Baron Davis is still calling the shots
Baron Davis never imagined that the list of credits on his IMDb.com profile would one day be as prolific as his list of statistics at NBA.com. But it’s clear today that the two-time All-Star point guard is as versatile off the court as he was on it.
The third pick in the 1999 NBA draft, Davis was playing for the Golden State Warriors in 2005 when he felt confident enough to create Verso Entertainment with partner and high school friend Cash Warren.
Ten years later, and three years after his last NBA game, Davis wrote and directed his breakthrough documentary, “The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce,” about the rise of the pro-am basketball league, which he knew well from his L.A. inner-city upbringing.
Recently, he wrapped up filming on his directorial feature debut, “Domino: Battle of the Bones,” starring David Arquette. Davis, who also served as writer, executive producer and actor on the film, expects it to be out of post-production by the fall.
So when he sees what current NBA players Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Chris Paul are up to with their Hollywood connections, Davis can afford one of his hearty laughs in the realization that he was something of an influencer in this field.
“I definitely feel like a pioneer in this space,” the 40-year-old said from the Santa Monica studios of Baron Davis Enterprises, which includes his film unit known as No Label Productions. “When I set forth to do this, there were no athletes trying it. Here I was, a movie critic [on NBA.com], doing documentaries, trying to make statements and it was almost like it went on deaf ears.
“From my position, you had to go pick up a camera to prove you could do something in the traditional world. No one thought or believed an athlete could do it, right? For me, it was a struggle knocking on doors. A lot of people were saying, ‘Wait until you retire, then it’ll be easier.’ It was hard when I was playing because people didn’t want to accept that, and now it’s even harder when you retire, because people do want the name value and cachet. It’s harder to keep myself relevant.”
In the social media and content-is-king world in which players live today, Davis understands the pull of the entertainment industry for the next generation of superstar athletes.
“I think for the younger content-creation generation of the LeBrons and KDs, it’s more natural because the camera has always been on them. LeBron and all those guys understand the rhythm to Hollywood. Now it’s just a matter of creating new stories and being able to keep pushing the culture,” he said. “It’s not about the volume, but the consistency of authenticity.”
Davis’ entertainment connections were planted when he earned a scholarship to attend the affluent and private Crossroads School in Santa Monica, befriending many kids of industry folks, including future actress Jessica Alba and her husband-to-be, Warren.
After two years at UCLA, where he majored in history and soaked up sociology classwork, Davis became a 20-year-old draft pick of the Charlotte Hornets. He said his education continued at a local Charlotte Blockbuster video store, “grabbing every movie that came out and binge watching” to study the craft. He did some cameo acting roles, then saw the production side as equally appealing.
“For me, the opportunity always lies in making sure you’re making the right contacts,” Davis said. “I’ve spent a good portion of my time learning this business. It’s more than just about making movies, but mining stories and creating things compelling to me.”
After four seasons with Golden State, he played three more in Los Angeles with the Clippers, where Davis recruited teammates such as Elton Brand and Shaun Livingston to invest in his media passion play.
At this stage, Davis doesn’t feel as if he’s in competition with this core of athletes in the entertainment industry, but rather a collaborator.
“I may be writing a story for me, but I can take myself out of the equation and think, ‘This may be great for Zion Williamson.’ Or players like Kemba Walker or Jaren Jackson, who have incredible personalities,” he said.
For the record, Davis’ IMDb.com bio lists 22 producer credits, many that came during his 15 NBA seasons. By his count, he has produced some 50 original stories and opportunities for TV shows, movies and animation projects.
Maybe he made this Hollywood thing look too easy.
“That could be the problem,” he said with another laugh. “You just keep learning. That’s what I bring from a basketball standpoint. Your imagination is always what will get you there.”
Tom Hoffarth is a writer in Southern California.