It’s part of the legend and lore of Davenport high school sports.
This tall, rail-thin Wood Intermediate School eighth-grader had intercepted a pass and was dribbling down the basketball court in a game in 1993 when he saw an opening. He made a beeline for the basket, soared into the air and rammed the ball through the hoop.
“It just kind of happened in the moment,’’ Ricky Davis recalls. “One of my teammates — I think his name was Steve — was open but I just couldn’t pass it. I dunked and everybody went crazy.’’
No one could remember seeing an eighth-grader dunk in a game, at least not in the Quad-Cities. The game was stopped for a moment to let the furor die down. The next morning, Davis’ dunk was part of the morning announcements over the public address system at Wood and the kids went crazy all over again.
“It was a big moment for me,’’ Davis admits.
It was apparent from that point on that this Davis kid was going to be good.
Good enough that he began playing varsity basketball for Davenport North while he still was a student at Wood.
Good enough to be the most valuable player of the Magic Johnson Roundball Classic at the end of his senior year at North.
Good enough that he entered the NBA Draft at the age of 18.
Good enough to be a No. 1 draft choice and to score nearly 10,000 points in 12 NBA seasons.
And good enough to be one of this year’s inductees into the Quad-City Sports Hall of Fame.
Despite a few less-than-glorious moments along the way, any short list of the best basketball players ever from the Quad-Cities absolutely must include Ricky Davis.
J.D. Rios, who was Davis’ coach at North and spent 39 years coaching in the Davenport school system, strained to recall anyone who even compared to him.
“Considering what he could do running up and down the floor and jumping, I can’t think of anyone,’’ Rios says. “By the time he was a freshman, he probably was the best player I have seen.’’
At 6-foot-7, with a 42-inch vertical and a smooth jump shot, Davis scored 1,619 points in high school, which is believed to be the highest total ever for a player in the Iowa metro Quad-Cities. He went on to score 9,912 more points in the NBA.
“Ricky was always a lot of fun to play with,’’ says Dean Oliver, who committed to the University of Iowa with Davis and played one season alongside him with the Hawkeyes. “You could just throw a pass up there and he would go get it. You didn’t even need to throw a good pass. He’d get it wherever it was.’’
Davis was born in Las Vegas, lived in Chicago for awhile as a kid and moved to the Quad-Cities with his family in the seventh grade. Rios began hearing about him not long after that and ventured over to Wood to see what all the buzz was about.
“He would go up above everyone else to get a rebound and pass it off, then he’d sprint down the middle of the floor and they’d give it to him and he’d score,’’ Rios says. “He just did that over and over. There was nobody at that time that could stay with him.’’
Rios wrote a letter to get special permission to allow Davis to begin playing varsity basketball as a freshman even though ninth-graders in Davenport at that time still attended junior high school.
Davis ended up leading the MAC in rebounding that season and helped North to probably the best four-year run in its history, including two trips to the state tournament.
“That freshman year is kind of what sticks out for me,’’ Davis says, looking back on his high school years. “Just attending a whole other school from the rest of the team and not knowing anybody, but still having a lot of success.’’
His statistical numbers increased every year he was in high school, from 12.5 points per game as a freshman to 17.0 to 20.1 to 25.0 as a senior.
And despite a reputation as a malcontent that developed during his NBA years, Rios said he had very little problem with Davis as a high school kid.
“I think I had more arguments with my wife than I did with him,’’ Rios says. “When practice would start, I don’t recall any loafing or messing around. He pretty much had in his own mind where he wanted to go.
“When you’re with a kid for four years, there are going to be a few instances where you’re not on the same page … I can say that when he was with me I don’t recall that we had any long lasting arguments or disagreements.’’
One year at Iowa
Before he ever played a game as a sophomore, Davis and Oliver jointly announced they would play for coach Tom Davis at Iowa. But Ricky had tremendous success on the summer AAU circuit and by the end of high school was thinking perhaps he could just skip college.
One of his contemporaries, Tracy McGrady, was going straight into the NBA, which was then an option for super-talented high school players. Davis was not invited to the prestigious McDonald’s All-American game but he went to the Magic Johnson Roundball Classic at the Palace of Auburn Hills and scored 27 points, earning co-MVP honors. McGrady scored 13 points in that game.
“That put in my head that if he can go pro and I was the MVP instead of him, maybe I could do it, too,’’ Davis says. “But I was committed to Iowa and I didn’t want to do that to them.’’
Ultimately, he feels he did the right thing by playing one season with the Hawkeyes. He averaged 15 points per game for a team that went 20-11 and got a chance to polish off some rough edges.
“Because I played center all the way through high school, it helped me to go there and play the 2 and the 3, and develop those skills,’’ Davis says. “Going to Iowa helped me grow up.’’
Oliver says he saw very quickly that Davis was not going to spend a lot of time at the college level.
“He had kind of talked about (turning pro) during the season but when second semester hit, it was pretty clear he was going,’’ says Oliver, now an assistant coach at Illinois State.
“I actually was with him the day he got drafted. I think everybody was kind of shocked he went that high but he wasn’t. He was ready. He knew what he was doing.’’
Entering the NBA
Davis was the 21st player selected in the first round of the 1998 NBA Draft, going to the Charlotte Hornets, but he was mildly shocked that he wasn’t chosen earlier. He says his best workouts were with the Orlando Magic, who had the 12th, 13th and 15th picks.
With Charlotte, it was difficult for a player who had just turned 19 to find immediate playing time. The Hornets had a corps of veteran talent and although he played in all but four games as a rookie, Davis averaged just 12.1 minutes and 4.5 points per game.
He didn’t play any more than that in his second year and during the offseason he was traded to the Miami Heat, beginning a trek in which he never spent as much as three full seasons with any one team.
He sustained a series of knee and ankle injuries and played in only seven games with Miami, but looks back on that as a pivotal season because of the influence of Heat coach Pat Riley.
“Pat Riley probably is the reason I kind of stuck in the game,’’ Davis says. “He taught you everything from off the court to on the court, how to eat the right way, how to train, how to handle yourself.
“He and Doc Rivers were the best coaches I had. They were hard on you but in a good way.’’
Davis finally got a break when Miami traded him to the Cleveland Cavaliers and he began to emerge as an elite offensive talent.
He had probably his best season with the Cavaliers in 2002-03, averaging 20.6 points per game. He also averaged 19.4 points in a 2005-06 season that was split between Boston and Minnesota and scored in double figures seven straight years.
He developed a flair for the spectacular. That eighth-grade dunk at Wood was the first of thousands. Even now, various websites feature highlight videos of the 100 best dunks of Davis’ pro career. He was the first player to do a between-the-legs dunk in an actual game and he twice competed in the dunk contest at the NBA All-Star Game.
But he also developed another reputation, as a misunderstood, immature, selfish showboat who sometimes clashed with coaches, teammates and opponents.
He allegedly chewed out rookie teammate LeBron James in 2003-04, leading to his departure from Cleveland, and he enraged NBA legend Michael Jordan with his trash talking in a 2001-02 game.
His most infamous moment came in March 2003. The Cavaliers had built an insurmountable lead over Utah as Davis, then only 23, closed in on a coveted triple-double — 10 or more points, assists and rebounds.
“This was like the fourth or fifth game where I was really close to doing it,’’ he explains. “They distributed stats all through the game and during a timeout late in the game, our ball guy yells out ‘Hey Rick, you’re only one rebound away.’ So for the next four minutes, I wasn’t thinking about anything except getting the triple double. Thank God we were up by so many points. Finally, I see the coach is about to take me out, but I just have to get that triple double.’’
As he took an inbounds pass from a teammate, Davis intentionally missed a shot at the opponents’ basket, thinking he could get credit for the 10th rebound that he needed.
Utah guard DeShawn Stevenson came over and bumped him, the crowd booed, Jazz coach Jerry Sloan lambasted him after the game and Davis became a target of critics for weeks and months afterward.
“I was surprised but then again I was not surprised (by the reaction),’’ Davis says. “It was a crazy move, just a young, selfish move. It still gets me to just think about it. I was young and foolish.’’
From Cleveland, Davis was traded to Boston, then Minnesota, then back to Miami and ended up with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2008.
He was hobbled by a torn patellar tendon that initially was misdiagnosed and the old hops were gone. He played in just 36 games with the Clippers in 2009-10 and was placed on waivers.
For the next four years, he tried to revive his career overseas and in the NBA’s Developmental League. He played in Turkey, China, France and Puerto Rico. He spent time with the Maine Red Claws and the Erie BayHawks, but never got back to the big time.
Gene Cross, who was Davis’ coach with Erie in 2014, remembers him as a player who was not as athletically gifted as he had been in his younger days but who had grown in some other ways.
“He was pretty easy to get along with,’’ Cross says. “Ricky at that point was pretty smart and pretty savvy. After spending 13 years or whatever in the league, he knew the lay of the land. He knew the right things to say and how to get along with people.’’
Cross says he wouldn’t have been shocked if some NBA team had latched onto him at that point.
“But teams who bring in a veteran like that are looking for someone who will help solidify their team and be good in the locker room,’’ Cross says. “I think his past worked against him there, which is unfortunate.’’
Davis is content now with the way things worked out. He lives on a 17-acre ranch in Pearland, Texas, just outside Houston, with a large, extended family. His parents, Tyree and Linda, live there along with brothers Alonge and E.B. Ricky and his wife Siobhan, who he met during his years in Minnesota, have four sons and a daughter, ages 12, 11, 10, 3 and 18 months.
He spends some of his time overseeing the Ricky Davis Foundation, which began during his years in Minnesota and which has lent support to various charitable causes.
But he still has an urge to stay involved with the game that has dominated his life. He’d like to coach someday, possibly in the NBA, and he feels he still has a few dunks in his legs. He hopes to participate in the Champions League, a newly-formed circuit for recently-retired NBA players that will begin play in July.
“I’ll see what I want to do after that,’’ he says. “I just want to be involved in the game in some way.’’
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