After an injury and other setbacks, ex-All-Star-turned-D-Leaguer Baron Davis wants to get back on an NBA roster
POSTED: Mar 18, 2016 11:06 AM ET
Baron Davis has embraced his elder statesman role on the Delaware 87ers.
Most athletes would stop at nothing for a Hollywood ending to their career. In the case of 13-year NBA veteran Baron Davis, the final scene in his hoops screenplay was akin to a horror film.
On May 6, 2012, Davis was the starting point guard for the New York Knicks as they faced the Miami Heat in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series. Midway through the third quarter of that game, Baron raced full court for a layup, planted his right foot. That's when his knee gave out and the proverbial credits began to roll on his career.
"When I got hurt and I was laying there it was pretty much like my whole career flashed before my eyes," Davis, a former two-time All-Star, said. "As I was laying there, I was like 'you know what, this is it. Just think about every day you wake up you'll never play basketball, ever again.' "
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The-then 33-year-old floor general was logging heavy minutes for an injury-riddled team facing elimination. In that fateful Game 4, he suffered a torn ACL, MCL and a partially torn patellar tendon, all of which came as no surprise to the veteran. But it didn't make the transition to life after basketball any easier.
"I wasn't happy at all. It's almost like that part in the movie where it finally clicks." Davis said. "[Iman] Shumpert had just tore his ACL and I was like 'look, man, no matter what happens after the season, me and you, we're going to work out, I'm going to get right. I'm going to get you right.' It's like I got my motivation back for wanting to do it. Then literally the next game (two days later) I'm carried off on a stretcher."
Davis swapped out his sneakers for a potential role as the most interesting former basketball player in the world. While rehabbing with the Knicks, he served as a correspondent for "Knickstape", an MSG Network series. It allowed him to stay involved with basketball and around the team. From there, he served as a guest analyst with NBA TV, created a Funny or Die series with fellow aspiring filmmaker Steve Nash and even took a few classes taught by Spike Lee.
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Baron's schedule kept him occupied but far from satisfied with how his career came to an abrupt end. As his road to recovery continued, the occasional pick-up game he'd play in would net rave reviews from friends. Despite many encouraging him to return to the NBA, he still wasn't convinced.
Last summer, Davis participated in the Drew League held in his hometown of South Central Los Angeles. There he competed with the likes of Houston Rockets guard James Harden, Los Angeles Lakers forward Nick Young and Toronto Raptors All-Star guard (and fellow South Central L.A. native) DeMar DeRozan. Although Davis lacked confidence in his game, his former NBA peers thought otherwise.
"I remember after one game [Golden State Warriors guard] Klay Thompson came up to me and was like 'damn dog you still got it!' " Davis said. "DeMar DeRozan was like 'man, big bro, you still got it!' But I was like, I do? I wanted to play just to be out there with them because I was thinking I'll probably never be able to get on a NBA court with them."
... I think the ending of the movie is me on the court at the scorer's table checking in and actually getting on the court and allowing me to re-write a different chapter in the later years of my career.
– Former NBA All-Star Baron Davis
Maybe not, but an athlete's career can have as many twists as a Quentin Tarantino film. Davis continued training everyday over a three month span. He went from playing one-on-one full court to two-on-two full court and eventually pickup games with NBA guys before they departed for training camp.
As Baron's confidence grew in his game, the more he began to be happy with his health and content with the thought that he may never play again. That was until the NBA D-League became a possibility.
"When the D-League called I was prepared for nobody to call. I was actually at peace with that," Davis said. "I thought at least I put myself out there and took a chance."
March 2, 2016, Baron signed with the Delaware 87ers, the Philadelphia 76ers' D-League affiliate. In his first professional game in nearly four years, Davis had eight points, four assists, a dunk as well as a no-look alley-oop pass and a 30-foot 3-pointer. While that is far from an award-winning performance, it was a step in the right direction. Davis felt good after his debut, but couldn't help but notice his status now as an elder statesman.
"I didn't realize how young the dudes were," said Davis, 36. Then [Iowa Energy Guard] Traevon Jackson came up to me and was like 'Yo man I watched you growing up!' and we're having a conversation at halftime and then he was like 'yeah my dad is Jim Jackson', and I damn near passed out."
Through three games with the 87ers, Davis has averaged 14.3 points, is shooting 41.7 percent overall and 36.4 percent on 3-pointers -- not too bad considering his four-year hiatus. Despite a minor setback with a calf strain, he feels his body is getting stronger and quicker each day. With continued improvement, he feels his career may at last get its Hollywood ending.
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"I think about Grant Hill and think about all the things he went through," Davis said. "How he was able to come back from being out for two years and actually finishing at a high level and walk off on his own terms. So for me, I actually feel like it's not just one year I got left but at least three years of playing at a great level -- coming off the bench of course."
"Obviously who wouldn't want to win a championship or get back into the playoffs or just get on a roster? But I think the ending of the movie is me on the court at the scorer's table checking in and actually getting on the court and allowing me to re-write a different chapter in the later years of my career."