware of signs. A lot of people think they’re sick and let it go, but sometimes it’s much more serious.

Q: What kind of success stories do you have so far from Cancer vs. Athletes?

A: A neighborhood friend of mine, through the foundation, we caught his throat cancer and got that taken care of. We take mobile screening units and go to the inner cities and provide screenings for the people who can’t afford it, or don’t have insurance who really sometimes don’t want to know what could be wrong with them. It’s the old saying, ‘Knowledge is power.’

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Photo left: Matt Barnes, right, in a family shot from nearly eight years ago, with his younger brother, Jason (far left), mother Ann, father Henry, and sister Danielle. Matt is holding his nephew Jayden (Danielle’s son).

Q: You’ve sold T-shirts on the website, some with sayings like ‘If cancer can’t beat me, what makes you think you can?’ That seems like a great way to promote the cause.

A: I know, but we’re sold out of them right now. A lady from Ohio came up with that, and I have a clothing line, and she brought it to our attention and we worked with her on proceeds going to her and the foundation.

Q: In past years, you’d also get a mohawk haircut during the playoffs, and it was written that you did that to honor your mom as well. But you didn’t this year.

A: Naw, I think everyone made a bigger deal out of that. This year I really wanted to focus on coming out and playing basketball. I skipped out on that this time.

Q: You wear the rubber bracelets, though, in her honor but (looking at his wrists) . . . where are they?

A: My sons took them from me this morning. They always want to wear those red rubber bands so they have them now.

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(AP Photo by Mark J. Terrill)
The Lakers’ Matt Barnes, right, defends Denver Nuggets point guard Andre Miller in Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series last Tuesday at Staples Center.

Q: With all these things you have to remind you about her, what about your mom triggers the strongest memories?

A: My mom and dad would make a lot of road trips to UCLA when I was there, and it was really nice when I was at Golden State, they were close enough to come. I really had an up-and-down career and with the Warriors (in 2006-08) was really the first time I got an opportunity to play. They drove down every single game. They got to be part of a ‘We Believe’ playoff run we had against the Dallas Mavericks. To see her smile and, really, she was really one of the only people, besides my family, who believed in me. She’d keep telling me to keep grinding, keep sticking it out. I’m so glad she got a chance to see me play in that playoff series and establish myself as a player.

Q: Without getting too personal, are you able to visit your mom somehow on Mother’s Day?

A: She was cremated and her ashes are at my dad’s house in Northern California. So my family up north will get the chance to spent time with her this year. Hopefully we’ll be headed to Oklahoma City that day.

More:

== Athletes vs. Cancer website (linked here).

== Athletes from the NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB, including the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, the Kings’ Dustin Penner and Anza Kopitar, and the Lakers’ Pau Gasol, thank their moms on Mother’s Day via a story on ESPNW.com (linked here).

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