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The year Mike Barrett spent away from the game
Nearly a year after the decision that forever changed his life, Mike Barrett won't admit to even a smidgeon of bitterness.
"That frustrates people, but I'm not bitter at anybody, I'm really not," says the longtime Trail Blazers television play-by-play man who was relieved of his duties, along with fellow broadcasters Mike Rice and Antonio Harvey, on June 15, 2016.
"That doesn't mean I'm happy about what happened, that I'm not heartbroken," Barrett, 49, says over coffee near his Tualatin home. "When you're stripped out of something that has meant so much to you, it's painful. There have been moments where I've been really down, but that does not translate into any bitterness.
"I'm still thankful for all those years. Not a lot of people get to do what I did. Not for one second did I ever feel entitled to have that job. I never had an agent. I would just go in, and as long as they were willing to pay me, I'd do it. I always had the attitude that when it ended, it ended. I didn't think it was going to happen when it did, but you adjust."
Barrett seems to have adjusted to the news that shocked him as well as thousands of his followers — that his 13 years as the TV voice of the Blazers had ended with the hiring of Kevin Calabro.
But Barrett admits he was floored by the decision. The popularity of the "Mike and Mike" broadcasting duo had never been greater, and the Blazers were coming off a successful 2015-16 campaign.
"You have it in the back of your mind that it could end at any time, but it came on the heels of a season that was so magical," Barrett says. "I had never felt more comfortable in the job. You never want to start thinking you're going to be there forever. But if there were a time when I was thinking that, it was right when this happened, which was ironic."
Barrett says he had been in discussions with Blazers management about a contract extension. Then he got the news from the team's CEO, Chris McGowan, that a change was in the offing.
In the months after the announcement, "Mike and Mike" admirers unleashed their wrath on McGowan. Barrett regrets that.
"The way it was handled was first-class," Barrett says. "Chris is a terrific guy. It's been hard for me to see, especially in the early going, him beaten up over this. He was always classy. No ill will at all toward him."
Yet Barrett has never been given a clear reason for his dismissal.
"It's been strange to be out in the public and have people come up and want to talk about it," he says. "They ask, 'What happened? What's the real story?' I say, 'I don't know. There isn't one. Sometimes things just happen.'"
Barrett had grown up in Albany a Blazer fan, listening to Bill Schonely on the radio, attending several games a year with his father, Duane, a longtime high school basketball coach. After graduation from Oregon State in 1991, he worked in Portland radio until 1999, when he was hired by Blazer Broadcasting. For four years, he served in a variety of capacities, doing pregame and postgame TV and radio work and Courtside Monday Night hosting as well as play-by-play duty with the WNBA Portland Fire and a stint as editor of Rip City magazine.
In 2003, Barrett took over TV play-by-play for the Blazers, teaming first with Steve Jones and then with Rice, the latter a character who made humor a big part of the equation.
"Working with Mike created memories I'll never forget — many of them off the air, but some of them on the air," he says. "We had fun. We knew each other well enough that we could play off of each other.
"When I was in radio, I was seen as the guy who pushed the margin, a loose cannon. Then I became the straight guy on TV. The thing people remember the most is we were the genuine article. We tried to be authentic. If we messed up, we laughed about it. People got to know us that way. That's why it worked so well."
Barrett says he gained perspective almost immediately after his dismissal.
"The day this happened, I learned a neighbor of ours had cancer come back, and another friend's child was going in for surgery," he says. "I thought to myself, 'Who the heck am I to be upset about a job? People are dealing with so many more heavy things.'
"I got hit in the face hard with (reality). What happened to me wasn't important in the larger scheme of things."
Barrett says the day after the news broke, he called Calabro.
"I congratulated him and said, 'You're great, it's going to be great,'" Barrett says. "He seemed a little surprised. He probably thought I was going to be angry, but I wanted to handle it the right way. I wanted to tell him best of luck, and no hard feelings on my part."
Barrett had another year on his contract, so the Blazers have continued to pay him through this July 1. That has offered him the opportunity to take his time on making the next step in his professional career.
"I got some tips on job openings, but I just wasn't ready for that," he says. "There was an opportunity to get involved in (broadcasting) college hoops. I didn't feel like it was the right time.
"When you become known for something like I was for so long in that job, to just pop up a couple of weeks later doing something else, I just didn't feel right about it. I was blessed to have a year left on my contract. I was able to be selective. I didn't feel like I want to jump right back into broadcasting."
The time away has mean a dramatic shift in Barrett's life. He has had more time for his family — wife Shelly and their children. Jack turns 12 in June; Gabby is 10.
"I haven't missed a school program or play," Barrett says. "I've taken the kids to school 90 percent of the days, and I'm usually there when they get off the bus, which has been tremendous. I went skiing with the kids, which I'd never done. I went hunting and shot an elk in the fall in Eastern Oregon.
"I've been able to form relationships with people I've never had the time for, because I've been too stressed out with the season. It's an all-day thing the day of a game. My last season, there were only two or three nights in the month of March that I was home.
"That comes with the business, but oftentimes you don't have time for anything else. And when you get done, you realize how much you have missed and how much more available you are for friends and family. That part has been cool."
Barrett has grown more involved with his church, Grace Chapel in Wilsonville. The pastor, Mike Tatlock, is the Blazers' team chaplain. Tatlock asked Barrett to speak to a men's group at Grace Chapel. He did it twice, and also to a men's group at another church.
"It's been an opportunity to speak to men who have had these things happen to them, be it job loss, divorce, illness," Barrett says. "Guys will come up afterward and tell me what a big part of their lives I was growing up, or their kids' lives. I underestimated the impact you can have in that role.
"It's been good to share my story and let them know they're not alone. I didn't realize the impact of how important that connective piece is between the organization and the fans. I was humbled to hear from all these people who were remembering moments through the years. And sad at the same time, knowing that's not there any more."
Barrett's message: "Don't live in isolation. Get back on your feet. I'm not real comfortable in the unknown, but I've had to learn to be. When I talk to friends from my church, they tell me, 'You were here, but you were never really present. Now you're doing great stuff.' I'm present with the family, with the church, with friends."
Barrett has not stayed close to the game.
"I didn't watch one minute of one NBA game this whole season," he says. "It wasn't like I was forcing myself away from it, but I just didn't. I thought, 'If I'm not going to be involved with it, I don't want to be one of those guys right now who is hanging on and living vicariously and going on social media.' A clean break was easier for me.
"It's the first time since I was 6 or 7 that I didn't watch every Blazer game. Since 1992, when I started working in radio, I'd been to 98 percent of the home games."
Barrett says there are things about the broadcasting job that he misses.
"I had a great relationship with the coaching staff," he says. "Terry and Jan Stotts are great friends. The first people to take my wife and I out to dinner after (the firing) were the Stotts."
On the night of Stotts' 200th victory as Portland's coach — a win over Cleveland at Moda Center in January — he sent a text to Barrett with a photo of the team in the locker room.
"Enjoyed sharing most of these wins with you," the text read. "I hope you and the family are doing well. All the best. Enjoy a great 2017. Terry."
"He thought enough to send that to me," Barrett says. "Those things meant a lot."
Barrett says he misses the relationship he had with the assistant coaches, players and team personnel, some of whom have kept in touch.
"I miss the security personnel in the tunnel, the ushers, the arena personnel, the parking attendants, the team concierge," he says. "I miss those people a lot. I was always proud that I took time to tell those people how important they were."
Barrett's church has helped him get through it.
"I thought it was pretty good before, but I've come a long way in my faith," he says. "It's a cliche to say that everything happens for a reason. But honestly, the Lord needs me somewhere else. I'm going to be obedient to that, and keep my head up."
Barrett says he recently has taken three phone calls about potential NBA jobs. For now, they don't interest him.
"I'm not saying TV or radio play-by-play is out of the question in the future, but at this point, I'm 99 percent confident in saying I'm not going to move (from Portland)," he says. "If there's something else I can do to make a living — and there is — I'm not going to do that to my family. The kids are completely connected in their schools and the neighborhood and our church."
Barrett is involved in a TV project with former state senator and filmmaker Jason Atkinson and Dave Turin, an actor for many years on the Discovery Channel's "Gold Rush."
"We've shot three full episodes," Barrett says. "They're reality adventures that attempt to reach broken men. It may not go anywhere, but it's been really fun doing it."
Barrett continues to do voiceovers for several radio advertisements. And he is listening to other offers for the next step of his professional career.
"It seems like every day, I get some new opportunity," he says. "The phone rings with some crazy thing I never would have thought of. I'm weeding through those things. That part has been fun."
Barrett wants the public to know that, nearly a year after a very difficult time, life is good.
"Six months ago, I was more nervous about what I'll be doing than I am now," he says. "I'm at peace with it now."