Dear Emmy voters, Baron Davis regrets to inform you that he won’t be able to attend the awards ceremony for his documentary film on L.A. gang life.
By then, he’ll be busy with his other passion.
The Los Angeles Clippers point guard will already be at training camp when the Emmy awards for news and documentaries are handed out in New York City next Monday.
From afar, though, he’ll be rooting for the film “Crips and Bloods: Made in America,” which is up for best documentary. Davis served as executive producer, putting up the money and providing entree into a world that he escaped from — largely because of basketball — but hasn’t forgotten.
“This is very prestigious,” Davis said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We’ve really been able to tackle a subject that’s kind of been picked on, but we’ve been able to tackle it and really shed some light on it from both sides of the spectrum. We want to let people formulate their own opinions about what’s going on in this country and in the impoverished communities.”
The 31-year-old Davis longs to be more than just a star athlete. He believes he can be an agent for social change, which is why he decided to form a production company, Verso Entertainment, and pushed to make the film about two of America’s most notorious gangs.
He hopes the documentary, which was first released in 2008, sheds light on the root causes of gang life, a world of hopelessness and despair that often leads youngsters to believe they have no other options. It is narrated by Academy Award winner Forrest Whitaker and includes interviews gang members and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown — who works with inner-city youngsters.
“We all need to make a concerted effort to attack the problem, really do something as a country, as a nation, to support and restructure the way things are,” Davis said. “We have to build roads to success, not roads to the penitentiary.”
He knows as well as anyone that it’s possible.
Davis grew up in South Central, the hub of Los Angeles gang life. He very easily could have fallen prey to the temptations of crime and drugs, especially when the death of his grandfather at age 14 left him without a positive male role model.
But through basketball, Davis received a scholarship to a prestigious prep school in Santa Monica, which was his steppingstone to UCLA, where he played well enough in two years to be the third overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. He’s now preparing for his 13th professional season.
Just don’t say that he never looked back. Davis is one of those athletes who believes there’s more to life than hitting jumpers, doling out assists and cashing big paychecks. Those who escape life on the streets have an obligation, in his eyes, to provide an outlet for others to do the same.
“It’s always been something that I thought more and more people should fight for,” Davis said. “We’ve got to start rebuilding our country from the inside out. We’ve got to build young leaders who will eventually be the ones who take over and help guide us to a better future. I just really think, as a nation, we need to start looking inward and really, really sacrificing for the youth and for our future.”
He called for a renewed focus on sports and arts in the inner city. He said they are two of the best conduits for at-risk children to express themselves and learn to work with others, especially if they have mentors showing the way.
“You may not be a professional basketball player,” Davis said. “But there are PR. positions. There’s the general manager. There’s team management. There’s computer graphics. There’s all sorts things associated with sports and with the arts, so many different jobs. You can be something. You don’t have to be a millionaire, but you can definitely have an opportunity to further your life and have a better life.”
He looks at filmmaking as one of the most effective means of pushing for social change. That’s what he hoped to accomplish with “Made in America,” a look at gang life in real words, real actions. He didn’t want to perpetuate the stereotypes, but he didn’t want to shy away from the brutality, either.
“The most surprising thing for me is that gangs have covered so much of our history. We’re taking about five generations of gangs,” Davis said. “When I was growing up, I saw it as a kid and then as a teenager. Now, I’m seeing it as an adult, the same things. It’s disheartening that there’s no road to success, no opportunities for success.”
As a native of Southern California, perhaps it was only natural that Davis would gravitate toward films as a way to spread his message. It also gave him a chance to stand out, since he’s never played on a team that would be considered among the NBA elite.
Davis played his first six years with the Hornets in Charlotte and New Orleans, followed by a four-year stint with the Golden State Warriors. He’s now heading into his third season with the lowly Clippers, perhaps the most woebegone franchise in the league.
“Everybody watches movies. That’s my voice. … I’m not as popular as a Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant,” he said. “I wanted to do something that resonates with people and communities, but also resonated across the entire country to all the inner cities. Film is the best way to explain a point of view or a task at hand.”
And it’s not all that different than running the fast break.
“You need a team in order to be successful,” Davis said. “Everybody needs to play their roles. There needs to be a lot of communication. It’s a lot of work, a lot of hard work, a lot of hours. You’re watching film over and over and over, just like you do in practice.”
Davis is already turning to other projects, including preproduction on a feature film that will be based on the culture of AAU basketball. The script is in the final stages, and he hopes to begin shooting next summer.
After that, he’s looking at making a film about his own life in the NBA — the injuries, the supposed run-ins with coaches, the grind of playing on perennially losing teams.
The Life of Baron.
“I’m probably one of the most misunderstood athletes and people,” Davis said. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs. I guess its the way I’ve been built, the way I’ve been conditioned to handle life, but that’s where the misunderstanding comes from. I want to let people know who I am and what I’m about.”
Even while he carves out a career in film, Davis makes it clear that hoops still come first.
“Basketball has been the foundation for me to do everything in my life,” he said. “I want people to know that if it wasn’t for basketball, I wouldn’t be here with this opportunity to do other things.”
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