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Point of Contention
L. JON WERTHEIM
December 15, 2008
Clippers guard Baron Davis is using the NBA as a platform to work as a social activist, movie producer and entrepreneur. Anybody got a problem with that?
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December 15, 2008

Point Of Contention

Clippers guard Baron Davis is using the NBA as a platform to work as a social activist, movie producer and entrepreneur. Anybody got a problem with that?

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For more than a year Davis was in constant contact with Peralta, doing everything from helping to broker interviews with gang members to making suggestions for the sound track. Whenever he was in L.A., he and Peralta would watch footage together. The next day Davis would send Peralta pages of notes and suggestions. "I was really impressed by how deeply Baron was involved," says Peralta, "and how much he wanted something to be said about poor, black men and how they're not born wanting to pick up a gun and kill. At the same time, he listened, he wasn't dictatorial and he didn't overstate himself."

The film made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival last January and last month was named a finalist for an Academy Award nomination in the documentary feature category. (Verso's next project is a docudrama for HBO, ABCD Camp, starring James Gandolfini as sneaker executive Sonny Vaccaro.)

Davis is a principal in an Internet start-up, ibeatyou.com, which pits users against one another in various oddball competitions. (If you haven't seen the Davis-- Steve Nash entry for Best Movie Trailer Spoof, go to YouTube and treat yourself.) He recently invested in Conga, a new club across from Staples Center. He's a spokesman for Jenny Craig. Oh, and he's planning a trip to China—"The next frontier, baby," he says—as part of his endorsement deal with Li-Ning, that country's top athletic apparel company. Otherwise, he has an abundance of spare time.

WHEN YOU'VE been involved in a successful presidential campaign, produced an Oscar-worthy documentary and include among your goals for 2009 brokering a truce among Bloods, Crips and Latino gangs, it's easy to see how tossing a ball into a basket against, say, the Milwaukee Bucks could seem somewhat trifling. And while Davis won't cop to it, there is a sense in some corners that his extracurricular activities have exacted a price on his basketball.

The last two years in Golden State had been arguably the best of Davis's career. Last season he averaged 21.8 points and 7.6 assists, and the year before, the Warriors stunned the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs. But Davis opted out of his contract last July and signed instead with the Clippers.

Aside from the lure of returning to Southern California—closer to his family, his community and his ventures—Davis had planned to join with All-Star forward Elton Brand and form an inside-outside coupling to compete with that of any team in the Western Conference. But the plan went badly awry when Brand signed with the Philadelphia 76ers. Bottom line: Davis joined a different team from the one that he had imagined. The bottom line is also the spot that the Clippers, 4--16 through Sunday, occupy in the Pacific Division standings.

Predictably, the Clippers' pricey point guard has been saddled with blame for the team's failures. Davis and coach Mike Dunleavy have already feuded about the play-calling, and while Davis's 17.9-point and 8.2-assist averages exceed his career marks, his joie de hoops has seldom been in evidence. Typical Davis snapshot: On one series he'll break down a defender and attack the basket, soaring so high his bulky body almost appears Photoshopped in midair. On a subsequent series he'll throw the ball away, frustration apparent on his face.

Davis is finding out that the line between being perceived as a Renaissance man or a dilettante can be a fine one. Asked about Davis's competitive resolve, Hornets coach Byron Scott says tepidly, "My take on him is that he's a very talented point guard, and I'll leave it at that." Recently, Roper, the Crossroads coach who now works for Davis's foundation, had a heart-to-heart with his former player. "I told him we all get distracted by what's attainable and obtainable, but first and foremost, you're a basketball player. Focus on what made you what you are. I want to see you be an All-Star for the next four or five years and turn the Clippers around. Movies and whatnot can wait."

Davis has heard the concern that he's spread too thin, but he is convinced that, at age 29, his passion for basketball burns as fiercely as ever. "Basketball saved my life, it really did," he says. "I owe everything to this game. I could never be one of those players who signs a big contract and then doesn't want to play. People look at all the things I have going on and say it's a distraction. But, you know, they're hobbies. Basketball is my stage, and the failing just makes you hungrier."

He does agree with a visitor that it makes for an interesting theoretical discussion. Is an athlete's chief obligation to his talent or to his community? And if his performance happens to suffer slightly in service of the latter, is that really such a bad thing?

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