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Nobody elbows with Geezer. A few-years ago Pittsburgh's Skeeter Swift cut into the middle, smashed into Davis and fractured his own jaw. Denver's Warren Jabali once ran into Davis and bounced to the floor. And in the Utah game Gerald Govan, an ex-Tam, bumped Davis all night and couldn't make a dent. "I have whips all over my body from the Geezer," groaned Govan.
"Where I come from you played football or nothing," says Davis, whose Raleigh, N.C. neighborhood produced NFL defensive linemen Chuck Hinton and John Baker. Davis himself went to North Carolina College on a football and scholastic scholarship. Strength is a dominant trait in his family. Lee's older brother Thurmon was a 300-pound college wrestler, and his 19-month-old daughter Monika, or Bam-Bam, as she is called by some of the neighbors, walks around the house hefting a tricycle under each arm.
Before he developed his unstoppable hook, Davis' chief function was as the Memphis muscle man. Tam fans even formed a Lee Davis Hatchet Club, which disbanded in disgust when he started putting the ball in the hole.
But his teammates always knew Lee Davis could shoot, players like Jimmy Jones and Govan, who was a Memphis holdout earlier this season and then compounded his insolence by getting flip with new owner Charles O. Finley. "I had never met the new boss," says Govan. "Then from nowhere, long distance, I got these calls and a voice on the other end would say ' Charles O. Finley talking.' Finally, I said, "Gerald Govan. What's happening, man?' "
Three calls and, man, what happened was that Gerald Govan was gone. But he was not forgotten. This has been the case with most of the Memphis exiles, and there have been many. This season alone there have been 29 player transactions. Players continually pass through the portals of the Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis' home court, become Tarns, and usually keep on going to become ex-Tams. Like the legions of ex-Tams before them, they spread the word of the supershooter locked to the Memphis bench.
When asked about his being of no account, Davis replies in mock indignation, "Just wait a darn minute, I made the All-Didnip team." (DNP is the abbreviation for Did Not Play that appears in team statistics.)
"Last year Lee and I teamed and beat the starters time after time," recalls Memphis Guard Johnny Neumann. "I mean whipped them. It was embarrassing. I'd feed Lee and he'd pop in the baskets." If Babe McCarthy was embarrassed, he never gave himself away. Nothing changed, no matter how well Davis performed. As far as the coach was concerned, Davis was too short to play center. One year McCarthy said that the players who had the best training stats would start. The Geezer was outstanding. But when the exhibition season began, he was back on the bench. "Stats don't always reflect a man's contribution," said McCarthy.
After his scoring and rebounding spree, Davis received an Oakland A's warmup jacket—as, in fact, did everyone on the team. " Gene Tenace gets a $5,000 raise and I get a green jacket," said Davis. He spoke too soon. A few days later Finley added a $5,000 pay boost.
Abashed, Davis wanted to apologize to Finley in person and thank him for the raise. The opportunity might have presented itself at the Jan. 28 game at Indiana, one of the four Memphis games Finley has attended so far. Davis never got to talk to Finley, but he demonstrated his appreciation by scoring 32 points.
At one point in the season the Tams, who are in last place in the Eastern Division, dropped 10 straight, and in nine of those games they led well into the fourth quarter. After every game, Memphis Coach Bob Bass, an anxious little man with gray bangs, spoke to Finley and reported on the good loss.