Kevin Barnett has never been required to do just about anything he does in his current chapter of life. He doesn’t need to be out there on stadium court, swinging a homemade hammer at miniature volleyballs into a crowd of thousands. He doesn’t need to make art for the Amazon Prime set that becomes his home away from his Redondo Beach home for four months out of the year. He doesn’t need to dress up in gold and do the goofy dizzy bat skits and the shows at the technical timeouts. Just as he hasn’t needed to host a volleyball show called The Net Live on — most, as his and Jeremy Roueche’s joke goes — Mondays for the previous decade.
He hasn’t needed to do any of that. This, however, is only partially true.
From a work standpoint, no, he hasn’t needed to do that. Amazon never told him to do anything, really — “I can basically do whatever I want,” Barnett said on SANDCAST: Beach volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter.
But his mind did. Two-time Olympians do not simply retire into days of beach chairs and Coronas. And when Barnett retired from professional volleyball in January of 2006, not by choice but by the unrelenting demands of ticked off knees, he grew restless, and fast. He and his wife, Arian, flipped roles. She put her MBA to use and went to work while Kevin watched the kids, two boys then ages two and four.
“My life,” he said, “was goldfish and sandwiches.”
Which is fine, even idyllic, for a great many people. But Olympic athletes are wired differently. Their entire lives, up to that point, are predicated on solving problems, improving, beating out another guy for the spot – “suiting up with the mindset to go kill somebody,” Barnett said.
There were days he’d sit there with the boys and think “‘Bro, I used to be somebody!’” he said. “Internally, I’m like ‘I used to do something that people valued,’ and now I’m like ‘What am I doing here?’
“There’s one night that sticks out. I was back in my former rental house in Redondo, and there was a bunch of moving boxes back there, and the moving boxes paid for my frustrations. I don’t know what the neighbors thought. I was spiking balls on an Olympic court a year ago and now what am I doing?”
What he did was get back to work, not on anybody’s else’s terms but his own. What he did was create value where value was needed. His love for volleyball hadn’t waned; the only problem was, well, how in the world do people follow volleyball?
If Tom Brady sneezes, ESPN reports on it. But if Reid Priddy sprains an ankle and is put on the bench for a few weeks, nobody knows why.
“There was no talk between events, and on the indoor side in particular, the World League is happening every week,” Barnett said. “If you’re watching World League every week, you don’t know why the roster changes happen from one week to the next. You don’t know if somebody’s hurt. You don’t know if somebody’s trying to decide a spot. There’s no chatter.”
And so began the next season of Barnett’s life: A season of creating. He, alongside Priddy, Dan Madden, and Chris ‘Geeter’ McGee, created a show, The Net Live, which would report on all things volleyball most Mondays out of the year. Together, they brought an element of news and entertainment that volleyball had never previously enjoyed, while Barnett began honing the skill set that would become his next career – announcing, hosting, analyzing.
“My volleyball acumen and personality gave me a shot at being an analyst,” he said. “That was a hobby, not a career.”
The Net Live, in essence, gave him the reps he needed to turn that hobby into a career. For three years, he stuck with it, adding Roueche to the team in 2011 after McGee left for a job with the Lakers and Priddy continued his professional playing career. Those reps, in part, earned him a shot at the London Olympics calling matches, which earned him a live, two-way interview with Dan Patrick, which earned him job offers as a studio host discussing high school football and a gig with ESPN.
Kevin Barnett had himself a new career, born out of creating something where there was previously a void, creating something that nobody told him he needed to do but he just did it anyway, because that’s how things get done.
“Volleyball needed it,” he said of The Net Live. “And I needed it. You have to bring value. That’s what you have to do.”
And after 10 years, The Net Live has, he and Roueche both agreed, run its course. Roueche never even intended to be on the show anyway.
“I got duped,” he said. Priddy had initially asked him to be the sound guy, adding musical elements to the show, occasionally piping in with the one-liner here and there. But then Priddy left and Geeter was gone, and it was just Barnett and Roueche, a creator in his own right as the AVP’s longtime DJ, doing their thing.
“I would just make fun of people once in a while,” Roueche said. “Then they all started dropping like flies and then it was just Kevin and I.”
Though The Net Live will soon be finished, their work as partners is not. Barnett is the lead Amazon announcer for the AVP’s livestream; Roueche the DJ. It’s Roueche’s booth that Barnett most commonly retreats to when he’s not on the mic.
So they’ll continue to innovate. Barnett, after successfully implementing the whimsical Hammer Award, which earned a sponsor and became a surprising new source of revenue, is adding a Shield Award. He’ll keep decorating the sets with his own artwork, because that’s just what Barnett does: He creates value where some might not even have known it was needed.
“Whatever it is, if you’re dedicated to the process, you’ll find your space,” he said. “If you’re all in, you’ll find yourself in that industry if you want to be. Bring value. Whatever you do, bring value.”