Ex-NBA player speaks to Keene St. College men’s and women’s basketball players

dwight-davisUntil a week ago, it’s a safe bet that Keene State College men’s and women’s basketball players never heard of Dwight Davis.

Unlike Anthony Davis and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, Dwight Davis is old school, a former college and NBA star who played in the ’70s, long before fans were treated to a daily dose of ESPN dunks, and years before insidious studio shows where the frivolous basketball banter of analysts Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley was as colorful as the suits worn by sideline reporter Craig Sager.

Invited to speak at a Keene State winter session course entitled College Success Strategies, Davis, who currently resides in Portsmouth, N.H., gave the athletes plenty of food for thought, not only giving the players an insight into life as a top college and professional athlete, but the trials and tribulations that went along with it, Keene State Athletics website reported.

“I’m 53 years old, and I don’t think any of you were born when I played basketball. If you were, you got some eligibility issues going on,” said Davis, who refers to himself as a “considerational” speaker, as opposed to a motivational speaker.

“I hope to say something that you might consider and maybe give some thought too,” he told the athletes. “Hopefully, after we talk, some in this room will do some critical thinking where they are, where they are planning to go, and how they’re going to get there.”

Davis’ story resembles the ebb and flow of a basketball game. Born in Houston, Davis never went to an integrated school until he got to the University of Houston in 1968. “Up until I was 10 years old, I had to ride in the back of the bus. I couldn’t even go to the Houston public library at the time,” he said.

Davis gave credit to his parents, who were married for 64 years, for helping him grow up in a racially divided city and country. “They were my heroes. I was fortunate -hopefully you have someone in your life that is like them,” said Davis to the Owl athletes. “My father refused to let his children become angry and racist and hate people back.”

When it came to basketball, Davis wasn’t an instant star on the court. He might have been the third overall pick in the 1972 NBA draft, but was usually the last player standing when his grade school friends were choosing up sides for pick-up games. “I was a skinny guy with a big head who would be the last person chosen – they would pick girls before they choose me to play,” Davis said. “That’s how bad it was.”

Highly motivated and possessing an uncanny desire to succeed, Davis would have the last laugh, going on to be named the best high school athlete in the state of Texas. With the academic aptitude to match his amazing athleticism, Davis was the complete package and a highly sought after college recruit. He received numerous scholarships before deciding to stay close to home and attend the University of Houston.

Blessed with great athletic skills and an athletic 6’8”, 220-lb. body, Davis elevated his game by concentrating on fundamentals and humbling himself to authority – trusting people who had more experience than he did. “I lived within the rules. I wasn’t going to parties. I had school work and practice demands, and I had a summer job to put money aside,” said Davis.

He told the KSC players, “You made the supreme sacrifice, putting your whole life under a microscope. You know Saturday morning what you have to do. You have a responsibility to yourself, your team, your school, and to your future.”

Davis also became a student of the game. “You’re cheating yourself and your team if you don’t go back and learn the history of the game,” Davis said. “If you don’t know how the game evolved, how can you have the dream? How are you going to get to the next level? Are you going to be an imitator or an innovator?”

Davis got to the next level, fulfilling his dream to become an NBA player when the Cleveland Cavaliers chose him in the first-round of the 1972 draft.

Known for his athleticism and gazelle-like runs up and down the court, Davis played against a who’s who of NBA superstars from Julius Erving and Jerry West to Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. “I have a picture of me dunking on Wilt. You could tell I caught him flat-footed,” said Davis. “I got switched off on him, and when I looked up, I was underneath the basket. You know what he did? I ran out of bounds, so I wouldn’t be in the poster.”

dwight-davis-2Runner-up for Rookie of the Year honors behind Bob McAdoo, Davis, nicknamed “Double-D” and sporting a well coiffured afro, played five successful seasons in the NBA for the Cavaliers (1972–75) and the Golden State Warriors (1975–77) before suffering a career-ending injury in a game against the Boston Celtics.

“They carried me off the floor,” recalled Davis. “Unfortunately, that’s how many professional athletes leave. They don’t get a chance to leave on their own terms like Ray Lewis.”

Davis never succumbed to the temptation of vices before he reached the NBA. “I’m a guy who never smoked a cigarette and had only one drink when I was drafted,” he said.

Always being tested on the court by a sage veteran or aspiring rookie, Davis was also tested off the court. Initially having the strong will and conviction to say no, he began making some bad decisions. His recreational use of drugs and alcohol slowly spiraled into a serious addiction. “The people whose opinion I most honored and people I cared for most became secondary,” said Davis. “I blame nobody but myself.”

His injury escalated the problem. “They told me no one had come back from a quadriceps tendon tear in basketball or most sports, but like most athletes, I thought I was going to prove them wrong,” said Davis. “What I didn’t account for was my drinking and drugs during my rehabilitation period. Without the framework and discipline of my professional sport, I used what I wanted to use.”

The spotlight of the NBA gave way to cloudy days and foggy nights of depression. “Success” which had become synonymous with the name Dwight Davis had been replaced with “survival.”

“I crossed the line. I was now a user – I was now an addict. After a year, I found out I couldn’t play any longer. I went to the dark side and kept to myself. I was alone, and the drugs in me overtook my life,” said Davis. “I was a different person outside, because I became a different person inside. I was not living according to what I knew was right and what was true to me.”

Speaking with Tony Harris on his radio program Old School Dad back in November 2007, Davis said, “I did not allow myself to grieve properly for the game I loved so much, the game that was a blessing to my family and me. I put on a good ‘game face’ and tried to handle my career-ending injury on my own, but I was falling deeply into depression, an unhealthy lifestyle … a free fall.”

“I got to a point where I said to myself, ‘I need to try another way and get my life restored,’” Davis told the Owl athletes. “I found my inner basketball purpose again – the guy who can run from line-to-line full speed – stop on a dime and turnaround. I found that person. Unfortunately, not everybody gets that opportunity.”

Summoning up the same willpower he used to become an NBA star along with the support of family and friends, Davis was finally able to pull himself away from the lure of drugs and alcohol and start down the slow road of recovery. “I hurt a lot of people. It’s only through the grace of God that I’m here,” he said.

Clean and sober for over 11 years, Davis, who was appointed by then-New Hampshire Governor John Lynch to the N.H. Workforce Youth Council in 2007, has spent his time delivering a message that he hopes resonates with today’s kids.

Not one to dwell in the past, a now optimistic Davis, who works in real estate and is also a board member of the member of the Greater Seacoast United Way, prefers to talk about the future.

“You got to be doggish and ask questions. You got to be able to jump out there and take risks,” he said.

“When I was down and on the bench, whose life could I have affected? You are the CEO of the most important business in the world – yourself,” he said. “If you make wise choices, good things are going to happen in your life, and you will be a success.”

Davis averaged career-high 12.5 ppg for Cleveland during the 73-74 season. During his NBA career, he appeared in 340 games, averaging 8.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg in 23.6 minutes of action.


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