Los Angeles Lakers: Daryl Roper

"The L.A. in my Game," with Baron Davis: Part I

November, 5, 2011
11/05/11
7:18
AM PT
By The Kamenetzky brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share how growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

During his interview for this series, Brandon Jennings referred to Baron Davis as "the Godfather of Los Angeles basketball." While Baron is too modest to declare himself Don Corleone, more than any other player in the NBA, Baron Davis embodies Los Angeles. Not simply because he grew up here or because he spent two seasons at UCLA, although both factors certainly play a role, the connection comes in the way Davis' L.A. story reflects the multicultural, eclectic nature of the city and his everlasting connection to it.

A product of South Central L.A. (Manchester Blvd. and San Pedro), he moved in with his grandparents after living with his parents grew, as he put it, "very rocky and unstable." In seventh grade, he was offered the chance to attend Crossroads, a prestigious and affluent private school in Santa Monica, where his classmates included Kate Hudson and Cash Warren. Davis is now part of the Hollywood jet set, but ties with his original community remained strong, as well as his availability to the L.A. ballers who came behind him. As Jennings noted, "you can text BD right now, he'll pick up the phone."


Arnold Turner/WireImage
Baron Davis has remained a fixture in many walks of the Los Angeles community.



"This next generation of L.A. basketball is so exciting to see," Davis gushed. "It's so exciting to see what's on the horizon for them. Now we're finally starting to get our respect in the NBA."

Land O' Lakers: The first place you ever played was, around age 4, a makeshift court your grandfather set up.

BD: Yeah, my grandfather put up a court in the backyard of his house. It was a Christmas gift. It was one of those courts you buy from the store. A wood court with a Styrofoam wood backboard and an all-wood beam. Matter of fact, it was just a hoop and my grandfather found a wooden pole, dug a hole in the ground and basically put the wood pole in the dirt with some rocks and stuff around it to hold the court up.

I was very surprised to get it. I'd never really asked for anything on Christmas, but he knew how much I loved basketball. We could come in from Sundays and he would watch the Dodger game. As soon as he'd fall asleep, I'd turn to some NBA.

Land O' Lakers: Were there a lot of games in your backyard?

BD: Kind of. There was a school across the street from my house. South Park elementary. So that's where we played most of our basketball. But in the backyard, my cousins, who are all 6 or 7 years older, they would pull the pole up to 8 or 9 feet, so they could dunk. The court was probably 5 or 6 feet tall. Every time they would pull the pole out of the ground, my granny would go and water the pole down so it would shrink back to its normal size.

Land O' Lakers: Did you ever play at the taller height?

BD: Yeah, I would have to. [My cousins] would just come over and do it and there would be nothing I could say. And it gave me a chance to play with them.

Land O' Lakers: And the uneven terrain helped you develop a handle.

BD: Well, it was like a strip of cement and then it was dirt in front of the court and grass on the other side of the yard. So you had to be able to dribble just to get to the rim, because the cement strip was man-made. The yard was man-landscaped. So there was a lot of bumps and bruises. (Laughs)

Land O' Lakers: You mentioned the elementary school across the street. Which parks did you also play at growing up?

BD: None. I played at no parks.

Land O' Lakers: Why is that?

BD: Where I'm from, you don't really travel outside your neighborhood unless you're traveling with a bunch of people. To go play at a Westchester Park or Raleigh Park, you would have to know somebody over there. And plus, you just don't leave your neighborhood, you know what I mean? If you leave your neighborhood, you better know somebody or you better be going somewhere looking for some trouble. When I was young, it was like that. "This is our neighborhood. This is our park. This is our court. And we're gonna stick to this."

But there were a lot of older guys, teenagers and college guys around. So for me, when I was 5 or 6 years old, those are the dudes I would play against.

Land O' Lakers: What was the vibe of these games?

BD: A lot of physical [play]. Because when I played, I played with mostly gangsters. I played with mostly the gang members. Sometimes, some of the high school guys would come by. Chris Ford and Michael Tate, who went to Fremont High School. Dudes like that would come to the elementary to play every now and again. But mainly, just the gang members. I played with all the dudes in the neighborhood. A lot of those were good players, they just dropped out of school and was just gang banging.

Land O' Lakers: How does that shape your game?

BD: Well, one, there was no crying. (Laughs) There was no being soft. I think those guys were extremely tough on me, because I was the littlest of little brothers, you know what I mean? They took care of me. They would send me on store runs. By the time I was 7 or 8 years old, I was one of them.

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