At UTEP he averaged 9.2 points and 6.1 rebounds almost inadvertently, to hear him tell it: "I had no post moves, and my jumper had no are or spin. I'd throw it up there and hope it hit something so I could get it back and dunk." The Indiana Pacers drafted him in the second round, but they hardly minded when he kited off to Greece for two seasons and Italy for a third.
He broke his left hand at the end of that last season, playing with Philips Milan, whose coach had already decided not to invite him back because of his offensive deficiencies. Still, in the summer of '93 Duffy found a spot for Davis on a team he sponsors, the Bay Pride club in the San Francisco Pro-Am League. Hearing that George Irvine, then Indiana's vice president of basketball operations, was flying out for a game, Duffy ordered Pride guards Payton, Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw to make A.D. look good. Davis finished off enough fast breaks and alley-oops to persuade the Pacers, who had just turned the team over to Larry Brown, to sign him for two years, with a club option for a third. "I was hoping he'd be a good cheerleader," Brown says.
Within three seasons Davis had worked his way into the role of sixth man and landed a seven-year, $35 million deal. Then, on Aug. 1, 1999, the Pacers kept a vow to get younger by sending Davis to Toronto for the rights to high schooler Jonathan Bender. Davis quickly saw the advantage of the trip north. "I'd been a backup to Dale [ Davis] and Rik [Smits]," he says. "I didn't want to look back at my career and wonder what I could have been."
In a nod to the Raptors' purple dinosaur mascot, Antonio and Kendra told their kids that they were moving to "where Barney lives," and last season Davis broke out. He became the second option in the offense, a double-double stalwart—13-7 points and 10.1 boards a game—and Brown's choice as the Eastern Conference's starting center in the All-Star Game after Alonzo Mourning of the Miami Heat and Theo Ratliff, then of the Philadelphia 76ers, were unable to play. In the playoffs, even as a left triceps strain left him essentially one-armed, "he turned [ 76ers center Dikembe] Mutombo into a one-dimensional player," said Charles Oakley, a teammate at the time. "He's going to get even better," says former NBA player Leo Rautins, a Raptors broadcaster, "because he still sees himself as having just come over from Europe, trying to make the club."
Davis did little more than rebound and block shots in Greece and Italy. He couldn't face up in the post. One night in 1993, while with Philips Milan, Davis found himself matched against Robe Di Kappa Turin and former Stanford forward Howard Wright. Turin upset Milan, and Wright went for 21 points and 18 rebounds to Davis's eight and seven. It turned out that Wright had a "personal coach" who had prepped him to exploit Davis's absent left hand and flawed rebounding technique.
That coach, Wayne Alpert, is a self-taught 47-year-old who has worked with such NBA players as Jon Koncak and Donald Royal. In February 1994, back in the U.S., Alpert approached Davis in person with an attention-getting pitch: Remember that game in Turin? When Howard Wright schooled you? I told him how. And I'll tell you how.
Davis decided to give "this little, short, balding white guy" a try. Working with his brother, Keith, a strength and conditioning guru, Wayne folded the missing elements into Davis's game. The Alperts put purpose in his movements, added a left hand, even got him to face up with confidence and to squeeze off a mid-range jump shot. "The first game after my first workout with Wayne, I had six blocked shots,' Davis says. "The next game I had 20-something points. Rik got hurt, and I started and had a big game, and we won. Before I met Wayne, I was only running around, working up a sweat. Now when I have a good game, I feel it's because I made things happen."
Davis and the Alperts have worked together for seven years, speaking on the phone before and after most games, with Davis flying Wayne and sometimes Keith too, in from Newton, Mass., for homestands and some East Coast road games. While Davis was with Indiana, he met with the Alperts on the sly, not wanting to step on management's toes or subject the brothers to ridicule by the NBA's clannish coaches and trainers. Now he's not the least bit afraid to acknowledge the Alperts' role in his success. "I want to show the Raptors I'll do everything I can to live up to the commitment they've made to me," says Davis. "I set goals, and I can't reach them without Wayne.
"I feel I always have something to prove. I'm insecure that way, and I guess my insecurity has been a good thing. It's kept me going."
An insecure guy and an insecure town: The two make a pretty good match. At that meeting of Club 33, one kid asked, "Did you like any girl in the seventh grade?"