The Host of All-Star Weekend on His Special Connection to the City, Now in His Fifth Year

(NBPA) (NBPA)

Anthony Davis, in an exclusive, extended interview with the NBPA, opened up about his five-year journey through New Orleans from the day he was drafted; community impact through his monthly Flight Academy program; and being a two-time host of All-Star Weekend—he’s in the All-Star Game and Skills Challenge—and his favorite moments behind the scenes. His conversation is presented below in different sections and edited for clarity and length.

 

Cherishing Five Years

It seems like it went by so fast. Everything has been great about New Orleans—basketball, the food, the city, the culture. Being around the people has been an amazing experience. I have some great friends in New Orleans, and I love it here. I’ve been doing a lot in the community. I’m just happy that I have the luxury of being here for five years so far—and there’s more to come.

Getting Drafted by New Orleans

Before I arrived in 2012, I had played in that year’s national championship and the SEC tournament in New Orleans, so I got a chance to experience the city a little bit. But it was basically all new to me when I got drafted. Bourbon Street and Hurricane Katrina were really all I knew.

Everybody was telling me, “You’re going No. 1 to the Hornets” (before the name change to the Pelicans). But I still froze up when I heard my name called. My hands were literally sweating. I was just so nervous; I was entering a different world now.

Anthony Davis with former NBA commissioner David Stern after he was selected No. 1 at the 2014 draft. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Anthony Davis with former NBA commissioner David Stern after being selected No. 1 in the 2012 draft. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Now, I was going to be living on my own. It’s not fun anymore; it’s now business. After I was up all night for my draft party, I had to get on a flight to New Orleans at like eight in the morning. I landed and went right to a teammate’s basketball camp, and there was a lot of media, my press conference. That’s how I knew it started.

Representing the Franchise as a Rookie

I knew it was going to be huge. In the one or two years before I arrived, Chris Paul, David West and Tyson Chandler had left. And everybody was, like, “AD’s our savior. AD’s going to have 50-plus games. We’re going to the playoffs with AD. And AD can have us win championships.” This is stuff that I was hearing around the city.

I’d be walking down the street or driving, and somebody would be, like, “AD, you’re going to get us a ring here?” So that’s when it first just hit me, like, I’ve got a lot on my shoulders right now to take care of—not just for me, but for the city. It was time to get to work. It was time for me to try to carry this team back to what it was when Chris and everybody was there.

(Photo courtesy of the Pelicans)

Davis’ SI cover in Dec. 2014 was his first in the NBA. (Photo courtesy of the Pelicans)

Becoming Immersed in the City and its Culture

In the past five years, I’ve learned so much about New Orleans. They call it “The Big Easy” for a reason; everybody in the city is real calm, cool, collected, and that’s just how I am. Just being in New Orleans, you see a lot of different things that you probably wouldn’t see anywhere else. If you go down Bourbon, there’s a guy who’s literally a small car, and then all of a sudden he just transforms into this real-life human, like he’s one of the Transformers. That’s the uniqueness of New Orleans. I also love checking out the Riverwalk—the steamboat is very fun—and the French Quarter for food.

I’ve even picked up on some of the lingo. They’ll be, like, “What’s up bebay (instead of baby)?” For all the fellas, they say, “What’s up, big brudah (instead of brother)?” Instead of saying oil, they say “url.” They say “pernks” instead of points. I even talk that way to my teammates. Most of the time, I say, like, “What’s up, bebay? What’s hearin’ little daddy?” Or, “You herd me?” You hear it so much and it just kind of becomes part of your vocabulary.

Everything they do in New Orleans, I fell in love with it. I didn’t eat seafood until I got there. Now, I eat a lot of seafood gumbo, crab legs, lobster, shrimp and chargrilled oysters. Everything has to be cooked, nothing raw. They’re still trying to get me on the crawfish, but I’m not too big on the eyes still looking at you. My favorite restaurants are Cafe Du Monde, Bravo, Desi Vega’s Steakhouse, Irene’s Cuisine and Emeril’s. You really can’t go wrong with any restaurant in New Orleans.

Davis on his standout moment as a Pelican when he scored a career-high 59 points last year: "My favorite memory is Just being able to share that experience with my teammates and coaches. They did a great job of getting me the ball and putting me in a position to succeed. It definitely made it more special that we were able to come away with the win." (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Davis on his standout moment as a Pelican when he scored a career-high 59 points last year: “My favorite memory is just being able to share that experience with my teammates and coaches. It definitely made it more special that we were able to come away with the win.” (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Understanding the Impact of Hurricane Katrina

Another big thing about New Orleans is you still realize how much of an effect Hurricane Katrina had on people. You still see people who are still struggling from Katrina. Any time you talk to somebody, they’ll say, “Before Katrina,” and finish the sentence.

You know it was devastating, but you really don’t know until you get there and you drive around, and all these buildings are bordered up with Xs on them. And they’ve got a number for how many people had died in that building. Actually one of my closest friends and this other guy were on a boat driving through the water and helping people after Katrina. They’re writing a book on it.

There’s just so much that you see, but you also see a lot of development. When you go through some of the wards, my friends say, “This is where I was. Now look at it.” It’s amazing how much of a turnaround there is in New Orleans.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 23: Pelicans forward Anthony Davis along with his family host a Thanksgiving dinner for program participants on November 23, 2015 at the New Orleans Mission in New Orleans, Louisiana for the AD Flight Academy. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

Every year, Davis hosts a Thanksgiving dinner at the New Orleans Mission for the homeless, an event that’s part of his monthly Flight Academy community program. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

Empowering the City’s Next Generation

When I arrived in 2012, New Orleans just reminded me so much of Chicago and the tough neighborhood I was in, as far as the violence. Anything you can think of, probably I’ve seen, and I saw some of those same things in New Orleans. And I just realized being there, I had the opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives. So I tried to get in the community as early as I could.

For kids in New Orleans, I host my Flight Academy that includes different things every month: basketball camps, laser tag, bowling events and movie nights. Around 100 kids are invited to each event. I work with different schools, so you have to earn coming to my events. You’ve got to do something outstanding at school, like good grades or perfect attendance for the month. That way, kids are always pushing themselves.

Davis at one of his basketball camps. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

Davis at one of his basketball camps. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

When I see those kids smile and have fun running around, I just sit back and smile, like, This is what it’s all about. And honestly, I don’t want any cameras at any of my events, even though they come and I understand. I just want my events to be genuine. I want these kids to really know that I’m here for them and not there to help myself.

You get caught up in the moment with these kids. Sometimes I’m supposed to be at the camp or laser tag for an hour, and I end up being there for three hours. I just lose track of time. You’re so happy and they’re so happy, and you just realize that they’re going to cherish this forever.

Making a Difference in One Child’s Life

At every event that I’ve done, there’s always one kid that stands out to me. At my last event during the holidays, there was this little girl and she was just so overwhelmed with everything. I come to find out her mom didn’t know what to get her for Christmas, because she didn’t really have any money. When they came to Target, where each kid got a gift card and four tickets to a Pelicans game, it just shocked her mom. Her daughter could now choose what she wants with someone that she looks up to. That’s priceless.

Davis, while at one of his laser tag events, plays skee-ball with the kids. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

Davis plays skee-ball with kids, while hosting one of his laser tag events. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

After the event, her mom actually DM’ed me on Instagram and told me, “I appreciate the time that you spent with my daughter. She’s just been so happy ever since.” And I said, “I definitely support you guys.” And that’s the stuff that I love, that’s the stuff that next year when Christmas comes around, I want to do it bigger. Now, instead of 100 kids, I want 250 kids. It gets me so excited.

Envisioning My Next Youth Event

I’m always thinking about what I want to do next. And honestly, most of it is never planned out. It’s just something that pops up in my head. One time, I was just driving by myself in New Orleans and there were these kids playing basketball. So I parked, and I always keep a basketball in my trunk.

I’m shooting on the other end of the court and the guys just see a tall guy. I’ve got my back turned, so they can’t see me. So when they ran down to my end, they said, in a whisper, “Oh my god, that’s AD.” You can tell they were nervous. So I initiated conversation, “What’s up, guys? We can start playing basketball for a little bit.”

That’s something they will always remember. That’s the stuff that I live for, that’s the stuff that gets me excited, that’s the stuff that makes me sleep well at night.

Davis at one of his Toys "R" Us events. (Photo courtesy of the Pelicans)

Davis at one of his holiday shopping sprees for kids at Toys “R” Us. (Photo courtesy of the Pelicans)

Taking Advantage of All-Star Weekend

All-Star is a time to not only have fun, but I use it as an opportunity to meet people and learn. You’ve got a lot of veteran players that are going to be there, retired players. It’s a time to just talk to them. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “What can I be better at? What do you see out there that I need to do to help the team more?” They’re going to help you 100 percent.

At my first All-Star in 2014 in New Orleans, I got to learn a lot from my fellow All-Stars being in the locker room, being at practices and meetings with all those guys. Everybody knew that I was an up-and-coming player, and I was trying to learn how to lead the team—basically build a winning franchise.

Getting Advice from Kobe Bryant

That weekend in 2014, I was trying to pick Kobe’s brain about different situations. I asked them, “What does it take to win a championship? What did it take to do it night in and night out? How do you handle all the media, good and bad?” I knew there was going to be a day where I was going to have to handle all this stuff. It was tough at the time because I didn’t have a vet on my team. Now, all the stuff that I learned, I tell our rookies, Buddy Hield and Cheick Diallo.

Davis and Kobe Bryant embrace during last year's All-Star Game, the Lakers legend's last before retiring. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Davis and Kobe Bryant embrace during last year’s All-Star Game, the Lakers legend’s last before retiring that season. (Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kobe told me, “Everybody thinks a leader is supposed to be this rah-rah guy—put your arm around the other guy’s shoulder.” But he’s, like, “I’m the type of guy that’s going to tell you that you have something in between your teeth. I’m going to tell you all the hard stuff because I want you to be great.” I had never thought about it like that.

Being Inspired by Tim Duncan

Tim told me the same thing as Kobe when I spoke with him the following year at All-Star. I actually heard a story about him that weekend. The Spurs were in the Finals and they lost one of the games. He walked in the locker room last, got undressed, put his towel on and said, “If ya’ll keep playing like this, I’m going to be the only one here next year.” He walked out right to the showers. And they ended up winning the Finals.

So you see what people do as leaders and it just rubs off on you. Kobe and Tim have been big influences on me. I still talk to Kobe and pick his brain.

Davis and Tim Duncan during the 2015 All-Star Weekend. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Davis and Tim Duncan during the 2015 All-Star Weekend. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

Hosting All-Star Weekend Again and Second-Half Goals

It’s an honor to be a part of All-Star Weekend for the fourth straight year, and to be selected as a starter this season, especially since it’s in New Orleans. I’ll actually be hosting an NBA Cares event in the community. I’m excited for basketball fans around the world to come to New Orleans and get a chance to experience the best that the city has to offer—food, music, culture.

After All-Star, our team goal is definitely trying to make the playoffs, and once you do that, anything can happen. For me, MVP is on the list. We started off poorly this year and dug ourselves our hole, so we’ve got to try to get back in the mix. We’re right there.

There was a lot of pressure coming to New Orleans as a rookie, and there still is a lot of pressure. It’s tough to go to the playoffs, and it’s definitely tough to win a championship. But I think we’re on that right path to do so.

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