MATT BARNES AS WOLVERINE

In the third part of a five-part series comparing the Clippers bench to the X-Men band of superheroes, Matt Barnes' tenacity is compared to Wolverine.

Matt Barnes as Wolverine

As kids, we are made to believe that all superheroes are inherently good and abide by an ideology and moral code that demands excellence and nobility on a routine basis. Their ability to rise above all odds in the face of adversity, both mentally and physically, is what defines them as heroes. However, every once in a while, a hero comes along who is the antithesis of most: someone who still fights for good, but whose personality and perception of heroics breaks from the conventional norm. And, perhaps no character in comic book history better embodies this anti-authority figure better than Wolverine of the X-Men. When Wolverine joined the X-Men squad, he proved that a gritty attitude and edge could be the defining traits of a hero and team player. For the Clippers, they’ve found a Wolverine of their own in forward Matt Barnes. Here’s why:

THE WANDERING MAN

Wolverine is often depicted as a gruff loner who was born in Canada in the late 1880s and eventually became part of the Weapon X program. There he had the indestructible adamantium metal grafted to his skeletal structure and bone claws. In the first X-Men movie, we saw that Wolverine was a man out of place searching for acceptance and an identity. His attitude and hotheaded demeanor were valuable characteristics that helped make him a fierce competitor, but he had yet to find a place where his skills could be utilized to their fullest potential. Upon joining the X-Men, however, it was immediately clear that his services had found a home.

While the team was already composed of talented individuals and had an undisputed leader in Scott Summers (a.k.a. Cyclops), they needed someone who—to a degree—could fight dirty; someone who didn't abide by the “Superhero Handbook of Ethics”. At the end of X-Men, we saw Wolverine step up and take on the barbaric villain Sabertooth, and ultimately come out victorious. While Wolverine’s attitude and fighting style didn’t fit the traditional mold of other X-Men, his ruthless tenacity gave the team a competitive edge that they’d been sorely lacking in the past.

When it comes to finding an NBA player that embodies the Wolverine persona, perhaps no one fits the bill better than Barnes. Just as Wolverine spent years as a journeyman traveling from place to place, so too has Barnes during his career. Since being drafted by the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round of the 2002 NBA Draft, Barnes has played for 10 different teams, including stints with the Fayetteville Patriots of the D-League and the Long Beach Jam of the ABA. He’s never spent more than two seasons with a team, but his hard-nose style of play has made him a vital contributor to the teams he’s played for. Barnes was a key member of the 2006-07 Golden State Warriors team that became the first No. 8 seed to win a best-of-seven playoff series when they upset the Dallas Mavericks in 2007. Barnes averaged 10.2 points per game in that series, and came up big in the series-clinching Game 6 when he put up a near triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. It was also his first start of that series.

But what has made Barnes so instrumental to the Clippers’ success this season is the gritty attitude he brings to the team. Barnes has a way of agitating his opponents and getting under their skin, and his tough style of play is both a strength and an Achilles heel. But, just like Wolverine, he’s learning how to control that emotion while knowing, too, that it can be used as a motivator for his team.

In a game last month in Minnesota against the Timberwolves, Barnes was ejected for throwing a forearm at the throat of Minnesota’s Greg Stiemsma. After the game, Barnes explained the reason for the altercation, saying: “[Stiemsma] hit me with a couple of dirty picks early on and I told him to watch it, then he laughed and he hit me with another one. I kind of lost my control, which I apologized to the team for. There's no excuse for that, but luckily it sparked the team."  While Barnes knew that his actions may have been a bit excessive, he also knew that his ejection would send a message to his teammates and the rest of the league that the Clippers weren’t a soft team who were going to roll over when you threw a punch: they were going to punch you back, and harder.

But Wolverine and Barnes aren’t just valuable to their teams because of their attitude: they can also play. Wolverine, with his adamantium claws, has the versatility and skill set to make any big play and be a steady force for the X-Men team. Barnes has proven he can be the same for the Clippers. This season, Barnes is averaging a career best in points at 10.4 per game, and has matched a career high in blocks at 0.8 per game. Even more impressive, during the month of December in the midst of the Clippers’ franchise-best 17-game winning streak, Barnes led the team in 3-point field goal percentage at 43%. His ability to contribute consistently on both ends of the floor and provide a fiery spark to the second unit has made this journeyman veteran a key member of the Clippers’ bench this season.

Like Wolverine, Barnes is proving that it can be just as fun, if not more, to root for the antihero.

Coming Soon: Ronny Turiaf as Beast. 

Colin J. Liotta is the co-founder of the website The Sports Hero along with his wife, Bushra, and acts as the Editor-in-Chief. The website combines sports and comics into one place for fans of both genres. See more of Colin's work at www.thesportshero.com