DALLAS — J.J. Barea wants you to know how bad it is.
The Dallas Mavericks guard visited Puerto Rico, his home, on Tuesday. Owner Mark Cuban lent him the team plane, and Barea, his wife, and his closest friends — 13 in total — flew to the United States territory with the plane loaded with supplies. Puerto Rico was struck by Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, and the winds and flooding have left the island in a humanitarian crises. But even Barea, prepared for the worst, was shocked when he actually saw it in person.
“I always go to Puerto Rico after the season and I look out the window and it’s beautiful,” Barea said. “The water’s blue and green, there’s people’s moving around, you always feel the vibe. Yesterday, you look out the window and it’s dead. Completely dead.”
Barea grew up in Puerto Rico before moving to Miami for high school and farther north for college. His trip to Puerto Rico would have happened sooner, but it took this long for Puerto Rican and United States authorities to approve the trip. In fact, getting the plane from Cuban was the easiest part.
“I texted (Cuban), five minutes later he said check your email, and I was in contact with the pilots and all those guys who run the Mavericks plane,” Barea said.
The plane left early Tuesday morning, packed with supplies — 32 generators, medicine, food, and plenty of water. Right now, 44 percent of the population doesn’t have access to drinking water, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. The island may also be without electricity for six months or longer as Puerto Rico rebuilds its grid.
Barea returned with 30 people, including his mother, grandmother, cousins, and other family members. He also took on an older couple who approached them at the airport. The wife was due for a transplant in Maryland, but they had been unable to get out of Puerto Rico.
With the NBA season starting, Barea won’t return for some time. However, Cuban has already OK’d Barea’s wife Viviana Ortiz and his same group of friends to take an even bigger plane of his back with more supplies as soon as it can be arranged.
“I don’t think people know how bad it is,” Barea said. “They know it’s bad, but they don’t know how bad it is. We’re in a complete emergency down there.”
Barea is accepting donations to his foundation, the J.J. Barea Foundation. His dad and uncle run the foundation, and both remained in Puerto Rico. There’s still work to be done, after all, because the Puerto Rico he visited on Tuesday wasn’t the Puerto Rico he knows and loves.
“Looking out the window,” Barea said, “it’s like Puerto Rico is flat now. It’s never flat. It’s all green, sometimes you can’t see houses because there’s so much green. Now you can see all the houses. Nobody is really moving. You see a lot of traffic, now the streets are empty. Nobody in the beach, the water’s not blue.
“We need a lot of help, and it’s going to take a while.”