Walter Davis enjoys fast-paced retirement in Denver
“It’s the second-largest humidor in Denver,” he says, surveying the 500-square-foot room. “We keep it at 70 to 75 percent humidity.”
He then points out other amenities – leather sofas, free WiFi, private storage drawers – as he strides toward a glass case near the back of the lounge. Instead of cigars, the case houses a North Carolina jersey, assorted photos and a commemorative ball from an NBA game in 1983.
Long before he became small-business partner in 2004, Walter Davis was one heck of a basketball player.
Entering his 20th year of retirement, Davis is enjoying life at his own pace as he divides his time between operating his cigar lounge, giving private basketball lessons, spending time with his two daughters and representing the Denver Nuggets as a community ambassador.
“I love it here in Denver,” he said. “I think I've got two homes - one here in Colorado and one in North Carolina.”
Davis, known as “Sweet D” and “The Greyhound,” came to Denver as a free agent in 1988 following 11 seasons and six All-Star appearances with the Phoenix Suns. He averaged 15.6 points in four seasons with the Nuggets, including the first two under coach Doug Moe, a fellow North Carolina alumnus.
“One of the main reasons I came here was because of Doug,” Davis said. “We made the playoffs the first two years I was here. The only thing I wasn’t happy about were the two years that we lost so many games. When they let Doug go, we weren’t a very good team.”
After scoring nearly 20,000 points (19,521) in 15 NBA seasons, Davis retired in 1992 but stayed on with the Nuggets as a television analyst. He also did broadcast work for University of Denver basketball games for several years before getting a phone call from good friend and fellow North Carolina alum Michael Jordan in 2000. Jordan was working as president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards.
“He said, ‘I’ve got a position I’d like you to look at,’ ” Davis recalled. “ ‘Come see me.’ ”
Davis caught a red-eye to D.C., spent a few hours with Jordan and returned to Denver less than 24 hours later as Washington’s new West Coast scout. He had no prior scouting experience, but he trusted his instincts when evaluating young players.
“My basic philosophy was, if you’re out on the playground, who would you want on your team,” he said. “I look at whether they can run and if they have good hands and a good attitude.”
When his contract with the Wizards ended in 2004, Davis received a call from another UNC alumnus. His former roommate Randy Wiel was looking for an assistant coach to join his staff in Holland. In the course of his search, Hall of Fame Tar Heels coach Dean Smith recommended Davis.
Coaching in the NBA never appealed much to Davis, but he was intrigued by the prospect of traveling overseas and helping his friend. Nijmegan, a city about an hour southeast of Amsterdam, finished second in the top Dutch league in its first season under Wiel.
“It was a good experience,” Davis said. “I didn’t think I even wanted to be a coach because I saw all the players who were giving the coaches such a hard time. I tried it and enjoyed it.”
As much as Davis enjoyed his season abroad, a stronger force pulled him back to Denver in 2005. As the youngest of 13 children, family has always been a priority. His oldest daughter Hillary was a senior on the University of Denver swim team and he wanted to see her compete as much as possible.
The return to Denver also allowed Davis to reconnect with his Nuggets family as he joined the team as a community ambassador. Along with fellow former Nuggets Mark Randall and Ervin Johnson, Davis makes dozens of appearances annually at schools, hospitals, shelters and charitable events.
“Nuggets fans from the 80s and 90s absolutely love the Greyhound,” said Deb Dowling, vice president of community relations and fan development for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. “The passion that he brought to the court continues through his work in the community. He is an integral part of our ambassador program, and his shooting skills are always in demand at basketball clinics.”
Davis, who averaged 18.9 points in 15 NBA seasons, is happy to show off the shooting form that helped him earn the nickname “The Man With the Velvet Touch.” In addition to shooting tips, he also gives students advice on how to succeed in school and life.
“All these kids today think they’re going to be professional athletes and they don’t have to study,” Davis said. “Even if they do make it (to the pros), I tell them the average career is only three or four years. Either you get hurt or somebody’s better than you and takes your job. If you have your education, you can always fall back on that.”
In addition to his work with the Nuggets and at his cigar lounge, Davis also conducts private basketball lessons for kids ages 7 to 18 at the Colorado Athletic Club.
“I had six older brothers and their friends always pulling me aside and showing me how to do something,” he said. “I always had good coaches. They say you can’t keep anything unless you pass it on. I love helping kids learn how to get better.”
Davis, approaching his 57th birthday on Sept. 9, also loves to get outdoors for a round of golf (he carries an 11-handicap) or a quiet day on the lake . Though he looks as though he could still step on the court and score 20 points, he insists that is not the case.
“It’s amazing how bad I am now,” he said with a laugh. “That’s why I like to play golf and fish. I can do those two things. I can still shoot. I can still demonstrate, but I can’t run up and down the court like I used to.”
Indeed, the Greyhound has lost a few steps over the past 20 years, but Sweet D hasn’t changed. He loves being around basketball and promoting the Nuggets in the community.
And who knows? Sometime in the near future, perhaps he’ll walk into his humidor in search of the perfect victory cigar to light in tribute to the Nuggets. It would be a fitting way to celebrate an NBA championship.
"I have the passion to see the Nuggets win it all," Davis said. "I wish them all the best. That would be great for the organization."