Any lawyer or agent representing a star athlete will tell you there is an unwritten code they hope their big clients will follow: Dont be political. Dont take unnecessary stands on serious issues. Keep your image clean, and you could be looking at an eight-figure shoe contract, a national sports-drink campaign and your own videogame. It worked for Michael Jordan. It worked for Tiger Woods. And it can work for you.
Mention this to Baron Davis, the new point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, and he smiles. He has his own code.
Thats just one thing about Davis, 29, that surprises most who meet him. Hes an All-Star with the confidence to wear the No. 1 on his jersey and have an agenda that goes far beyond the court. He owns a company, Verso Entertainment, that distributes films, TV shows and Web content. When asked, he will passionately discuss education, politics, crime, media and almost anything else.
After nine seasons in the NBA, Davis has come home to L.A. He was raised by his grandmother in South Central, went to Crossroads in Santa Monica (one of L.A.s most prestigious private schools) and played two years at UCLA, before turning pro in 1999.
He stresses that his top priority is basketball. I want to win an NBA championship for the Clippers, Davis says. I think thats my ultimate goal. On top of that, I want to help bring peace to Los Angeles. I want to be a voice of stopping gang violence...black-on-brown violence. I also want to help build a bridge between the upper class and the lower class. Give kids a chance to go to private schools. Basically, I want to help others live the life Ive been able to live.
Its no coincidence that his words echo those of superstar Magic Johnson. Magic is the ultimate role model for all NBA guys, Davis says. He set the tone as far as what type of person you should be and the impact you should have, and ultimately, I want to have that same impact. He lights the room up, and people want to be around him.
Magic always knew Davis had this in him. I see a lot of myself in Baron, Johnson says. He has a great work ethic on and off the court. Weve spent a lot of time together over the years, and Im really proud of the work he does in the community. Its been nice to see him grow, not only as a true basketball professional but also as a man and a businessperson.
That said, Magic admits having Davis in L.A. will force him to do something he never thought possible. You know how much I love my Lakers, Johnson says. But for the first time, I will [also] root for the Clippers because of Baron.
Magic was the main attraction for the citys marquee team, with a built-in stage to showcase his ideas. If Baron wants to follow in his footsteps, hell have to do it as a Clipper. That isnt a problem for Davis. I grew up a Lakers fan, he says. But now Im a Clipper, and I want to grow this organization and make it successful in this town, make it one people can attach themselves to.
He plans on doing that in some unusual ways. He spent 20 minutes on ESPN Radio last year, ostensibly to talk basketball. But after five minutes of hoops chat, he spent the remaining time arguing that L.A.s educational system needs to be reconfigured to improve minority enrollment at local universities. (He later met with officials at UCLA in an attempt to address the problem.).
He was an avid Barack Obama supporter during the presidential campaign and introduced Obama twice at California fundraisers.
In September, Davis announced a partnership with Jenny Craig, admitting he needed to get healthier. Not only was he the first athlete to team up with the weight-loss company, he was one of the first men ever to go down that road.
When the story came out, he says, Tayshaun Prince [an All-Star with the Detroit Pistons] sent me a text that read, Are you serious? But to me, its inspiring. By becoming more health conscious, maybe I can inspire my friends to do the same. I want to let them know its cool to have that barbecue, but at the same time, be aware of your health and where youre going.
Davis credits his 87-year-old grandmother, Madea Nicholson, with helping him become the man he is today. She still lives in the same South Central house, seven miles from the Staples Center. (She took over after his parents left a young Baron.) He says one of the reasons hes glad he signed with the Clippers is so he can check up on Nicholson.
Know what he calls me? Nicholson asks, laughing. Old lady.
She was disciplined, Davis says, but she allowed me to be who I was. She taught me to stick to my beliefs.
She also kept her boy on the right path. After Davis freshman year at Crossroads, he wanted to transfer back to South Central
and go to school with the kids he grew up with. Nicholson wouldnt allow it and insisted his education came firstbefore his friends and before basketball.
One of the best decisions of my life, Davis says today.
We talked about education a lot, Nicholson recalls. He understands that now.