Commentary

Wisening up in Westwood

Cavaliers guard Baron Davis drawn to history classes in return to UCLA during lockout

Originally Published: July 22, 2011
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

DavisJA Adande/ESPNBaron Davis is back on the UCLA campus, with an eye toward completing his degree.

LOS ANGELES -- "What direction is the culture moving in Los Angeles?" the lecturer asks, and from among the various students, including women in open-toed sandals typing away on laptops and a gray-haired man with a wedding ring writing on a yellow legal pad with a Montblanc pen, comes a response from a man with the beard that's familiar to any NBA fan.

"East!" Baron Davis calls out, correctly.

It's something I'd never considered before, but now that the topic is brought up, it's hard not to notice that the city's book festivals, art walks and film festivals all seem to be migrating away from the coast and toward downtown. And isn't that reason enough to return to school, to get you to think about your world from a different perspective?

So it's not hard to figure out what Davis is doing back at UCLA, 12 years after he left for the NBA following his sophomore season. You could calculate the answer, even if your own schooling never went past remedial math courses, just based on the computation of free time plus maturity plus life changes.

That his most important relative passed away, his league is locked out, the team that extracted a first-round draft pick as the compensation for taking on his contract in a midseason trade just used that pick on a guy who plays his position.

"With all I've been through this year, losing my grandmother, I felt like I need to start taking paths to better myself at this point in my life," Davis said. "Get back in a college atmosphere. Even if there is a lockout, I look at what opportunity do I have to get something accomplished that I want to accomplish in my life, you know?"

He'll register for the fall quarter as well if the NBA and the players' union don't have a collective bargaining agreement in place by then.

"As long as the lockout is going on, I'm going to keep myself in school," Davis said. "Keep me from spending money and doing other stuff. This is like a full-time thing for me right now."

As long as the lockout is going on, I'm going to keep myself in school. Keep me from spending money and doing other stuff. This is like a full-time thing for me right now.

-- UCLA student Baron Davis

The irony is that it's easier for him to be a student at age 32 than when he was younger. He tried going back to school once before, about seven years ago. It didn't work. He couldn't focus, couldn't stay in one place and therefore couldn't succeed.

Now he's back to the simplified life he lived in college: basketball and school. He wakes up at 5:30 a.m. for running, then physical therapy, then class, then yoga, then shooting. For UCLA's summer quarter, he is taking a course on the history of slavery in America, a cinema studies course and this one, 20th Century U.S. History, 1920-1928.

Lecturer Mary Corey hits on a number of topics from the whole century, including the advent of 3-D and other gimmicks in 1950s movies, the implementation of Freudian theory in advertising, the gay marriage debate, the Scopes Monkey Trial, ragtime music and the Algonquin Round Table, but the central theme that emerges is the fight to change and reroute America's cultural inertia. This is what Davis likes about this class and why he chose history for his major. There's a lesson from the past to be applied to every situation, and an ongoing struggle that continues to be played out.

Davis
JA Adande/ESPNThat guy in front of you has averaged 16.5 points per game over 12 NBA seasons.

"There's fighting in every industry," Davis said, walking past UCLA's main library and heading toward Bruin Walk, the main campus pedestrian thoroughfare. "It's all about where is the balance of power, who has the balance of power -- an old boy's network, an old boy's system, old boy's media and what's to come. The fear of not being able to know how to monetize what digital and the Web brings, how that's going to affect TV, and how people are walking around with iPads and iPhones.

"Who's buying a 60-inch television screen; when was the last time you bought a home phone or who's using a home phone? That's how I formulate things in these classes. It gives me a better understanding of who I am and how I'm living and what my purpose is in life. That's why I picked history. I can take those stories and people who are really interesting and research them. You can research people and the way they think and the times and what was surrounding them.

"History lets you know exactly where you are today. And if you pay attention to it, it gives you a broad perspective of everyone. You can relate it to pretty much any time."

So it's not too much of a stretch for him to apply the topics of the 1920s -- such as the battle of Prohibition or the Harlem Renaissance -- to the NBA lockout.

"I think it's a lot at stake," Davis said.

"It's not fair to the fans, to the people who work in concession stands, small businesses who need a full season to happen.

"Imagine the people living in Milwaukee, when basketball season comes around, you own a small bar or you own a memorabilia store ... when basketball season comes around, what are you selling? You have nothing to sell. 'What have we done wrong?' What have the players done wrong?

"We cut this deal, and it was supposed to be good for both sides. The players are unified. We all understand that. It's not about the deal we make today; it's about how the deal affects us in the future and when we're not playing. We have to take a strong look at what's fair."

Davis was forced to take a long look at life this year when his grandmother Lela "Madea" Nicholson died in March. She was the woman who was primarily responsible for raising him, and he called her loss "a devastating blow" that was difficult for him to come to grips with initially.

[+] EnlargeBaron Davis and Manny Acta
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesThe studious Baron Davis has the Cleveland spirit along with Indians manager Manny Acta.

"I feel like she's with me all the time now," Davis said. "So I can go ahead and not be afraid of doing what I want to do and being who I want to be, you know what I mean?"

It was the lowest point of what felt like a lost season, which started on a bad note when he was held out of training camp activities when Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro declared he wasn't fit enough. He missed 14 of the first 18 games with injuries, and he was scoring at the lowest rate since his rookie year and was heckled during games by owner Donald Sterling.

In Cleveland he found better support from the franchise, particularly after his grandmother died. He doesn't seem as offended by the Cavaliers' drafting Duke point guard Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall pick as, say, Reggie Bush did when he tweeted, "It's been fun New Orleans" after the Saints took Alabama running back Mark Ingram during the first round of the NFL draft.

"It didn't bother me at all," Davis said. "I understand where I am in my career and the labels and the tags that are on me as far as the injuries or being old or unmotivated. I hear all that. And I understand why they took Kyrie. Why wouldn't you take someone of that caliber and that young and just a smart, crazy [good] player? So that doesn't bother me at all. I have someone that I can mentor so that a lot of the things that I didn't work on that could have improved my game, I get to pass that [lesson] on to some one that has a clean slate."

With time to heal, with perspective, with a return to school, Davis feels as if he has a clean slate as well.

"I want to continue to hit the reset button and just work at being a new person," Davis said. "I'm headed in a new direction. I'm enjoying it.

"I'd like to get back on that court, though."