Stable position with team strikes another positive note for Blazer center
Dale Davis walks into an assembly at Beaver Acres Elementary School in Aloha and it might as well be Michael Jordan. Girls shriek. Boys cheer.
Teachers and parents snap photos. Television camera crews catch the moment. The 6-11 Trail Blazer center's appearance is part of Verizon's SMART (Start Making a Reader Today) literacy program, and he is doing anything but going through the motions.
Through nine seasons with the Indiana Pacers, literacy was one of Davis' favorite projects. He has visited dozens of schools, and he enjoys delivering this message: 'Keep reading books. Set your goals high and you can do anything in life you put your mind to.'
Davis stops in to see excited children in two classrooms. Soft-spoken, even shy by nature, he seems right at home with the kids, laughing along with them as he answers questions.
What size is your shoe? 'It's size 18. You guys laughing at my feet?'
How did you learn basketball? 'From my older brother. We'd go into the back yard and go at it.'
How many championships have you won? 'None yet. Hopefully, we'll get one this year.'
Davis has a couple of questions of his own:
Anyone know how tall I am? One boy thinks he does: 'Seven point nine?'
Who read the most books in this class? A dozen hands shoot up.
Davis reads 'Six-Dinner Sid' to the assembly of 300 kids, pausing to ask questions and make sure students stay interested.
Anybody like kidney stew? Me, neither. Y'all don't think Sid is tough? Hey, a cat can be tough! He didn't just have one spoonful of medicine. How many did he have? 'Six!'
After he has thoroughly charmed the entire student body, along with the throng of teachers and parents, Davis discusses over lunch his commitment to aiding the adults of tomorrow.
Six years ago, he created the Dale Davis Foundation, designed to help inner-city or lower-income youth understand the importance of education. He sends kids to summer camps and funds college scholarships for those who meet qualifications through good grades or community involvement.
This year, the foundation will award one scholarship apiece to a student in Portland, Indianapolis, Atlanta and his native Toccoa, Ga., running the total to 19 scholarships since the program began.
'It's fun to be able to help,' Davis says. 'I didn't have a Dale Davis or anybody to tell me or show me how it was when I was that age.'
Davis, who turns 33 on March 25, did have Carolyn Davis. She is the strong-willed, doting single mother who raised Dale and his brother, Kevin, by herself from the time Dale was 1. Dale's father left shortly after he was born. The family lived in rural Toccoa, population 15,000, less than an hour outside of Atlanta. Carolyn Davis worked for 21 years as a training instructor at Shaw Industries, until Dale made her retire after signing his first NBA contract in 1991.
'Didn't quit right away, because I had three weeks' paid vacation coming,' says Carolyn, 54, who is visiting Portland and living with Dale at his downtown apartment for the rest of the season. 'People on my job couldn't believe I retired even at that.'
Dale also persuaded his mother to let him buy her a new home in Toccoa, but it wasn't an easy sell.
'He was after me for five years,' Carolyn says, 'and we finally did it, but I'm not a materialistic person. Never have been. I was raised poor, the youngest of eight kids, but we never knew we were poor. We always had three meals on the table.'
'I don't mind working'
Dale Davis says things were pretty tough back then.
'We didn't have a whole lot,' he says. 'That's why I don't mind working for what I get. It wasn't always easy. Mom always tried to make sure we had food to eat, but there weren't a lot of extras, no name-brand shoes or clothes. I mostly wore hand-me-downs. It made me value things a lot more.'
When Kevin and Dale were teen-agers, Carolyn needed cash, so she took on an extra 12-hour Saturday shift at the mill.
'For three or four years, I was working seven days a week,' she says. 'Sometimes I would be working three jobs at one time. I'll be honest, there were times when I didn't know what day it was. I didn't mind. Working never hurt nobody. It takes a lot of money when kids get big feet.'
Dale says: 'Mom made sacrifices. I have kind of patterned my life after her as far as working hard goes. She is my heart Ñ pretty much the reason I am the person I am today.'
The Davis boys were good kids, raised by their mother as Southern Baptists.
'I was a strong influence,' Carolyn acknowledges. 'I always knew where my kids were. I was that kind of parent.'
Dale played chess at a young age. He studied, and he loved sports. Football first. Dale was cut after trying out for his eighth-grade basketball team, but he grew 6 inches the next summer, 'and the next thing I knew, I had four basketball coaches in my living room,' Carolyn says.
Kevin, who grew to 6-5, was a good player at Georgia State, and he later played in the Continental Basketball Association, the U.S. Basketball League and in Europe. Dale became even better. He started his final two seasons in high school, then signed a letter of intent with Clemson. An honor student, Davis qualified for an academic scholarship but let basketball pay the freight.
Degree of success
Today, Dale is an NBA All-Star and a millionaire, but the No. 1 accomplishment in his mother's eyes was the day he earned his business management degree from Clemson in 1991. In four years (including two summer terms). With a solid 3.1 grade-point average.
'Nobody in my family had ever gone to college,' Carolyn says. 'To see Dale graduate was the proudest moment of my life.'
Dale has never had a relationship with his father. He wants to be there for his daughter, Caida, who lives with her mother, LaCaisa, in Atlanta.
'I know how it was for me,' Dale says. 'I wouldn't want my daughter or any child to be raised in that type of atmosphere, without a father around. I am going to make sure I raise her in the best way possible.'
In January, Dale left the Blazers to fly to Atlanta to be with Caida, 2, who underwent open-heart surgery, the result of what is believed to be a congenital abnormality. It was frightening, but she is fine now. 'She bounced back from it real good,' he says.
Dale and LaCaisa have 'a good relationship,' he says. 'One day, we will get married. I can't say when. We are not going to rush it.'
A self-avowed 'music freak,' Dale formed Double-D Productions six years ago and and renamed it 'W.A.R.' (World Ain't Right) in 1999. He says a studio is under construction in Miami, a movie has been released and several artists will hit the market with albums in the next few months.
'I try to come across in a positive note with my music,' Dale says. 'It's like, the world ain't right; how can we make it better? The first act that is going to drop is a gospel album. Business is time-consuming, but I love it.'
Center of attention
Davis struggled with basketball in his first season after coming to Portland in the trade that sent Jermaine O'Neal to Indianapolis. Playing time was erratic under then-coach Mike Dunleavy, and when he played only five minutes in a game in Los Angeles, he reacted in what would seem to be completely uncharacteristic fashion. He went AWOL from the Blazers, skipping practice and taking off for Las Vegas before rejoining the team in Utah two days later.
'I got away from everything, got things clear in my head,' he says. 'I don't regret it. I had to make my statement and let (Dunleavy) know I was frustrated. Something had to change. I knew I could play, but I couldn't play if not given the opportunity. That's all I was trying to tell him.'
Davis finished the season averaging 7.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 26.7 minutes Ñ all lows since his rookie year Ñ and shot a career-low .497 from the field. Last summer, Davis spoke with Portland President-General Manager Bob Whitsitt, telling him, 'If you guys aren't going to use me, I would prefer to be moved where I can play my last couple of years helping another team win.'
But Arvydas Sabonis retired, opening the starting center spot for Davis. He has responded well under new coach Maurice Cheeks, averaging 9.5 points and a team-high 9.1 rebounds in 31 minutes a game while shooting .538, third in the NBA behind Shaquille O'Neal and Donyell Marshall.
Portland is where Davis wants to be now, and that has enriched the community.
'If somebody approaches him to talk or ask for an autograph, Dale is going to stop,' Carolyn says. 'He understands people look up to him. He is willing to give back and take time for kids. I've seen him stop outside a restaurant and invite kids who looked like they were hungry to join him for a meal.
'Some of the people Dale has played with and against during his career, character-wise É they are not the kind of people you want to be around. I am just a plain, normal person. Dale is, too.'