SLAM Classic: Scoop Jackson on Ricky Davis
SLAM 69′s most famous story.
by Ben Osborne
The Steph-KG post I did the other day was fun. This might be more so. Few stories in our history had more of a cult following than Scoop’s totally unique piece on Ricky Davis, titled “The Price of Fame,” that ran in SLAM #69. Moved by yet another email asking where it is, this time by a fellow media member, as well as some recent comments from folks who miss reading Scoop’s work in SLAM (as I do) , we decided it was time to finally run it in its entirety on Slamonline. I’ve run it with the original paragraph breaks, as well as indicated original line breaks (as in, first lines after a break that Scoop/we inserted for effect) with BOLD type. Enjoy.
words Scoop Jackson portrait Ian Londin
You’ve seen him before. You just don’t know it. Different look. Same game. Same image. Same misconceptions. Same birthplace. Same person. The sequel. Think. The points. The style. The demeanor. The hops. The range. The fire. The ice. The life. The talent. You’ve seen this man before. But it wasn’t him.
Isaiah. Not Thomas—check the spelling. Rider. JR. Think not? Look again. With mind, not eyes. Everything fits. Down to the headbands. One hell red, one baby blue. One left, one centered. The game. Their games. Erratic. Unpredictable. Fearless. Ghetto. Beautiful. Often, unstoppable.
Both: Dark skin. Deep eyes. Hard to figure out. Harder to explain. Easy to love. Madison Avenue? Never. The block. Forever. Always. Til’ death or separation. At birth they must have been. Too similar. Maybe reloaded is better than the original. More complete. More focused. More appreciative. Maybe. Part II learned from Part I’s existence. Analogy. Removed. Maybe, Ricky Davis has something to live for. Maybe, JR Rider didn’t.
ATL. ASW. Packed. Thick like Chunky. Crunchy. Crunky. Ts and Ps. Faux.
T and A. Real. He chills. Marquis. Marriott. He sits in the lobby stretched out. 6-7, 195. Uncut. Rasheed Wallace jersey. IFE. AF1s, too. He reps. Fam’s all here. Always are. No sleep. Three days. Eight rooms. Action. No lights. No cameras. Game day. No play. Not upset. “Should I be playing in the All-Star Game this year?” he re-asks the question tossed at him. “No. Not really.” Breakout season. 22, 5 and 5. Per. Hummin’. No Hummer. Human highlights. Humbleness. “Next year.” His words. “I plan on playing in L.A.” Plan. Mission. Voted or chose. “I want to prove that this year is not a fluke.”
Out of nowhere. He came. It seems. Drafted. Lockout year. Faded. From Charlotte to Miami to here. Slohio. Emergence. Overcome pain. Injuries. Plural. Three years. Congruent. “I broke my right foot in the summer of my second year in the League and it’s been slowing me down ever since…” This season. This campaign. First time. Healthy. Hoopin’. Outta control. Gaining fans. Collecting enemies. HDGAF. But still, he feels it.
To prove yourself. And win. Simultaneous. “It ain’t easy.” An admittance. Losses pile. Play shines. Coaches fired. Season gone. Another one. The
I on this team. Has to be that. Wagner. Miles. Z. Him. The one they point the finger at, the one they blame. To prove himself and win at the same time. Ain’t easy! He shakes his head. “I don’t know why they don’t talk about the fact that we have like only 10 wins, instead of just focusing on Ricky Davis.” Burden. Heavy. The price of fame. Unpaid.
Hate. Omnipresent odiousness. Ill will. Apparent between animus and abhorrence. Amoral. A baptism. Sinking in. Through skin. Cruel words. “Undisciplined.” “Unruly.” “Unworthy.” ESPN. Spotlight. Tim Legler: “Not the guy you want to be following.” Sean Elliott: “Loads of talent, but…” “Runs off, goes nuts.” “Lack of discipline.” An NBA assistant coach. Nameless: “He can’t shoot for shit and you can’t tell him anything.” An NBA superstar. Famous: “You wanna find him? Barhop.” Abomination. Aversion. Anarchy. Acceptance? No time soon. He knows.
“They just don’t know what type of person I am. It doesn’t bother me though, not at all. It makes me work harder. I look at it like if I have to change, I’ll change. If the bad rap and the perception of me is hurting my career, then I’ll change.” The politics of the game. Brotha can’t be true to self. Pain ain’t love. “The politics sometimes bothers me, I ain’t gonna lie, sometimes it bothers me a lot. But I gotta learn to deal with it. Or else it will drive me crazy.”
The process. Learning. That’s what he calls it. But he’s not been given time to learn. The machine needs another clone. Immediately. He ain’t it. He don’t fit. He won’t acquit. The machine lacks patience. Lacks understanding. Has fear. Doesn’t consider background. The life before this. Constant movement. Vegas. Germany. Chicago. Iowa. All before 14. Stability? Please. Straight from the block. Survivor of the block. Unchained talent trying to leave the block. But not leave it behind. Not like that. High school? Davenport, Iowa. Less than one percent like him. Stay true or lose yourself like Rabbit. Therefore. Ethnicity. Embraced. Embedded. Emancipated. Exoneration? Unexpected.
Environment. Product of. The opposite. Excuses. Excuses. Wants none. Gets less. Critics say. Look at Amare Stoudemire’s life: Death. Jail. Six schools. Four years. Had nothing. Look at Baron Davis: Crip-Blood wars. He chose. He escaped. Look at Rafer Alston: Concrete raised. No fam. KG. GP. P-Double. All adapted. Adopted. League acceptance. Why can’t he? Ricky D? Be them? Why thug? Why rebel? Braids. Unshaved. Grime. Calling out teammates. Another AI. Mo’ gully. Bob Ryan: “I don’t understand why [these people] can’t change.” Fact: He, Ricky, shouldn’t have to answer. Then again. Whose world is this? To get past, to stay sane, he raises above. Grips family. And tells himself this: “I can play. I can win.” Repeatedly. Daily. Therapy.
“When you come into the League as a young guy, you have to fit into a system that the NBA guys are used to. Most rookies and young players don’t know it. It can make us look crazy, like we’re cocky, crazy or talking back. But in reality, it’s not like that. We’re just playing. We play the way we know.”—Tyree Ricardo Davis
Shot. After shot. After shock. Some miss. Most don’t. Each. Release. Teach. Points. Increase. Solo. On his own time. Also. Game time. This will happen. Away from everyone. No one will see. Offseason. Summer ’03. Workout. Diet. Six packs. Not beer. Chisel. Cut. Weights lifted. Miles run. Not Darius. Lifestyle change. “I’m trying to lead the League in scoring next year.” The promise. Imperfections, perfected. Weaknesses, vanished. Results. Fall ’03. Out of JR’s shadow. Into new uniforms. All for one reason: LeBron.
Trade. Rumors? He hears, he knows. Pays no mind. Stackhouse motto: “As long as checks can get cashed in 52 states, it don’t matter.” Davis, understands this. Five years, three places: Charlotte, Miami, Cleveland. Sound familiar? Stability? Please. Irregular. Can’t control it. Six years left. Contract up. Won’t get comfortable. Knows the game. Show business. Five percent show, 95 percent business. Cut throat. Only wants to play. Preferably Cleveland. One GM’s leftover. Another GM’s entrée.
The 50 Cent of the game. No, the Chino XL. Flashes of brilliance. Nothing to show for it. The outsider. Don Cheadle. Jeffrey Wright. Luis Guzman. Performances, remembered. Player, not. The flushes. Twelve highlights. So far. Steve Nash. Victim. ESPN’s Play of the Year. Midseason. “Yeah, buddy.” The reminiscence. “I didn’t expect it to go down like that. I didn’t expect me to go up that high. Different times. Different take offs. Different heights. I guess.” The contest? No show. No invite. Conspiracy. “They said I couldn’t get in because I had more than three years’ experience. They know. I thought it was pretty weak anyway.” That smile. “Plus, I only like to dunk on people now. I like when people jump.”
Moms. Clad. Burberry plaid. Proud. Pop’s also around. Military. Retired. Sister, Marie. Fine. Off-limits. Brothers. Three. One brother, EB. Younger. 15. Ballin’. Part III. Revolutions. Walks like, moves like, runs like, rolls like, tires like, grabs shorts like, braids hair like. Supposed to attend St. Vincent-St. Mary High. Akron. You know the one. Practiced with Bron in the fall. Technicalities prevented. D1 game. Needs role model. Looks up to. Who but he? The legacy. Like Steph (and Jamel) to Bassy, Kobe to JC (John Cox); but closer.
“Irresponsible?” Often heard. This is what they don’t know. Or care to learn. “I know my brother watches everything I do, doing everything I do now. He’s
following me. This is why I have to show a good image. I don’t want to mess up his chances. I have to lead him the right way. I have to show him right from wrong. I have to do that because I’m the one that’s here now and my life isn’t all about me. He could easily fall into a trap. And I can’t let that happen.”
These words sink. Ricky looks. Finds his brother. Eye contact. He knows the words he just spoke are real. He knows that regardless of what the media, other coaches or other players say about him, he is not about to not be his brother’s hero. Jaron to Kareem. He knows he will not go out like that. This is what he lives for. Word to God.
Locker room. Ethnic. Many hues. Beats bumping. Lovely sight. Mood somber. Another loss. Damn.
It’s late. AM. Plane flight. Return home. No sleep. Every player goes home. Practice in the morning. In a few hours. Ricky stops off. Has to. Store’s open. Obligation. Priorities. His niece. Jax. Just turned 3. Asleep. Don’t matter. Special order cake and ice cream. From Uncle Ricky. When she wakes up. The type of person he really is.
The papers. Next day. Ride Ricky. More hate. Despite 23, 8 and 8. The blame game. All eyes on him. The Cavs can’t win. Neither can he. The cloud gets dark. Hovers. Follows him. He can’t shake it. He doesn’t even try. He holds a benefaction inside. No one knows. That of his best friend. The one who took him in. Rescued. Saved. His mentor.
“When Ricky first came into the League, he really didn’t know anyone,” his sister tells of his professional introduction at age 19. “The one person that really showed him everything, took him under his wing, showed him love, was Bobby Phills. He really misses him.”
How different would Ricky Davis’ life be had there not been that loss? Not the loss of another game, but one of a special individual’s life? If Bobby was still here to co-sign on Ricky’s character and activities? As opposed to the perceptions. To oppose the perceptions. Talk to him on the phone when the heat gets hot. Make him understand why the world looks at him as it does. Like Malik Sealy to Kevin Garnett, it’s not easy when an NBA player befriends another and then is taken away by more than a trade. It becomes difficult to trust others, to lean on grown men. Fear of the worst follows them. Their circles get closed. Nothing new enters. They live for them now. Those that are gone. “This one’s for you, dawg,” gets said a lot. Heard less. Basketball becomes a business, an outlet. Smiles evaporate. Sadness escalates. Numbers get written onto socks. Mementos get hung up in cribs and lockers. Index fingers directed toward the skies. Simple memories turn into life-long lessons. This has become his life, regardless of the outcome. Imagine what Ricky Davis must really be going through right now. Imagine the pride Bobby Phills is feeling.
Story told. Incomplete though. Missing? One lyric. Hip-hop classic. Speaks his life. MC? Namesake. Ricky D. No eye patch, no deportation. Just words: “La-di da-di. We like to party. We don’t cause trouble, we don’t bother nobody.” Replace “we” with “he.” Still don’t get it? He don’t bother nobody!
Anyway. One question remains: Rider? Will his career end up the same? One answer: No. Difference? Never take talent for granted, never let the hood take him under. Burned up cellies and weed busts. Dysfunctional play and organizational disruption. A path he won’t follow. But on the court? The continuance. The sequel. Same image. Same misconceptions. Same story. Different ending. Just watch. And believe.