A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
The Clout of Warriors Point Guard Baron
SAN FRANCISCO, CA —The clout of Warriors point guard Baron Davis was on display Tuesday.
He threw a fancy shindig in San Francisco to introduce the Baron Davis Foundation to the Bay Area. The guests included executives from the four major pro franchises in the Bay Area and plenty of players, including Raiders receiver Jerry Porter and 49ers rookie quarterback Alex Smith. Movie/music producer Quincy Jones III showed up, as did Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson.
It was a typical affair for someone who regularly kicks it with Sean “Diddy” Combs and went to high school with Kate Hudson.
“You should see the people who try to get through me to speak to Baron when we’re out,” said Mitch Grace, Davis’ security adviser. “Mark Wahlberg. Matt Damon. Jada Pinkett. Christian Slater.”
Many African-American athletes and entertainers go one of two ways when they make it rich out of the ghetto, and oftentimes they can’t win either way. Either they maintain a strong connection to their ‘hood, as Carmelo Anthony has, exposing themselves to some of the streets’ pitfalls, or they ride their riches into a higher class, as Will Smith has, leaving behind their old life and getting labeled as sellouts.
Davis, 26, refuses to choose either side of the tracks. Instead, he strolls down the middle with a George Jefferson strut. He pulls it off because his personality translates in hip-hop culture and corporate America, because his game impresses Generation Xers and Baby Boomers, because his aura attracts people from the slums and the suburbs.
“I definitely think it’s a rare situation to fit into both worlds,” said Davis’ high school teammate Cash Warren, son of actor Mike Warren (Bobby Hill on “Hill Street Blues”).
“People from the streets, they naturally feel comfortable around that environment. But when you have money, you’re thrust into these situations where you’re around rich people. It’s inevitable. He is one of the few or only people that truly can assimilate or truly fit in both worlds.”
Davis has a scowl that would scare a pit bull, especially when he’s sporting a full beard. He occasionally flashes it at referees. The wrinkled forehead, the crooked lip, the menacing stare — the look is straight out of an N.W.A. video.
The grimace is a testament to Davis’ ability to adapt. Because where he’s from, it was either intimidate or be intimidated.
Davis, his older sister Lisa and younger sister Toi grew up with their grandparents, Luke and Lela Nicholson. They lived a block off the boulevard in South Central Los Angeles, which was the epicenter of L.A.’s gang violence in the late ’80s and early ’90s, inspiring movies such as “Colors” and songs such as Ice Cube’s “How to Survive in South Central.”
Davis’ chameleon characteristics were challenged when he entered the seventh grade. He transferred to Crossroads School, a K-12 private school for the arts in Santa Monica to which Hollywood types send their children.
Crossroads was a long way from South Central, in more ways than the 45-minute drive through traffic.
“I can’t even imagine what that was like (for Davis),” said Warren, who is helping to finance and produce projects for Davis’ Too Easy Entertainment. “Crossroads is part of that .001 percent of the world where kids have things that adults don’t even have. I can’t even begin to know what it’s like to be surrounded by things that not only you can’t get, but you can’t even touch.”
His classmates lived in mansions in Beverly Hills. Davis slept on the floor in the living room at his grandmother’s house. His classmates got new cars for their 16th birthday. Davis hustled rides from a neighbor, his coach or his sister.
His classmates packed $50 and $100 bills for lunch money. Davis had to increase his $6 weekly allowance by “borrowing” from his rich classmates.
“If they’re packing hundreds, they can afford to give me 50 cents, a dollar,” Davis said. “They knew I wasn’t giving it back, but they loved me. I would come home with $30 to $40 dollars.
“I didn’t see a $100 bill until (I got to Crossroads in) the seventh grade,” Davis added. “This girl in class had her wallet on the floor, and I could see the money hanging out. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s a hundred dollars.’ I could’ve stolen it, being a silly kid from South Central. But I wasn’t doing that. I was amazed. I stared at it for like 30 minutes.”
The Crossroads opportunity came about because of Davis’ basketball skills, as the school’s varsity boys basketball coach, Daryl Roper, was awed by his game. But it was Davis’ people skills that closed the deal, earning him a scholarship to cover the then-$13,000 yearly tuition. He wowed Roper and headmaster Paul Cummings with his maturity.
Before long, Davis would endear himself to celebrity parents such as Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and Dustin Hoffman. He’d become one of the most popular people in the school, among teachers and students alike.
That’s the impact Davis has on people. Those who know him best rave about his personality.
First off, he’s a clown. Nearly everyone he’s been around for substantial time has been exposed to his comedic wit or been the butt of his practical jokes.
Davis used to come home from Crossroads basketball practice with Taco Bell. He not only laughed at his drooling sister Toi — whose only option for a late-evening snack was leftovers — but would make her do some of his chores before he’d share. Once in Las Vegas with Crossroads for a tournament, Davis hid the tip at a restaurant and nearly got Warren arrested for stealing.
On his way back from a recent trip to Vancouver, Davis took a picture of friend Rico Hines sleeping in the car and two-way’d it to Hines’ AAU players.
“My mouth was wide open,” said Hines, Davis’ teammate at UCLA and director of Davis’ Rising Stars of America basketball program. “Baron’s got a good spirit and it’s just contagious. I can’t even look at him without laughing a lot of times. He’s so fun to be around.”
Davis also isn’t afraid to laugh at himself. Some of his funniest memories are of his own embarrassing moments, including a certain third-grade experience.
Davis had his heart set on winning the Halloween costume contest at South Park Elementary School. Unable to afford an elaborate costume, Davis’ sister Lisa got creative. She took a sheet and wrapped it around his loins like a diaper. She draped some chains on him and smeared dirt all over him. Davis was a slave for Halloween.
He wasn’t a fan of the get-up, crying throughout the parade. But the anguish painted on his face was the perfect touch to sell the costume. Davis won the contest.
“That’s some cold stuff, ain’t it?” Davis said through a laugh.
He is also known for his loyalty. Those who know him say once Davis is on your side, he’s on your team for life.
He financially supports several family members, some who aren’t technically related to him and some who aren’t doing much to support themselves.
“My brother does so much for so many people,” said Toi, who is attending Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., on her brother’s dime. “He gives to help you better yourself.”
Despite their vastly different backgrounds, Davis is still good friends with Warren, whom he stayed with during the rioting that followed the Rodney King trial.
Davis has strong relationships with some of his former UCLA teammates. A few of them — including Hines, his agent Todd Ramasar and Oakland-native Ray Young — make up a mini-fraternity they call “The Blood Brothers.” Some of them have tattoos of a handshake dripping blood as a symbol of their allegiance.
Perhaps the best example of Davis’ loyalty is his relationship with Jayceon Taylor, who grew up in Compton and played against Davis in high school. Taylor, known to the hip-hop world as The Game, achieved music stardom when he joined (and later broke up with) the rap group G-Unit, headed by rapper 50 Cent.
Before Taylor became a big-time rapper, he was in and out of jail for gang activity and selling drugs. Taylor said Davis never turned his back on him and supported him as he turned his life around. Davis is now the godfather of Taylor’s son.
“B.D. just (had my back),” Taylor said. “I never had to ask him for nothing, even when I was down and out, gang-banging. … I grew up in a foster home. I didn’t have a father. I look at B.D. as a brother.”
Davis’ loyalty was a cause for concern. His grandmother and Roper said they worried his allegiance to the ‘hood might subject him to danger — especially in a locale where being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people often was a formula for tragedy.
“Baron had a moment where he wanted to be true to the ‘hood, to the fellas,” said Roper, who was like a father figure to Davis. “He had a period where he felt obligated to be visible and to drive the low-riders and all that. He had the attitude of ‘I ain’t changing for nobody. I’m from the ‘hood.’ But he found out those guys don’t really care about him.”
Davis acknowledged that moment in his life, which occurred at the start of his NBA career, and attributed it to his combination of youth and riches. But he said he came to the realization he can’t lose the “streets” inside him, even if he wasn’t down like he used to be. Instead of portraying the life glorified in his neighborhood, he decided to become a real gangsta.
“My goal in life is to stand up for all the kids in those areas and let them know they can do good,” said Davis, who last weekend joined First Lady Laura Bush in Washington, D.C., for the annual Library of Congress National Book Festival.
“That’s the true sense of a gangsta, someone who goes against the grain to do the right thing.”
Davis avoided most of the lures of street life thanks to basketball. He started playing when he was 3 after his grandfather built him a basketball hoop on a wooden stick.
By 5, he’d advanced to the courts at South Park Elementary School, which was a game of hopscotch from his house. He was making money with his cousin at 7 years, winning bets that he could steal the ball from the older players. He was the king of South Park courts at age 10 and an AAU star at 12. He was 15 years old, and standing 5-foot-10, when he started dunking; he was 17 when he led his team to the state title and won national player of the year honors. By 24, he was an NBA All-Star.
Davis’ game has always been his biggest ally. The urban community loves his showmanship. Fellow players love his gamesmanship. Basketball experts love his leadership.
Many consider Davis among the best point guards in the NBA, along with Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.
“He’s right at the top. He’s certainly one of the best,” said one Western Conference general manager who requested anonymity per team policy. “He’s got everything you want in a point guard — he can shoot, pass, run a team and play defense. He’s one of the elite players that can raise his game to another level. There’s not a lot of players that can do it.”
The Warriors have reaped the benefits of Davis’ appeal since his arrival in a Feb. 24 trade with the New Orleans Hornets. They expect to sell out as many as half of their games this season after selling out just four games last year. They have already sold over 3,000 new season tickets, a franchise best for the offseason and the most among NBA teams this summer. They have been thrust into the forefront of NBA publicity as Davis has spent the offseason appearing on sports shows, magazine fronts and video game covers. His presence in the lineup has made the Warriors a trendy pick as a sleeper in the West.
“I’m pretty surprised at the impact he’s had on the other players, the way he’s raised their level of play,” Warriors executive vice president Chris Mullin said after last season’s finale. “His whole stature, his presence. … Every day I see him, it’s even stronger.
“First and foremost is his talent and his ability to be a great player. But his leadership qualities, his personality, his love of the game, his ability to get on a guy and hug him and lead … he’s got that quality, he does. On the court, his talent’s quite obvious. Then you add that other quality. I think on most teams it would show up. But on our team, it showed up even more so.”
Because of his game and his personality, Davis has always had a strong allure. People love his combination of talent and charisma. They are drawn to the swagger in his walk, the confidence in his smile, the arrogance in his dribble. That’s why he can go to Harlem’s famed Rucker Park and be treated like a rock star and hang out with rock star Chris Robinson from the Black Crows.
That’s why he can make hundreds of underprivileged, mostly minority kids scream for him at a basketball camp and make thousands of privileged, mostly white ticket-buyers scream for him at a game.
That’s why his two-way includes Hudson and Jamie Foxx, fellow Reebok endorser Jay-Z and acclaimed director Michael Bay, Denzel Washington and a friend he calls Terminator.
That’s why they call him B. Diddy, Boom Dizzle
and Mr. Davis.