We Come Not to Bury Anthony Davis, but to Praise Him
So, I don’t know if kids still do this, or if the schools even allow such things to exist—but anyway, do you remember playing games? I’m not talking about playing organized sports in leagues or any of that, just the act of playing a game of basketball, football or Hell, even dodge ball or relay races? (Yes, relay races boys and girls!) Someone would shout out “who’s Captains?” There may be some sort of discussion or coin toss or arm wrestle or whatever and two Captains would emerge. These leaders had one task–filling their roster. Picking their teams.
Now it would make for better story telling if I went down the well-worn path of the lovable loser who was always picked last when teams were divvied up. We all know the story well, countless pages fill novels, hit TV sitcoms and Hollywood movies prattle on about the nerdy kid with one eyebrow and the pocket protector who is always picked last. These few words aren’t about that kid. These words are about the nerdy kid with one eyebrow and the only protector he wears is a chewed-up mouthpiece photographed usually during mid-grimace as he blocks yet one more shot. These few words are about the University of Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, the NBA’s latest overall, number one draft pick.
Before I digress further into the love fest, send-off of Master Davis, back to my point about getting picked for a team. Now I was never a big superstar athlete, but let’s say, I had moments of capability. I was small, fast, tenacious and mouthy. I got picked first a lot for games. Most of the time, this meant little. But depending upon the circumstances, the “who is in the room?” it could be a badge of honor. You couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment, knowing someone valued you enough to say, “I want you are the first player on my team because I think you will help this team win.” In elementary school situations, this isn’t that big of deal really, sure great words have been written about the those picked last and the damaging effects but most people haven’t wasted many words talking about the awesomeness of being picked first. We love underdogs.
So as I watched Anthony Davis, bedecked in an expensive suit with a watch the size of my ankle bone take his place next to NBA Commissioner David Stern, I couldn’t help but think about the kid inside him and how that must feel. Number one in a room full of kids who have probably been picked first in schoolyard games their whole lives…and I had the feeling that somehow, even with a shelf full of new shiny trophies (AP Player of the Year, Naismith Award, John Wooden Award, Oscar Robinson Award, National Championship, etc.) that Anthony Davis was kind of that underdog, the kind we love.
Much has been said about his growth spurt between his sophomore and Senior years of high school. From a 6’3” guard that had only received one inquiry about playing college ball, to a 6’10” floor force who was rated tops by recruiting gurus even though he played for a downtrodden program at a Chicago charter school and had not been ground through the AAU summer basketball machine. But let’s be honest, high school recruiting hype, is just that, players still have to prove it at the next level. I don’t think the most astute Big Blue fan saw what was coming despite what the loudmouths who live college recruiting were screeching about.
I have said this before, I was more intrigued the thought of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marquis Teague arriving on campus than Anthony Davis. Big men just aren’t that intriguing to me as a fan. Scrappy guards and chiseled power forwards are the individuals that make up the majority of Wildcat lore. And when I saw the first headshot of this dorky kid with an eyebrow running ear-to-ear I instantly thought, “if he can be as good as a Walter McCarty, we’ll be fine—and Jesus, someone pluck his fricking eyebrows.” I was an idiot. But I think we all were. I love that about sports; it can make the most educated followers into gargantuan morons. In a scant few months Big Blue Nation #BBN went from whispering wise cracks about a 19 year-old, pituitarily-blessed to lining up to buy t-shirts emblazoned with an eyebrow where your nipples reside. Go effing figure. And maybe even more remarkable was Anthony Davis didn’t become a local hero because he scored 40 points a game, he became a hero because he played defense like those old men we barely remember from old black and white grainy basketball replays. He blocked shots. Layups, mid-range, three-point shots. He blocked shots. Not like a cocky, butt wipe shot blocker who knocked balls into the third row of Rupp, but like a smart, point guard who used the block to set the offense in motion. Believe me, if I could block a shot like that, I would be the cocky, butt wipe shot blocker. But this kid, seemed different. Not carrying an air of entitlement, not a kid who had always been picked number one, but one who had worked to get there, and was still was working to get there.
It’s no secret now, we all have the remnants of spent, ashen couches to prove it, Anthony Davis, along with Kidd- Gilchrist, Teague, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and the rest of the team brought UK one more banner for the ceiling. But more than that, I think Antony Davis and that unibrowTM made history. Not just
“history” in that he and MKG were the first ever players from the same team to go #1 and #2 in the draft or that Davis blocked more shots than any other Freshman ever. I mean the kind of history that is still discussed in the far reaches of Pikeville or Mayfield, in Lexington or Louisville, Somerset or Erlanger. The history of great players that have donned blue and white—spoken by old men, with reverence and laughter and pride…you did that, Anthony Davis and I am glad you did, we needed it again around here.
Old men need things to talk about, we need that fire of memories, and we need to remember where we were picked, first, last in the middle. We need State Street, we need hanging precariously from Lynagh’s sign, we need wearing fake eyebrows, flashing boobs, overturned cars and rednecks drunkenly interviewed on national TV. Thanks. For. The. Memories. Just know if I had to do it all over, I’d pick you first…every time. Now go to NOLA and be a damned superstar you crazy visor-browed wunderkind.