Ricky Davis will be back playing hoop at TD Garden on Friday, part of the Big3 basketball league that makes its first stop in Boston in its two-year tenure. Davis is playing his first season with the Ghost Ballers, a member of the eight-team league that has allowed former NBA players to get back on the court and relive their playing days in the halfcourt format.
Davis played parts of 12 seasons in the NBA and 2½ with the Celtics. He was eventually traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in January 2006 in the deal for Michael Olowokandiand Wally Szczerbiak. Though the mid-2000s were hard times, Davis did average 17 points in each of his two full seasons.
“Man, those are some of my greatest moments,” he said of his time with the Celtics. “Playing with Boston is another level. They’ve got some of the best fans ever with all sports. So I was blessed to be able to be out there in a Celtics jersey. But coming back to Boston, it’s fun.”
Davis played with six teams over his 12 seasons but in just seven playoff games, all with the Celtics.
“Everybody is expendable in the NBA, it’s just the nature of the business,” he said. “I was just making sure I had to do what I had to do on the court. Getting traded was out of my hands at the time.”
His career was filled with highs and lows, but Davis, despite playing with some poor teams, was always able to score and entertain. It’s the same in his tenure with the Big3.
“It’s amazing what Ice Cube has formed and started is epic,” Davis said. “With the caliber of guys and names of Hall of Famers and All-Stars and just giving the guys a second chance to play, it’s awesome. That camaraderie is special. We’re kind of like frat brothers that hasn’t seen each other for a while. It’s just good to be able to see these guys at this age still moving and grooving and it’s a blessing to see it.”
The Big3 doesn’t have the pace of five-on-five basketball, watching it takes getting used to because there are no fast breaks and all halfcourt sets. But the players and coaches are competitive. Ice Cube has been able to attract big names such as Amar’e Stoudemire, Corey Maggette, former Celtics Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine, NCAA scoring king Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Nate Robinson, Carlos Boozer, and Baron Davis.
“With Ice Cube, he’s someone you grow up listening to, grow up watching all of his movies. It was hands down an easy decision for me,” Davis said. “And just being able to play again, be on FOX (television), to be able to have my little kid see me play again, it was just amazing.”
The influx of younger players in the NBA has essentially pushed out the aging veteran besides a bench/leadership role such as Udonis Haslem in Miami or Vince Carter in Atlanta, so many of these players still possess NBA skills, if not the stamina.
“It’s a different philosophy than what we’re used to, five-on-five, getting up and down, beating guys down the court, it’s a totally different game, it brings you back to your roots,” Davis said. “It’s how you started, 21, three-on-three, one-on-one and it’s fun.”
And there are several Big3 players who still hold aspirations of returning to the NBA, including Davis, who was barely 19 when he started his NBA career with the original Charlotte Hornets in 1999.
“You still always pray about it, but with age you just start transitioning to different things,” Davis said. “It’s good that the Big3 came and gives you a chance to transition into something else and get ready for coaching. That’s my next venture, coaching and go out there and teach the next generation.”
The transition from player to ex-player is difficult and maybe the Big3 offers players a chance to play during the summer while also concentrating on life after basketball. The Big3 plays in eight cities over eight weeks and then will have semifinals in Dallas and the finals in Brooklyn on Aug. 24. It’s a chance for players to hoop during the summer, increase their marketability, earn money and then pursue their other interests when the season is over.
Davis said he’s ready to coach and for a player who was tabbed a knucklehead during times in his career, he knows what message to convey to young players.
“These young guys, you say your name and they’re like ‘Who?’ ” Davis said. “Being able to actually show them the workouts and explain it and do it with them is a big plus, being in [basketball] shape.”
Davis is definitely a more humble and reflective person than in his younger days. He fully realizes that these millennial players may not have heard of him as a player and some may have a deaf ear to his career advice. But that doesn’t curtail Davis from wanting to share his experiences, his knowledge with those who are open to learning.
“With the new generation, you definitely want to preach that you don’t want to make a mistake that could haunt you forever. Don’t make that mistake that could always haunt you. Be aware of your surroundings. There’s a lot you could hand out to the young guys.”
When asked if young guys listen to players of the previous generation, Davis said: “They listen if you tell them the right way. With me having my pedigree of playing in the NBA for 13-14 years, you can look it up and can have my testimony be a testament to the young generation. Whether they listen or not, they’ll definitely hear your voice when that time comes.”
Davis isn’t coming to Boston only to play basketball. His Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation will hold a food drive on Aug. 3 in Boston to give away produce, toiletries, and other items to disadvantaged people hours before his game. His foundation has stopped in all of the Big3 cities to offer aid.
“We always wanted to give back,” Davis said. “We encourage the nutrition part and basically gave out 200-300 meals plus the toothpaste, the toothbrush, socks, and shoes. Sometimes people just need a little push. We’re hands on. We’re out there trying to make the community better.
“With the world being so separated, we tend to forget what’s really going on in the world. We’re focused on getting everybody focused back on how to straighten out communities and get people back on their feet.”