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|A mentor, professor, physical therapist and myriad other pros keep Davis healthy.|
This story appears in the Oct. 31, 2011, issue of ESPN The Magazine.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE to keep an aging veteran like the Cavaliers' Baron Davis in shape through the lockout. Having logged 12 seasons in the NBA, the 32-year-old point guard has career stats (806 games, 27,999 minutes, 13,269 points, 5,890 assists) that are dwarfed only by his injury numbers (stints on inactive list: 30; total games lost to injury: 167 -- 55 to knee injuries, 50 to ankle injuries, 36 to back injuries, 13 to tailbone injuries, four to rib cage injuries, three to Achilles injuries, two to hamstring injuries, two to wrist injuries, one to a calf injury and one to a hip injury.) If there was once a warranty on Davis' body, it has surely expired. So he relies on a host of specialists. "They're the reason I'm still in the league," he says. Or will be once play resumes.
The Mentor: John Lucas
Sessions: Once a week
Lucas doesn't take Davis' crap. He proved as much in 2009, during his first season as a Clippers assistant coach, when he called out the point guard during a preseason practice. "Are you going to be the BD of old or the old-ass BD?" Lucas asked. Teammates within earshot gasped. But Davis dug it. "He doesn't sugarcoat anything," he says. "He's got a great ability to motivate people." Today, Davis calls Lucas Pops and phones him at least once a week. But Lucas doesn't let the buddy-buddy thing go too far. "I want to remain an authority figure," he says. "That way I'll always be in a position to help him."
The Basketball Trainer: Casper Ware Sr.
Old dogs need new tricks, and Ware still has plenty to teach Davis -- even after two decades of training him. Every Tuesday, they convene at the Charles Drew Middle School gym in South Central LA, the same gym where Ware coached Davis' youth league team. ("He was always calling for the ball," says Ware. "He always wanted to make the big play, which was rare for a kid that age. So I felt I could teach him something.") Davis still shows up ready to follow Ware's orders, performing countless shooting and ballhandling drills. Their focus this summer? Countermoves for when the defense shuts down Davis' first look -- an all-too-common scenario on the Cavs.
The Trainer: Dartgnan Stamps
Motivating Davis is tricky. "Our relationship is the kind where I know how to push his buttons," Stamps says. After a pause, he adds, "And he knows how to push mine." But at this point in Davis' career, any pushing has to come gently. Davis' knees have been through the wringer, so Stamps must make sure the guard gets enough cardio while reducing the load on his legs. ("I hate squats," Davis says. "I can't stand them. They just hurt.") Recently the two have been using resistant rubber bands and physio balls to focus on BD's core -- particularly the lumbopelvic region. That area is key to maintaining lateral quickness -- and keeping young guards from blowing by Davis.
The Yoga Instructor: Kent Katich
Sessions: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Joints are an issue for Davis. A big one. From 2002 to 2007, the point guard missed at least 15 games a season, mostly from tendon and ligament injuries. So when lured into his first yoga class four years ago and shown some extreme contortions, Davis was dubious. "I know I'm not going to be able to do any of that," he said. But as his flexibility improved, he began asking Katich to travel with the team. On the road, the two would turn hotel conference rooms into yoga studios. After long flights, they'd pull out the mat and stretch on the tarmac in front of groggy teammates at 2 a.m. Not coincidentally, in the 2007-08 season Davis played all 82 games.
The Professor: Mary F. Corey
Sessions: Mondays and Wednesdays (summer term)
Davis' body isn't the only thing he wants to keep sharp during the lockout. Having left UCLA in 1999 after just two years, the economics major went back to school this summer and fall. When he walked into UCLA's Dode Hall, he noticed two things: a lot of young faces and a lot of laptops. "I was the only one in there with a pen and a pad," Davis says. "Talk about feeling old." But Mr. Old School soon gained a mentor in Corey, his American popular culture prof. "Baron has enough knowledge of the world," Corey says, "that when you teach him something he plugs it into what he already knows, and that makes him even more curious." Davis earned high marks for a paper on the faces he'd chisel onto his pop culture Mount Rushmore: James Baldwin, Yao Ming, Mae West, Paul Robeson and Tupac. And yes, he managed to write it on a laptop.
The Physical Therapist: Judy Seto
Sessions: As needed
In 1998, when Davis was a freshman at UCLA, he broke free for a dunk during an NCAA Tournament game, landed awkwardly and tore his ACL. He found himself in Seto's office, 19 years old, wondering what it would take to play again. Seto, a noted therapist (her house calls are credited with getting Kobe Bryant's knee back on track), rode Davis hard. She refused to accept his excuses when he'd fall short of recovery goals, even seven months after the injury, when she didn't clear him to play. "He didn't like me," Seto says flatly. "I told him it doesn't hurt me if this isn't your priority. You're only hurting your future." But within nine months, he was dunking again, and Seto was there in the stands to see it. Since then, she's worked on Davis' wrist and back, and now he comes in when he needs a tune-up. "Baron's body is a race car," Seto says. "I'm the mechanic."
Chris Palmer is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine.
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