DALLAS – Born and raised on a tropical island, Dallas veteran point guard J.J. Barea knows a bit more about hurricanes than he did about the threat of blizzards and tornadoes during the three seasons he played for the Timberwolves upon a time.
He was in the ninth grade when Hurricane Georges hit his native Puerto Rico in September 1998, becoming the first such storm in 66 years to cross the entire island from east to west on its path toward causing $2 billion in damage at the time.
“I remember, it was really bad,” he said. “But it was like a Category 3. It wasn’t like this one, nothing like this.”
This one is Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that devastated Puerto Rico in September and caused the kind of destruction and chaos seldom seen in American history. It initially left nearly all 3.4 million residents without power and about half without running water.
Two months later, 20 of its 78 municipalities remain without power and more than 150,000 people have relocated to Florida alone. Its power company director resigned Friday.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Barea said. “We’d never seen anything like it.”
Barea led a fundraising effort that filled up the Mavericks’ team plane with supplies five times this fall and, filled to capacity, brought back passengers seeking to flee the widespread wreckage.
“Everything,” Barea said when asked what the plane carried. “Generators, water, food, medicine. We just packed it up at 5 a.m. with whatever was needed, flew to Puerto Rico and brought it back full that night with people every time.”
He missed the first day of Mavericks training camp so he could be on board during the first of those five trips. His wife and friends from Puerto Rico now living in Texas went the other four times with the help of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, whom Barea says has “big planes” and “a bigger heart.”
“Mark Cuban was awesome,” Barea said. “He gave me whatever I wanted.”
He worked a contract buyout with the Wolves before the 2014-15 season so he could return to the Mavericks, where he won an NBA title in 2011. He calls the city and a franchise with Cuban, coach Rick Carlisle and superstar Dirk Nowitzki “my family.”
Barea’s YouCaring Hurricane Maria Relief Fund raised $250,000 online, and other donations have increased the total to about $500,000.
“People there need so much,” Barea said.
Barea always remembers his island so colorful from the air — the vibrant blue ocean water, the green palms waving in the wind — every time he flew to and from there.
“This time, it was just flat and dead,” he said.
It took one text to Cuban to get the use of the Mavs’ plane once those anxious, early days passed and Barea learned his father, mother, uncles and cousins had survived the storm.
It took a hundred or more phone calls to Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico to coordinate the effort to send supplies to Barea’s hometown about two hours from San Juan.
His mother and grandmother returned to Dallas with him on that first trip and stayed two weeks before returning to an island that remains months, probably years away from recovery.
He said he’ll never forget the days before, when he watched the hurricane’s path as it roared across the Caribbean. He, too, won’t forget those days afterward, when he waited for word from loved ones.
“It was awful, it was long,” Barea said. “It was moving so slow through Puerto Rico. I knew when it was coming how bad it was going to be because I’ve been through it before. We’ve been lucky for the last 20 years, but we couldn’t get out of this one.”
• Headed to Target Center on Sunday, Detroit’s Upper Midwest connection — Orono’s own Jon Leuer and Rice Lake, Wisconsin’s Henry Ellenson — spent a little time last summer working out with Wolves center Cole Aldrich.
Leuer and Aldrich played on the same AAU team and have worked out together — lifting weights, shooting drills, a little one-on-one — for the last four or five summers.
They welcomed the Wisconsin kid for a couple days last summer.
“You know, we’re open to anybody working out with us,” Aldrich said.
• The Wolves on Monday play Charlotte for the second time in two weeks. It’s also Hornets coach Steve Clifford’s second look around at how former colleague and longtime friend Tom Thibodeau has remade the Wolves’ roster around three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.
“He’s such a great player, great competitor,” Clifford said. “He understands what playing in the NBA is all about. You just watch him. To me, he’s all about winning.”
• Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns on Friday in Dallas wore a personalized knit cap given to him by his girlfriend for his 22nd birthday last week. It has stitching that reads, “No kitten around,” a play on his initials and nickname.
“It’s a lot better than the high-five Andrew gave me for my birthday,” Towns said, referring to teammate Andrew Wiggins.
WOLVES’ WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 6 p.m. vs. Detroit (FSN)
Monday: 6 p.m. at Charlotte (FSN)
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Orlando (FSN Plus)
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Miami (FSN)
Player to watch: Andre Drummond, Pistons
Dominating big man leads the NBA in rebounding with 15.8 a game and helped lead Detroit to eight victories in a nine-game stretch that ended with Wednesday’s loss to Milwaukee.
“That’s all I needed, honestly. All I needed was the win.”
Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns when asked if all he got from teammate Andrew Wiggins for his 22nd birthday last week was a high-five on the same day he beat San Antonio for the first time in his career.
Twitter: @JerryZgoda, E-mail: email@example.com, Blog: startribune.com/wolves