In the fall of 2009, Harrison Barnes was the best high-school basketball player in America. But the 17-year-old from Ames, Iowa, was more than just a hoops phenom. An honor student with a 3.6 GPA who, when he wasn’t honing his jump shot, would practice Bach and Chopin on his saxophone, Barnes was something of a renaissance man. So the college-basketball powerhouses trying to recruit him tailored their pitches accordingly. On Barnes’s visit to Duke, he met with the dean of the law school; at UCLA, he had lunch with the chancellor; at Stanford, he was entertained by none other than Condoleezza Rice. Yet it was Barnes’s trip to the University of North Carolina that left the biggest impression. There, he was granted an audience with the school’s most famous basketball alum, Michael Jordan. Several weeks later, Barnes announced he was taking his talents to Chapel Hill.
Was it merely a case of a teenage boy being swayed by his basketball idol? Not exactly. As Barnes has made clear, he reveres Jordan for more than just his hoops talent. “People see Michael Jordan as a great basketball player,” he told me earlier this year, “but he’s a great businessman, too.”
Barnes, now a sophomore at UNC, has lived up to the hype, both on and off the court. A 6-foot-8 small forward with a silky jumper and a knack for hitting game-winning shots, he’s also widely touted as college basketball’s most cerebral star since Bill Bradley. But where Bradley devoted his analytical abilities to hoops and academics, Barnes has added a third area of interest: the business of basketball. Barnes’s business acumen is what brought him to UNC—and accounts for the fact that he’s still there.