Jim "Bad News" Barnes (1941–2002)
Velvet James (Jim) “Bad News” Barnes was an American basketball player and Olympic gold medalist originally from Tuckerman (Jackson County). Barnes enjoyed great success in his collegiate career, which later led him to be the first pick in the 1964 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft. As a professional athlete, Barnes played for five different teams over seven seasons until an Achilles tendon injury largely forced his retirement. Regarding the nickname “Bad News,” Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach said he was so named “for the damage he did to opposing teams and players.”
Jim Barnes was born on April 13, 1941, in Tuckerman. As a child, Barnes picked and chopped cotton and played basketball wearing socks, since his family was too poor to afford basketball shoes. His college career began in 1960 at Cameron Junior College (now Cameron University) in Lawton, Oklahoma, where he averaged almost thirty points per game after two seasons. He was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-American team during his sophomore season. Although strongly recruited by larger college programs, after two seasons at Cameron, Barnes transferred to Texas Western University, now University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), in part because he felt that he did not have sufficient academic preparation to do well at a big school.
Physically, Barnes was an imposing figure (at 6’8″, 240 pounds), and his outstanding play at center for Cameron Junior College caught the attention of Don Haskins, then in his second season as head coach at Texas Western. Haskins spent most of his 1962 recruiting budget bringing Barnes to El Paso. This feat was finally accomplished when Haskins challenged Barnes to free-throw shooting and won (best out of twenty-five), though the exact details of the contest differ among sources. In his two seasons (1963 and 1964) in El Paso, Barnes led the Texas Western Miners to their first two National College Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament appearances; Haskins adamantly believed that his 1964 Miners team was talented enough to advance to the finals had Barnes not fouled out in their loss to Kansas State University that year. The success of the Barnes-led Miners during his time at Texas Western was pivotal in building the program that eventually won the NCAA title in 1966, afterward immortalized in UTEP sports lore and the 2006 movie Glory Road.
Barnes later went on to play for the U.S. men’s basketball Olympic team in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which earned him a gold medal. That same year, he was drafted first in the 1964 NBA draft by the New York Knicks, where he played well at forward for two seasons. Barnes’s play diminished, however, and over the next six years he played for the Baltimore Bullets, Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics, and again with Baltimore before his retirement in 1971. He was a member of the 1969 Celtics championship team and ended his career with 3,997 total points.
Following his retirement, Barnes settled in the Washington DC area and, according to Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, “was an active board member of D.C.-based Kids in Trouble Inc., was involved in that organization’s annual celebrity tennis tournament, did school counseling, took part in conferences on youth violence, [and] served as a volunteer basketball coach for Israel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Northeast.” In addition to charitable endeavors, Barnes also launched his namesake “Bad News Barbecue Sauce,” which was sold in Washington DC–area grocery stores.
Barnes was plagued by numerous heart attacks and strokes in his later years, and he died of a stroke on September 14, 2002. Barnes was survived by his wife, Gerri, and three daughters. He was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
For additional information:
Fitzpatrick, Frank. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Basketball Game That Changed American Sports. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.
Heller, Dick. “Jim Bad News Barnes Was a Good Guy Who Died Young.” Washington Times, September 30, 2002, p. 18C.
Levey, Bob. “Farewell to the Man They Called ‘Bad News.’” Washington Post, September 27, 2002, p. 9C.
Schulte, Troy. “‘Bad News’ Good for Miners.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 19, 2014, pp. 1C, 6C.
Wolff, Alexander. “Early Step on the Road to Glory.” Sports Illustrated, November 23, 2009.
Last Updated: 02/28/2022