With 82 games in the regular season, traveling is a way of life for basketball players, and Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes is no exception. This month, Barnes traveled to Shanghai, Beijing, Wuhan and Shenzhen, China, to spend a few precious pre-season days participating in NBA Nation, an interactive basketball and touring event that allows players to bring the energy and spirit of one of America’s most popular pastimes abroad.
While this was Harrison’s third professional China tour, it was his first time traveling as an NBA champion. T+L caught up with Barnes to discuss Szechuan food, his most memorable travel moment, and the one thing he never travels without.
You’re traveling to China this year as a part of the 2015 NBA championship team. Has it been different as far as the fanfare goes from the last time you made this trip?
The excitement is a lot more noticeable than it was last time. The fans here are always great, but winning a championship definitely helps with how passionate they are.
Tell me about your packing strategy. How do you prepare for an international trip like this?
I pretty much live out of a suitcase in the summers anyway, so it’s just a matter of packing a bigger bag, and having a little bit more of everything that I need.
Talk about your training, diet and exercise regimen abroad. How are you maintaining in the off-season?
In terms of training, I have one of my assistant coaches out here, Kelly Peters. I also have my strength coach, Jordan, so we get the workouts in every single day, both on the court and on the road. So on the fitness side, that’s all taken care of.
Diet, it’s just trying to find a balance between eating healthy while also trying to experience the local food as much as you can. You only have so long to be in China, so I try to get the full cultural experience, and try things that are a little bit outside of my comfort zone.
You mentioned being outside of your comfort zone. I know this isn’t your first trip to China, but do you still experience culture shock?
I’ve gotten used to it. This is my third time being over here. But the first time I came here, I was blown away by the number of people that were going up and down the streets. Also, you can be driving out of the city for forty minutes and you don’t see countryside—it’s just buildings and packed roads. You don’t see that in the states.
You drive forty minutes outside of any city, and you’re going to see highways, you’re going to see countryside, you’re going to see transition. Here, you drive forty minutes and you’re still in the same city.
What about the food? Have you tried any local delicacies?
I’m going to try some rabbit head tonight, but other than that, mostly just Szechuan food.
What’s the Szechuan like? Different from Szechuan in the U.S.?
It’s daylight-to-darkness difference. When you’re eating Chinese food here in China, obviously it’s authentic, and I definitely have more of an appreciation for it after having had it for so long in the states.
Has there been a meal or dish that stands out this trip?
Yes, it’s called Mapo Tofu. It’s tofu with pork mixed into it, which sounds weird, but it was phenomenal.
What about team meals? Are they different abroad than at home?
Team meals are very different abroad. Usually at home for team meals, you get a buffet of all the foods that we eat normally. Here you’re served a western dish and a Chinese dish, so you get to try new things.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen or done on this trip?
The coolest thing we’ve done on this trip is see a panda. Obviously, that’s not something we get to do that often in the states—so being able to see one up close was pretty cool.
What’s your most memorable travel story or experience?
The very first time I was in Shanghai, I was blown away by the city and the international feel that it had. I got to the hotel and, all of a sudden, I started seeing all these people and large crowds assembling outside. It was clear that something was happening—cars were honking, sirens were going off. I was like, ‘Whoa, what is going on outside?’
So I walk into the lobby, and Yao Ming walks in. It was my first time meeting him, so, one, it was pretty cool to meet a legend like that—he’s by far the tallest person I ever met—and two, just to see the kind of reaction he has in his hometown. People were in awe of him, that he’s still playing, and still playing at an all-star level. It’s cool to see that kind of reception, and to see how it was in his hometown.
Do you have a favorite airport lounge?
There’s a great airport and lounge in Seoul, Korea. That one really stands out. It’s very nice.
Do you have a strategy for dealing with jetlag?
Usually when I get home from a match, I look at whatever time zone I’m going to next—so, for example, if I’m leaving the Bay in the morning and I’m getting in somewhere at night, I usually make sure I’m really tired so I can sleep on the flight. That way my body’s more acclimated, and when I land I can be on that time zone.
What is the one thing you can’t travel without?
My Brookstone phone charger and converter. When you’re in an international city, sometimes you’re not able to get your hotel, and having that charger with you is clutch because all the outlets aren’t necessarily American outlets. I keep that thing with me at all times.
What’s on your travel bucket list?
Right now it’s Hong Kong. I’ve been over here three times and I haven’t made it there. Hopefully, next summer I’ll have the opportunity to go for the first time.
What about mementos or souvenirs? Do you collect anything?
I always try and get something from wherever I go. When I was in Brazil I picked up lots of shirts and clothing. Every time I come to China I try to get a couple of things. When I visited the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, I picked something out.
I got a jade lion—it’s a huge piece of jade with my name carved in the bottom of it—when I went to the Yuyuan Garden here in China.
What’s your favorite city to play in?
Chicago. I’m from the Midwest, and it was my favorite team growing up. And, all my family’s able to come out and watch me play.
What’s the first thing you’re going to eat when you get home?
Probably a Chipotle burrito.