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Where Are They Now: Mel Davis

NEW YORK, March 6, 2005 -- If basketball is like music -- and sometimes this beautiful game feels just like that, doesn't it? -- Mel Davis lives a life that's just about perfectly in tune. The onetime Knicks forward, a master at the devastatingly difficult art of transitioning between life in the NBA and post-NBA life, is now helping others to successfully do the same as Executive Director of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.

"It is very satisfying," Davis says in his pleasant baritone. "I am one of the very few people around who can honestly say they wake up every day and can't wait to go to work."

"Playing for the Knicks was a dream come true," says Davis. "To grow up in New York, attend St. John's University, and be drafted by the team you grew up rooting for all your was a tremendous experience. Also very unique: I think this has only happened with three players in history, Mark Jackson and myself being two of them."

Though Davis was drafted right after the 1972-73 Knicks won the NBA Championship, he had a chance to perform with all the players on that classic unit. "It was an unforgettable experience," he says. "Willis Reed was my roommate. Willis, The Pearl, Jerry Lucas, and Clyde are close friends of mine till this day. Bill Bradley and I had breakfast together just last week. It was a very special group of men, all unique in his own way. I don't think there's ever going to be another team like that."

"They understood the game from the neck up. They were all skilled as individuals, but played the game together as a unit and played for the team."

"Kids today are so skilled," adds Davis. "They play the game above the rim. But that only takes you so far -- when you play the game from the neck up, it makes you last and it makes you win."

"Willis was the consummate pro," says Davis. "Like a big brother, he explained to you all the things to do and not to do. He made you understand that you are very lucky to play in this league -- but if you work long and hard on your skills you will have a prosperous career. And The Pearl was the same way: easygoing, helpful, just a super guy."

"We all got along great," Davis recalls with a smile. "I was a power forward, I was there to rebound. I'd get the board and give the ball to The Pearl or Clyde. I'd never get it back, of course. But when you give the ball to a Pearl or a Clyde, you can't get too upset about that."

Davis followed his four year NBA career with five more seasons of playing in Italy, France, and Switzerland -- "I thought I still had some good basketball left in me," he says. "Those years were fantastic -- it even superseded my NBA experience. It made me into a different person. I learned languages. I learned about another culture. And I was seeing history." Then the owner of a marketing degree from St. John's, a Masters in psychology and counseling from Fordham, and another Masters in career planning from NYU was ready for life after hoops. "I was getting my degree from NYU while playing with the Knicks," he recalls. "I also did several internships, talked a lot to my experienced teammates about their plans after the NBA.. I wanted to be proactive rather than reactive in my life after basketball so I knew I had to be prepared. I wanted to know what I wanted to do as opposed to what I didn't want to do."

After a nine-year career in the marketing division of Pepsico -- "I was running Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Taco Bell Restaurants" -- Davis was recruited by Commissioner David Stern and Satch Sanders to join the league office. "They were starting a new department to help athletes transit from basketball," says Davis. "They made an offer I couldn't refuse." Ten years later Oscar Robertson, Dave Bing, Dave Cowens, and Bob Cousy made Davis another offer -- and the NBRPA was born.

"I orientate players leaving the NBA about their pension," explains Davis. "I also help them go back to school, acquire internships etc. We run the Dave DeBusschere NBRPA Scholarship Fund for the offspring of athletes. I'm also on the board of the Legends Foundation for players who are having difficulties. We have discounts, health insurance, we enjoy special relationships with hospitals if players have orthopedic or cardiovascular concerns. We just do a whole host of things. I have four employees, two interns -- and 900 members."

"It's very satisfying to be able to help people and give back," says Davis. "Let's face it: to have success in this world, you need friends, you need luck, and you've got to work very, very hard. I feel that I am very fortunate. I love my job."