By Tim Wendel
Gilbert Arenas bringing at least three guns into the Washington Wizards’ locker room has made headlines nationwide.That the All-Star guard tried to pass off the incident as a practical joke is quite a reach. Still, any Braves fan knows that Agent Zero has a long way to go before surpassing the antics of one Marvin “Bad News” Barnes.
Old Marvin not only stowed guns in his locker, but he snorted cocaine during games and traveled with hookers on the team plane. He was better suited to be a member of Led Zeppelin or Rick James’ backup band than a professional athlete.
After starring at Providence, where he once sank a record 10 for 10 from the field in the NCAA playoffs, Barnes won rookie of the year honors in the American Basketball Association with the Spirits of St. Louis. Even though his wild lifestyle made him a shadow of his former self, Braves owner John Y. Brown brought him over from the Detroit Pistons (in exchange for John Shumate, Gus Gerard and a high draft pick) for the 1977-1978 season. Of course, this would prove to be the Braves’ last time around the block in Buffalo, and Barnes did his part to push the team over the edge.
Memorial Auditorium for Barnes’ debut with the Braves. Posters of Bad News with the caption, “Buffalo is Marvin’s Gardens” were handed out.
Despite such a promising start, Barnes soon wore out his welcome in Western New York, too. But that didn’t mean there weren’t some tales to tell along the way. One of my favorites comes from Van Miller, the Braves’ play-by-play announcer.
“Marvin Barnes was past his prime by the time he got to the Braves,” Miller once told me. “But that didn’t stop him from still going around in style. Marvin was late pretty much for everything, so one day the team is practicing at a high school in Buffalo and Marvin comes in a half-hour late. But that doesn’t bother him one iota. He walked into that practice with a beautiful woman on each arm. He sat them in the bleachers at this school gym and they waited patiently until practice was over. Afterward Marvin cleaned himself up and then walked out of the joint with one on each arm.”
Last March, Providence College retired Barnes’ jersey, along with the numbers of Jimmy Walker and Ernie DiGregorio, another ex-Brave.
At the ceremony, Barnes joked that while it may take a village to raise a child, in his case it had taken “a whole state, State police, DEA, everyone.”