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Ex-NBA star brings a lot to second-year NBL Canada team
It wasn’t the biggest or the most important game of the year, but it was up there.
The St. John’s Edge were mired in a mini-slump of back-to-back losses after winning 11 of 12, but more to the point, were coming off their worst loss of the season, a humiliating 104-70 defeat at the hands of Halifax when they faced the Hurricanes in a rematch 48 hours later.
And with a looming five-game road trip facing the Edge — in fact, nine of the team’s 11 games this month are away from Mile One Centre — St. John’s needed a big game.
Enter Big Baby.
Glen Davis, with shoulders broad enough to carry a quad, may as well have said, “Boys, climb aboard,” taking the Edge to a 103-95 win in what might have been — yes, we know it’s Feb. 2 — a must-win game.
Davis dropped 30 points on the Hurricanes, pulled down seven boards and, for good measure, rejected four Halifax shots in the Edge’s 13th win this season.
But hasn’t that been expected since St. John’s signed the 6-9 former NBA champ before Christmas?
For the Edge and their legion of newly christened St. John’s basketball fans, Glen (Big Baby) Davis has been everything and more since arriving in Newfoundland, carrying with him a deep resumé that included eight years in the NBA and a championship ring with the 2008 Boston Celtics.
Kevin McClelland, who played for the St. John’s Maple Leafs back in the early days, won four Stanley Cup rings with the Edmonton Oilers, but there’s a strong argument to suggest Davis might be the best ex-big leaguer to perform in St. John’s.
Not coincidentally, the Edge are 11-3 since the Louisiana product tugged on a No. 0 blue, white and gold jersey, and became an unstoppable force in the paint.
But, see, there’s more than meets the eye with this Davis story so far this season.
The numbers are obvious — 30 points Thursday, 31 in a game last week. He’s been, for the most part, progressively adding to his points total each night out as he’s worked his way into shape to an average of 14 per game, but they don’t paint the whole picture.
It’s one of a former big leaguer, who made a ton of money on basketball’s biggest stage, who once lit up the Philadelphia 76ers up for 33 points, who’s checked his ego at the Edge’s locker room door.
Davis, you see, has been anything but an NBA diva. He’s smiling, having fun with his teammates, interacting with fans and generally making Doug Plumb’s life a whole lot easier.
“More than anything,” said Plumb, the first-year Edge coach from Vancouver, “his energy is fantastic. It’s more valuable than what he’s brought to the stats sheet.
“He’s such a positive dude all the time. When you get that injection of energy from a guy who’s played at the highest level and won an NBA championship, to be around you all the time talking basketball, you can’t measure that.
“That leadership and veteran presence has been phenomenal.”
OK, so let’s ask the obvious question: what brings him to the NBL Canada and Newfoundland?
How is it a college star, who was SEC player of the year at Louisiana State, who went on to play over 600 games in the NBA, three times averaged double figures in scoring, can come to St. John’s?
It’s not complicated, really. Boils down to a love of the game, and at age 33, he wasn’t ready to walk away just yet.
Only a select few athletes get to go out on their own terms, and Glen Davis wasn’t one of them. In 2015, his final NBA season with the Clippers on Los Angeles, he hurt his ankle, which led to foot problems.
Or vice versa. Doesn’t make a difference.
Either way, he ended up having surgery to repair the ankle and a broken bone in his foot. That meant plenty of recovery time, and any offers or feelers he had for training camp invites for the 2015-16 NBA campaign dried up real quick.
“I never had time to come back and get in condition for teams to say, ‘Come on in and we’ll work you out.’ Never happened.
“But I wasn’t prepared to walk away just yet. I’ve been playing the game for so long and to end my (NBA) career the way it did, I never pictured that.
“There’s still some fire left in me to finish my career off the way I envisioned.”
In the years that followed, Davis got in shape and played in the Big 3, a high-profile three-on-three league featuring mostly ex-NBA players, winning a championship and earning playoff MVP honours.
But that was really his first action since winding things down with the Clippers. He had been set to play for a team in Croatia this season, but left that European nation without appearing in a game. Word from the Croatian team’s camp was that Davis’s weight and attitude were involved. For his part, Davis has been quoted as saying that he objected to the way the team was operated and with how the coach treated the players.
Then came a few legal problems.
Last March, he was charged in Maryland with possession of 126 grams of marijuana with intent to distribute, and then there was the assault charge last April stemming from an altercation outside a West Hollywood nightclub.
Those problems are being resolved. Since then, he’s travelled back and forth across the border with no issue.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into here,” he says in a quiet, easy voice you wouldn’t expect from a man his size (think Mike Tyson). “I just wanted to play basketball and this team has been great, welcoming me with open arms, letting me be who I am and be a leader here.
“Basketball is a fun sport. I started playing as young kid and I’ve always had fun. But sometimes in the NBA, where it’s a business, you can sometimes get away from what’s important and that’s having fun.
“Here, it’s not about money. It’s about playing the game, and that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Davis has been a model citizen, an unofficial coach to a team that, for the most part, has players relatively new to the pro game.
Satnam Singh, for one, has worked closely with Davis, who’s somewhat taken the seven-foot post, still fairly new to the game, under his wing.
“We’re always talking basketball,” Singh said. “I’ve learned more from him in four or five weeks than I’ve learned in a while … post movement, screens, defence.
“He’s a really good guy. He’s been great for us.”
He has, in some way — “kinda, sorta,” says Davis — been an unofficial third coach on the Edge bench, and Plumb, together with his assistant, Steve Marcus — has had no problem tapping into that resource.
“It would be arrogant of me to put him in a corner and say, ‘Don’t bother to add value to our team,’” Plumb said.
“To have someone who’s been in the number of NBA games he has, with teammates like KG (Kevin Garnett), (Rajon) Rondo and Paul Pierce, I’d be an idiot not to empower him to help the group.
“Even last night, I got a text at 12:30 and he said, ‘Hey coach, I got some stuff that maybe would help us. Would you be open to hearing about it?’ Absolutely. Of course.”
As for the future, who knows.
It won’t involve the NBA, obviously, but Davis could find his way to a pro league in Europe or wherever. Or he may concentrate on the three-on-three circuit. He could be back in St. John’s, that is if Edge are willing to pay again.
He says, weather aside, he likes it here, soaking up the “love” shown by fans.
“The people here,” he said, “have been awesome.”
As for that love, there could be a lot more where that came from if the Edge can win a championship, something that’s eluded the city in the 20 years of pro hockey.
“Man, wouldn’t that be awesome?”
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort