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Ricky's world

He's one of the Celtic's highest-profile players. But he remains largely a mystery. Is he selfish? Immature? Perhaps he's simply misunderstood.

Ricky Davis wants a do-over.

With his Cleveland Cavaliers near the end of a 17-win season and enjoying a rare blowout victory over visiting Utah on March 16, 2003, Davis did the unthinkable for basketball purists. He deliberately missed a shot at his own basket to pad his rebounding statistics in an attempt to record his first career triple-double.

The Jazz players showed their disgust when guard DeShawn Stevenson shoved Davis. A wave of national criticism followed, citing Davis as a prime example of the selfish, cocky players ruining the NBA.

Davis recalls sitting on the bench, being reminded of recent games in which he came up a rebound or an assist short of a triple-double. Then he got an idea, entered the game, and earned the kind of national reputation no one wants.

Now, he talks about the incident with the kind of knowing smile reserved for recounting youthful transgressions.

‘‘I was just in my own world, trying to do my own little thing,’’ said Davis. ‘‘I was just so stuck on street ball, getting a rebound off your own basket. I had a flashback, I think. It was foolish. Young mentality. Selfish play that you’ve just got to get rid of. Some people have it, but you’ve just got to get rid of it.

‘‘At the end of the game, people started talking crazy. They thought I was showing off because [the Jazz] were losing by 30, but I wasn't. I had no vision of the other team over there. I was in my own world. That's where I get caught up sometimes, in my own world.". . .
The world of 24-year-old Tyree Ricardo Davis IV remains a mystery to most, perhaps even to himself. As a result, he falls into the ranks of the NBA's misunderstood players, tagged with a reputation that will take time, maturity, and victories to erase.

Opinions about Davis and his game are polarized. Celtics coach Doc Rivers offers Davis yet another fresh start, believing the athletic guard can play a big role for Boston this year. Pat Riley, who coached Davis in Miami, then traded him to Cleveland, called the move a "huge mistake." Paul Silas, Jim O'Brien, and John Carroll, the last three men to coach Davis in the NBA, declined comment. They want nothing more to do with "Ricky's World."

Davis can be a disarmingly likable guy when he talks about his newborn son or a fund-raising dinner in Charlotte for an injured high school basketball star, where he donated $10,000. Raised in Davenport, Iowa, by college-educated parents who helped establish the Quad City Minority Chamber of Commerce, he comes fom a family that has emphasized community service. He boasts of his ultra-competitive nature, whether in card games, PlayStation, or basketball. But when asked about his biggest loss, he talks about the death of former Charlotte teammate Bobby Phills in a January 2000 auto accident. In tribute, he sports a tattoo on his left shoulder, a grave with the inscription "RIP BP" flooded by sunshine.

On the court, Davis does not always exhibit the same thoughtfulness. With the Celtics last season, Davis's theatrical breakaway dunks against the Timberwolves and Lakers only reinforced his cocky reputation in the eyes of many. With his team on the verge of being swept out of the playoffs by Indiana in the first round, he complained about his lack of touches, something seen by many as selfish. The last coaching staff did not trust Davis to play within the system. And when taken out of games, he could often be seen sulking at the end of the bench.

"I have a cocky air about myself on the court," said Davis. "When I'm not playing, I try to be as humble as possible and give back to the kids, have fun and be myself. But when I get on the court, I do feel that I'm better than anybody that I'm playing against. I think everybody in the NBA has that, or else you wouldn't be able to make it to the NBA. It's just some people show it a little more than others."

Asked why he is misunderstood, he said, "I don't know. Maybe just being around the losing stuff in Cleveland. Some of it's my fault with my reactions or what I say or some stuff that comes out because of emotion. People get confused with different stuff. You grow up, you mature, and things start coming out different. Hopefully, you get with a winning team and you don't have to see none of that stuff."

Diamond engagements
Despite a body designed to play basketball -- a lithe, sinewy, 6-foot-7-inch build packaged with explosiveness -- Davis dreamed of baseball stardom as a kid growing up in Las Vegas, then Chicago, and finally Davenport. He grudgingly followed his older brother, Alonge, to pickup basketball games to help even out the sides. Davis couldn't dribble, couldn't shoot, and really didn't care. As soon as the games finished, he rushed to the nearest baseball diamond.

But Davis always sensed he might have some basketball talent, perhaps because his father earned NAIA All-America honors at Palmer Junior College in Davenport, played at Montana, then had a brief pro career in Germany. With his basketball background, six years in the Army, and jobs with the Department of Defense and Internal Revenue Service, his father learned the benefits of discipline and structure. He employed both in teaching Davis the game. Davis's parents were his first AAU coaches. His father continued to instruct him as an assistant coach at Davenport North High School. It was tough love all the way.

"In his first official AAU game, Ricky stole the ball and missed a layup and he fell down and grabbed his ankle like he hurt his ankle," said his father. "I walked out on the court. The ref was blowing his whistle. I grabbed Ricky and I told him, `If you miss a shot, get the ball and put it in. In this game, there's two things: There's hurt and there's pain. There's constant hurt. If you use that as an excuse, you don't need to play this game. And pain, well, you'll know when you break something. Until you feel pain, you better get back up and get that ball and put it in the basket.' "

The first time Davis dunked in a game, it earned a mention during morning announcements at Wood Intermediate School in Davenport. The skinny, 6-foot eighth-grader had recorded the first dunk in school history while playing for the freshman team.

"All I really remember is I got a steal at a little past halfcourt and dribbled it up," said Davis. "My man was wide open, but I just kept going, and took off and dunked it and everyone went crazy. Ever since I started playing basketball, I always wanted to dunk."

As a ninth-grader, he would join the Davenport North varsity and earn a starting job by the end of the season. In 10th grade, he committed to the University of Iowa. He chose the Big Ten school because of its proximity to home and the likelihood of starting as a freshman. He averaged 15 points and 4.8 rebounds in 26.6 minutes his first year with the Hawkeyes, then entered the NBA.

In Davis's six years since leaving Iowa, the kind of gravity-defying moves college coach Tom Davis remembers as "trapeze-artist dunks" have become, for better and worse, his trademark. He makes no apologies for the 360-degree breakaway dunk he executed in a victory over the Timberwolves last March, nor for the between-the-legs windmill maneuver he missed against the Lakers. He saved face, sort of, by collecting that rebound and converting a less-complicated dunk.

"That's my game," said Davis. "I'm going to [dunk like that] all the time. Like Dominique Wilkins, he just wouldn't do a regular dunk on a fast break. Michael Jordan. It's what I get paid to do. I get paid to entertain on the fast break. And I get paid to win games. That's just my style of play. For other people, they might have to lay the ball up. But I love dunking.

"I have to be in the right situation to do the between-the-legs. The 360s and the reverse dunks, you'll see those all the time. I've been practicing it for a long time and I've been doing it and I can do it so easy."

While young fans and the Celtics owners love such stunts, director of basketball operations Danny Ainge might suggest the next appropriate moment for Davis's theatrics would be the All-Star dunk contest. "I don't think he dealt with those situations as best he could have," said Ainge. "I talked to him about those situations and hopefully he'll learn from them and move on. I refuse to label him on the basis of situations like that. But if he goes between his legs again for a dunk in a game, then I would have some concerns."

Cavalier attitude?
The Cavaliers had plenty of concerns by the time they traded Davis to the Celtics.

Davis cannot explain exactly what happened in Cleveland. He knows only half the story. He says it was all a big misunderstanding about an alleged incident involving himself and franchise player LeBron James. Silas accused Davis of "cussing out" James, and the situation deteriorated from there.

"All I knew was I just started getting sour looks," said Davis. "They started taking me out of the game. I just noticed Coach had an attitude toward me. They thought I was a bad influence on [James], that I was cussing him out and putting bad stuff in his ear. But I wasn't saying that. They thought I was teaming up with Michael Stewart with the kid, going against the team, getting the team to go against the coach.

"You know what I think? LeBron scored that 25 points against Sacramento in the first game and it was like, `We don't need Ricky no more.' Coach [later] went up to me and apologized for not asking LeBron [about the alleged cussing incident]. It was pretty much over with, but it really wasn't over with. They burned their bridges. So, that's where it came out Ricky's terrible."

This much was clear: Silas did not want to coach Davis. The Cavaliers were desperate to trade him. On Dec. 15, 2003, Cleveland sent Davis, Stewart, Chris Mihm, and a second-round pick to Boston for Eric Williams, Tony Battie, and Kedrick Brown. The fact that none of the players acquired by the Cavaliers remain with the team underscores how much they wanted Davis out of town. And with comments deriding the city and the team, Davis let it be known he does not miss Cleveland.

Whether Davis swore at James was never really the issue. Before the trade, the Cavaliers had leadership problems and defensive shortcomings that Davis could not solve. And with James showing his offensive potential right away, Davis became expendable. Where Davis saw "a 1-2 punch," the Cavaliers saw someone who would take shots away from James. They also worried about Davis's influence. Cleveland wanted a more mature, less highlight-oriented role model.

"There's always what they call `haters,' " said his father. "There's always going to be people who don't like your game. I just tell him, `Don't pay attention to that.' "

Winning the only thing
Limited playing time at the beginning of his career in Charlotte, followed by a broken right foot in Miami, made Davis a largely unknown quantity when he arrived in Cleveland. He showed enough promise that the Cavaliers matched an offer the Timberwolves made to the restricted free agent. He signed a six-year, $34 million deal on Aug. 21, 2002. Davis posted his most impressive numbers as a professional during his two-plus years with Cleveland, averaging career highs with 20.6 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.9 rebounds in 2002-03.

But the criticism hurt Davis. He thought his competitiveness was misinterpreted, his flashy style misunderstood.

"I want to win," said Davis. "I look at it from the best. Michael Jordan wasn't nice to his teammates. Shaq [O'Neal] isn't nice to his teammates. Kobe [Bryant] isn't nice to his teammates.

"I want to win. It's as simple as that. If I'm not winning, I'm going to be mad at myself, the coach, the other players. Whoever's on the team, everybody should be mad at each other. I won't be happy all day or all night, or I can't eat right if we're not winning. I don't want to just play to play. I could be out playing in a summer league to play to play. I want to play to win.

"I'll do anything to win. If you've got to get a tech, if you've got to beat up a guy, take a charge, something, anything, dive out of bounds to win a game, that should be the focus: winning. It's not a good feeling losing."

The Celtics certainly appreciate the desire. They only hope Davis sustains his focus, channels his energy, and puts winning as a team first.

With a certain amount of pride and anticipation, Ainge mentions that for the better part of the last month, Davis has been training at the Celtics' practice facility. Ainge sees the workouts as a sign of increasing maturity and professionalism. Davis sees a big opportunity with the hiring of Rivers, more freedom to play his game. He wants to make a good first impression. After averaging 14.1 points last season, he envisions a new "1-2 scoring punch" with himself and Paul Pierce.

"There's all kinds of coaching," said Davis. "Some coaches let you be creative. Like Doc, I think he'll let you do a lot of creative stuff, more than Jim O'Brien would or John Carroll. They're more stick-to-the-book and get-it-done type of people, instead of letting athleticism come out."

No one ever has questioned Davis's athleticism. But at this point in his career, his physical gifts have become both a blessing and a curse. The expectations are higher for someone with his natural abilities. It appears that Davis should contribute more than he does, that he should consistently stifle opponents with his defense, that he should regularly start. All that apparently holds Davis back is his difficulty playing within a team structure.

In the eight games in which Davis led the Celtics in scoring last season, they were 0-8. When Davis shared the honors with Mark Blount and Jiri Welsch, Boston defeated Philadelphia by 24 points in a game that went a long way toward securing a playoff spot.

"He just has to figure out with his talent how to make guys around him better," said Pierce. "It's going to take some sacrificing of your own individual statistics and things you want to do out there, but ultimately, it's about winning. If he can look at it that way, then I think it will all come together and he'll get the credit he deserves."

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