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Former NBA star Baron Davis's 'The Drew' goes back to where he started playing ball

by John Horn with Natalie Given | The Frame

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A still from Baron Davis's documentary "The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce."

Former NBA star Baron Davis is honoring his roots with his new documentary, "The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce." The film focuses on "The Drew," a venue and league located in South Central Los Angeles, which acts as a safe haven allowing basketball players from all walks of life to come together for the love of the game.

Interview highlights

I first went down at the Drew and played — I think I was 13 years old on that Thursday — and it was grown men playing, and I was just like, "Yo, I want to be here." It was the closest thing I had seen to an NBA game. So to be able to do that and then to be put in the game and to play, I felt like it was going to be my destiny to play basketball. The Drew was like that introduction as a kid. It was a very hostile environment.

What do you mean hostile environment?

You know, it was a Thursday night outside the middle school. There are maybe four or five different gangs that surround the school and the neighborhood. In that period of time, gang violence was at an all-time high. Anytime you're outside — especially at night time, anything can happen.

But what happens inside the Drew, if you are familiar with L.A. gang culture, is that you have a head coach who is a Blood, his assistant coach who is a Crip, and you have players from different gangs on the same team. So the basketball court in some ways is a level playing field.

Yeah, it's a safe haven. The great thing about L.A. is that all these guys went to high school together, and basketball is the thing that kind of claimed their innocence. So in a place like the Drew, you get these guys that are adults and who have had different problems in their lives able to come together on the weekend, relive the innocence of their childhood, and do something that ultimately helps them better themselves as people. 

You are the director and producer of the film, but you are also a participant in it. There is a lot of footage of you playing in it. Why did you want to make the movie? You talk about this "hidden oasis." It's not just about showing people what happened on this basketball court. It's really about what what happened on this basketball court represented in terms of possibility in your life and in other people's lives. 

Absolutely. It was a sense of community. This was the one time when all the pros in L.A. were going down to the neighborhood and shining the light on the neighborhood. That allowed for everybody to have a positive impact and an effect. So for me it came across as, I need to capture this.

It's clear that this environment changed you as a person, but did it change you as a player? There is a style of playing Drew that I would call muscular and physical. This is not Steph Curry shooting three pointers from the perimeter. This is a physical, in your face, very tough game. Did it change you as a player?

Absolutely. I mean even at the age of 13 when I first started , I was playing on the court with grown men and turning the ball over in the clutch. You know, you're going to get cussed out. You think you're going to get beat up after the game. 

It toughens you up.

You talk about being tough, and then when you finally become something and you become somebody, there are always guys who didn't make it or guys that you looked up to, and when you finally get a chance to play against them they just take it to you, you know? There are a lot of guys in L.A. that didn't make it — that even when I made it were always tough for me to play against, and it made me a better player.

You grew up in South Central, but you went to school at Crossroads, which is a school where there are a lot of industry people. Did that at all have any bearing on your wanting to be a filmmaker? Were you around any kids whose dads were studio executives, filmmakers or directors?

Yeah, for sure. Growing up in South Central for me, I kind of lived through books and lived through stories. When I got to a school like Crossroads, I was around people that were actually making these stories happen and responsible for this television. So for me it became a matter of finding a place where I love storytelling. It was just a great school that kind of nurtured everything that you wanted to do, and being so close to it and having these stories — it was just something that always burned in the back of my mind. That is why I always took the opportunities that I did at this school. 

You could see it was possible.

Yeah, for sure. Like, "Oh, wow, your dad did that?" or "Your mom made that?" To sometimes be able to go on set or be with a friend, and they're going to their parents' place and it's in a studio, it's like, wow. It's crazy how if you feel something, touch something, or are in a place, you can actually dream your way there. 

Do you ever go back? What does it mean to you? What does that neighborhood represent? What are its challenges going forward?

It put me back into the state where I was a dreamer, and allowed me to basically become grounded. So anytime, no matter where I live, I go back to my neighborhood, because it grounds me, and there are so many stories that tell the story of people who live in impoverished communities.

These could be positive stories. These could be great stories that give people hope, and those are the first few that I wanted to tell.

Davis's documentary screens June 13 and 15 at the Los Angeles Film Festival. 

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