Watkins, who was paralyzed and on a ventilator, and returned to Tuscaloosa for
Davidson's season opener three days later. After the Tide's 96--65 win over
Jackson State, they drove back to Atlanta and saw Watkins again the next
morning. Davidson says he won't forget the haunting details of their drive home
that night. The song playing on the stereo ( Beyonc�'s Irreplaceable). Nikki's
scream ("Baby!") as she swerved off the expressway, losing control of
Davidson's blue 1998 Ford Explorer. And, not least, his pleas as he crouched
down next to Nikki on the asphalt and waited for an ambulance: I love you ...
keep breathing ... I love you ... keep breathing.
in the ambulance with Nikki, returned to Grady Memorial. As Nikki underwent
emergency surgery, Davidson waited to have his back examined. "They gave me
some medicine, I think to put me asleep," he says. "When they woke me,
they told me that Nikki had passed." Brandy Nicole Murphy was 21 years
rejoined the Crimson Tide after missing just one game following the car
accident and Nikki's funeral, his teammates were amazed by his courage. "I
don't know if I'd be strong enough even to think about basketball," says
point guard Ronald Steele. "I don't know how he does it." Not that the
process has been an easy one. "He had a few days when you could tell he'd
been crying all day," says coach Mark Gottfried. While Gottfried thinks
Davidson's best games this season are still ahead of him, the coach notes,
"He's played great considering the circumstances," averaging 14.3
points and a team-best 9.0 rebounds a game.
The way Davidson
sees it, basketball is more valuable therapy than just about anything else he's
tried. At the suggestion of his coaches, his mother and the team chaplain,
Kelvin Croom, he met with two grief counselors, neither of whom he has visited
since. "It just made me sad all over again," he says. Some of his
inspiring conversations, he says, have been with Nikki's mother, Edwina Murphy.
"She knew how serious we were," Davidson says.
Davidson was able to withdraw from school before exams and then regain his
eligibility a week later thanks to an NCAA rule that grants an exemption for an
athlete whose ability to attend college is hurt by an incapacitating injury or
illness to himself or a member of his immediate family. "I'm still
struggling," Davidson says, "but I've been able to live through
basketball because both Nikki and Dewayne supported that part of my life."
Davidson honors his girlfriend and his brother during games, forming a
"B" sign with his hands for Brandy and pounding his fist against his
chest, where he has a tattoo of Dewayne's face, before shooting free throws.
(Another tattoo, on his right forearm, depicts Nikki as an angel in
How has Davidson
found the strength to play basketball? How has he stood up to the pain? Perhaps
the answer lies in the scene that took place on Dec. 28, during his brother's
funeral at the Capitol View United Methodist Church in Atlanta. The night
before, he had stunned his mother by telling her he wanted to be baptized in
the church that he and Dewayne attended as children. So after giving his
eulogy, Pastor Otis Pickett asked the congregation if anyone wanted to be
saved. Davidson came forward. "It really was a powerful moment for every
one of us who was there to witness it," says Croom, the brother of
Mississippi State football coach Sylvester Croom.
And so, in a
church that was filled to capacity, a grieving giant kneeled on a pillow, asked
for forgiveness and gave his life to the Lord. Afterward, nobody could tell
whether it was holy water or tears running down Jermareo Davidson's face.