In the summer of 2006 Davis, who was then with the Golden State Warriors, addressed the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., about health issues and the obesity crisis affecting minorities. He also attended the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City that September. During the trip he met with the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Davis spoke with him about life in the inner city. "There's just this lack—lack of education, lack of safety, lack of opportunity, lack of health care," he says. "Barack really listened and engaged. He told me, 'If you're serious about restructuring the inner city, use your platform.'?"
When Obama announced his candidacy for president, Davis was quick to volunteer, hosting fund-raisers and cutting checks. (He and Obama aide Reggie Love texted each other congratulations on election night.) "Our country is at a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell would put it," says Davis. "I feel like this [election result] is a new beginning, for the U.S. and even for the world. It feels good to say you were part of something bigger than yourself."
Davis's other significant nonbasketball pursuit is his production company, Verso Entertainment, which he founded with Cash Warren, his friend and Crossroads classmate (who is perhaps best known as Jessica Alba's husband). The company's maiden project, Crips and Bloods: Made in America, is a full-length documentary directed by acclaimed filmmaker Stacy Peralta (Dogtown and Z-Boys), tracing the history of the gang culture in South Central. "I think Baron was particularly taken with it because this was his community," says Peralta. "He was like, 'If I had made a few different choices, that could have been me.'"
For more than a year Davis was in constant contact with Peralta, doing everything from helping to broker interviews with gang members to making suggestions for the sound track. Whenever he was in L.A., he and Peralta would watch footage together. The next day Davis would send Peralta pages of notes and suggestions. "I was really impressed by how deeply Baron was involved," says Peralta, "and how much he wanted something to be said about poor, black men and how they're not born wanting to pick up a gun and kill. At the same time, he listened, he wasn't dictatorial and he didn't overstate himself."
The film made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival last January and last month was named a finalist for an Academy Award nomination in the documentary feature category. (Verso's next project is a docudrama for HBO, ABCD Camp, starring James Gandolfini as sneaker executive Sonny Vaccaro.)
Davis is a principal in an Internet start-up, ibeatyou.com, which pits users against one another in various oddball competitions. (If you haven't seen the Davis--Steve Nash entry for Best Movie Trailer Spoof, go to YouTube and treat yourself.) He recently invested in Conga, a new club across from Staples Center. He's a spokesman for Jenny Craig. Oh, and he's planning a trip to China—"The next frontier, baby," he says—as part of his endorsement deal with Li-Ning, that country's top athletic apparel company. Otherwise, he has an abundance of spare time.
WHEN YOU'VE been involved in a successful presidential campaign, produced an Oscar-worthy documentary and include among your goals for 2009 brokering a truce among Bloods, Crips and Latino gangs, it's easy to see how tossing a ball into a basket against, say, the Milwaukee Bucks could seem somewhat trifling. And while Davis won't cop to it, there is a sense in some corners that his extracurricular activities have exacted a price on his basketball.
And guess which place facilitated Baron's interest in activism and played a role in his development in not just an All Star but one of the most polished role models among elite professional athletes in our sports landscape:
Davis's interest in activism was piqued during his two years at UCLA, where he met Jim Brown and took a class on actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. As a rookie with the Hornets, then based in Charlotte, Davis befriended Marshall Rauch, an entrepreneur and longtime North Carolina state senator. "On a lot of Sundays he'd come over and bombard me with questions about politics and economics," recalls Rauch, now in his mid-80s. "He absorbed everything, and you knew he was going to use it someday."
FWIW as mentioned in the first excerpt above, Baron is under scrutiny these days for the Clippers' less than stellar (which is not all that shocking) start this season. He is hearing lot of murmurs about how he needs to keep his focus on basketball and not forget what gave him his incredible platform. Yet knowing Baron, I am going to assume he will keep doing what makes him tick and what made him so successful in emerging as the heart and soul of the Golden State Warriors.
No matter what Baron makes all of us not (not just Mrs. Nicholson) proud to be a Bruin. It's a treat for all of us that one of our all time greats is getting a chance to star for his home town professional franchise while playing a larger than life figure off the court.
The only thing I'd like to imagine is what if Baron had a chance to be a Ben Ball warrior under the Caretaker of Westwood?