Baron Davis: Balance And Options

posted June 17, 2009 12:00:00 AM CDT | 0 comments

In perhaps what was Baron Davis biggest nationally televised performance at UCLA, CBS commentator Billy Packer watched the young point guard dunk on an opposing teams center and described him as a fighter. Unlike dozens of Packers other pseudo racist, left-handed compliments, such as calling Allen Iverson a tough little monkey, this description was accurate.

Over a dozen years later, Davis is still fighting. As the starting point guard for the NBAs perennial doormat, the Los Angeles Clippers, he hopes to bring respectability back to the franchise. In his downtime he teamed up with noted filmmaker Stacy Peralta to make a critically acclaimed documentary about the Bloods and Crips, only to watch Hollywood studios back away from distributing it in theaters. Any fighter likes a challenge, but those are tough oddseven for the leader of only one of two teams in NBA playoff history to ever upset a top seeded team as the lowest seeded opponent.

Luckily for basketball and Hip Hop fans, and perhaps more importantly for residents of Southern Californias gang ravaged neighborhoods, Baron is always up for a challenge, no matter the odds. In a frank conversation that covered the relationship between race and entertainment, Davis pulls no punches.

HipHopDX: You recently screened your documentary, Crips And Bloods: Made In America on Capitol Hill. What was that experience like?
Baron Davis:
It gave us an opportunity to attach our movie to the Youth PROMISE Act, a piece of legislature that basically carves out money for gang and juvenile detention prevention. It was cool to present that to Congress.

DX: Thats the first government program to address gang violence at the national level, right?
Baron Davis:
Yes.

DX: Given the governments role in COINTELPRO and the various housing restrictions which helped gangs grow, do you feel the US government is indebted to help prevent gang violence?
Baron Davis:
Absolutely, I definitely think so. For so long I think our inner cities have been neglected and weve never started to reinforce education. Were not spending enough money on education and urban redevelopment, and I think now is the time. We have kids that are very promising, intelligent and smart. I truly believe that if we invest money to help them see a way out that well get enormous results.

DX: This could potentially be the best thing to happen to a lot of these neighborhoods since the 1992 truce. Did you have any particular memories associated with that time period?
Baron Davis:
Yeah, I knew I could stay out and play basketball all day and night. I didnt have to be back home when the street lights came on. Thats all I really remember. I dont really remember too much funding where we came from. We didnt really see a lot of programs, and I think before it reached us it was probably cut. But at least the streets were safe. We didnt have nothin else to do but play in burned down buildings. But the streets was coolthings were safe.

DX: True. How about on the pop culture side of things? I know Kams song Peace Treaty was really big in a lot of neighborhoods at the time.
Baron Davis:
Oh yeah, that was the biggest record. And Were All in the Same Gang was another really big record too. The vibe was crazy, because when I grew up I had a lot of cousins that were from both sides. So you would go to parks and picnics and see the whole community out hangin, having fun and good times. That was like the best to be in the hood because you felt the safest.

DX: The documentary follows your story as well as that of the Bloods and Crips. As someone who went from South Central to Santa Monica, how did you deal with existing in those two totally different worlds?
Baron Davis:
I just thought about surviving. Once you leave out of your neighborhood everyday seeing different opportunities and different ways of life, its almost like youre in survival mode. At that point in my life it was all business. I was forced to almost be more mature than I wanted to be, but I knew I had to be able to survive and function in both worlds in order to make it. It was a hard lesson, but it was a good one.

DX: Not to trivialize it, but if youre hanging between classes with rich classmates, how does that conversation go? You obviously dont break the ice by talking about baseheads or seeing someone get jumped in on the way to school.
Baron Davis:
Youve gotta think, back when youre 13 and 14 nobody is anybody. Theyre all your friends and you dont look at them that way. But the conversations were a lot lighter. As soon as I stepped foot on campus, I didnt have to look over my shoulder or put my guard up. I could ultimately just be comfortable being who I was or who I wanted to be.

DX: Fast forwarding a little bit, after going to UCLA you were drafted by New Orleans, which, by all accounts, is also a rather violent city. As someone coming from South Central, did you draw any parallels?
Baron Davis:
Oh yeah, absolutely. I had a lot of family and stuff that came from the projects when I got there, so I just hung out with them. I really got to see how it was, and it was just as bad if not worse than where I grew up. So immediately I started doing stuff with the help of the Hornets. We did a lot of good stuff in the community, and I built a library in the Calliope [Housing] Projects. Me and [Lil] Wayne were hanging everydayriding around the city and just trying to do good. So I had Wayne with me, and you hear him on the mixtape. That was just out of love. New Orleans was a tough place to wake up everyday and know that you were going to work picking up this check as you drove by project after project seeing people with no opportunity or hope.

DX: The documentary was really careful to separate active members and ex-gang members. We see a lot of people throwing up sets and wearing certain colors in the entertainment world. But everybody knows that entertainers dont gang bang
Baron Davis:
I think its more like paying homage to where you came from. You see people doing what they do, throwing up the signs and whatnot. Its more like a pledge to their hood, like I made it. It gives other people who came from that environment the opportunity to say, Hey if he did it, I could. Look where he comes from.

Those people help you make it, so you kind of want to give them light too. But I dont think its done in a negative way. It may be perceived in a negative way, but its more about paying homage to where they come from. A lot of times youll get criticized for coming from a bad neighborhood that has gangs, but those gang members are ultimately the dudes who protected you, watched out for you and gave you some lessons. Its hard to turn your back on them, because those are your friends. And a real friend would do that for you.

DX: Good point. If I were to get on YouTube right now, we could probably find 10 clips which glorify street gangs. Given that, why do you think it was so difficult to find distribution for this project, when all the critics are giving it rave reviews?
Baron Davis:
I dont know. I just think thatI dont know. I think the movie is important and that it should be out in theaters, and I think it would do well in theaters. This is something that helps everybody. Now gangs are in New York, Houston and Atlantaeverywhere you go theres Bloods and Crips. This story is about people wanting to get out and what really goes on, so it connects with a lot of people. I dont think big studios dont know how to market it or they just dont want people to see that. I guess that could be it. I honestly dont know. They think people dont want to see that, but I know people want to see whats real, especially in these times.

DX: Stacy Peralta said he was somewhat worried about getting access to the different neighborhoods. How did your initial conversations with each other about that go?
Baron Davis:
I basically told him, There are people who want to tell their story. A lot of times theres a stereotype placed on people in the inner city that they either dont have feelings or cant articulate how they feel. So I was quick to tell Stacy that these people would love for cameras to come. This is who they are. They want everyone to see what they go through and what they want. They just want more opportunities.

DX: This documentary indirectly touches on the age-old stereotype that black men are predisposed to violent behavior such as gang banging. As someone who has seen both sides, do you think certain parts of corporate America really believe those stereotypes?
Baron Davis:
UmmI dont really know how to answer that question. Thats a tough question. Repeat that.

DX: Well, earlier you spoke of the various stereotypes placed on those of us from the inner city. Does a fear of those kinds of stereotypes manifest itself when the time comes to cut deals with your fellow businessmen?
Baron Davis:
I dont think they know. When you dont know something, then the only information you receive is kind of what you go off of. So a lot of times, as far as corporate America is concerned, they cant see in. But we can always see out. So people in the inner city and these urban communities know and they shop at all these places. But these corporations dont have any programming or anything to tune them in to the people they should be marketing to. Fear is all about what the perception is.

I look at corporate America in relation to the hood as being in a foreign country. As someone looking at a foreign country youve never been to, all you have to go off of is what you see on TV if youve never been there.

DX: The NBA has been very concerned about its image problem ever since Ron Artest got involved in the brawl in Detroit. Given that, did anyone from the league office or the Clippers step to you with concerns about making this documentary?
Baron Davis:
No, I think the NBA has been 110% behind me. Theyve been very supportive. We did a campaign with NBA players and they basically bought out screenings and their collective cities so people of all walks and backgrounds could go see it.

We wanted them to be able to have open discussions about gangs in their cities and see how we could help these kids who want a way out. So the NBA has been totally behind me. The NBA cares about everybody including our communities, and I thought that was a great gesture to show that they care about the inner city.

DX: In your interview with Independent Lens, you referred to your basketball career as a fight. Would you say that carried over to your actual style of play, which could definitely be described as aggressive?
Baron Davis:
I think it definitely carried over. Coming from where I came from, basketball was the only thing I could do that allowed me to let out my frustration. It was like my therapy as a child. It became something that I loved and that became my passion. Everything that I experienced off the court, I took that with me on the court. I guess thats where my fight was.

DX: Well Andrei Kirilenko can certainly tell everyone what it feels like to be on the wrong end of that fight after you put him on that poster [click to watch].
Baron Davis: [Laughs.] I had to do it.

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