By Kevin Henkin
Some of the knocks on Glen Davis entering the draft last summer included his lack of height and wingspan for his position and his extra body weight that made conditioning a legitimate concern. His commitment to defense was also questioned. As a result, he fell further in the draft than expected and landed squarely in the laps of the Boston Celtics. Davis won’t win the Rookie of the Year award and he wasn’t selected to partake in the Rookie Challenge during the All-Star weekend but he just might be the only first year player in the league to help his team win an NBA title.
Coming into the season, it was unclear what role Davis would serve on a team full of savvy veterans, if any at all. He also appeared to be somewhat redundant with Leon Powe as a slightly undersized big man who made up for his lack of size with his energy, body strength and good hands. Early in the season, those two competed for minutes and rumor had it that they had some heated exchanges during practices. However, to the credit of the coach, Doc Rivers discovered success in playing the two as a tandem that crash the boards on both ends and move players around like wet sleds in the offensive paint. It has become a decidedly frisky lineup with the two of them in the game together. As much of a joy as he is to watch on the court, however, Davis is just as compelling off of it. He also has a considerable back-story that is worthy of mention.
Consider, for example, why he chose to wear the number zero in college. “It’s a symbol, of my whole life,” he told The New York Times in a 2006 interview (during LSU’s Final Four appearance). “I started with nothing, with zero. But I really wasn’t any different than I am now. I always try to love it up. This is me, regardless of the situation. You get it all the time.”
I long ago gave up on the notion that professional athletes should also have to be special, likeable people in order to root for them. Sports teams are not unlike any other group. They are populated with their fair share of jerks, brats and prima donnas. That said, it’s always a thrill to come across a guy that is someone who is worthy of looking up to, even beyond his lofty accomplishments on the court or field of play. Davis is one of those guys.
The “nothing” that Davis referred to in The Times interview was his childhood, during which he had a mother that was addicted to drugs and an absent unknown father. As a result of those circumstances, he was forced to grow up in various shelters and foster homes and sometimes had to steal food to eat. Davis was undeniably handed a tough hand of cards, at least until his genes went to work in developing him into a mountain of a man. Regardless, size isn’t enough to make one a star on a basketball court. Just ask former Celtic Thomas Hamilton, another huge specimen who battled weight issues. Instead of caving into those issues, however, Davis rose above them and has maintained a positive and sensitive perspective throughout. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Davis reportedly held IV’s for the victims who sought refuge on his home court at LSU and cried as a result of their suffering.
Davis also could have strongly resented the other twenty-nine teams who took a pass on him in the draft, not unlike another famed second round draft choice in Washington who chose to wear the number zero. Instead, he has maintained that “just happy to be here” response and attitude all season long. It’s not an act. During the preseason, Davis reportedly couldn’t stop looking at himself in the mirror at the Celtics’ practice facility. “It’s just the Celtics jersey,” he said at the time. “I like seeing it and seeing me in it. I did the same thing when we had the press conference. I kept looking at the Celtics jersey.”
There are those who fall into good fortune and those who make it for themselves. Davis’s story this season includes a little bit of both of those fates. After his later-than-expected draft selection by the Celtics, the team acquired Kevin Garnett, drew other key role players of value then busted out of the gate at the beginning of the season and never looked back. Davis kept his part of the pact by working hard, keeping his weight at an acceptable level and absorbing lessons like a sponge from his multiple mentors that include Rivers, big man coach Clifford Ray and the Big Three.
In an interview earlier this week with Hornets.com, describing the influence of his three All-Star teammates, Davis said, “They have helped me learn how to play the game. How to go hard every day. Making sure I go as hard as I can every day is the most important thing I have learned.”
Reflecting on the season thus far, he added, “It’s just unbelievable man, more than I ever could have expected.”