CHICAGO: Anthony Davis isn’t going to criticize anyone who has pulled out of the Rio Olympics.
All he knows is that he’d be at USA Basketball’s training camp if he could when it opens Monday in Las Vegas.
“For me, it’s No. 1,” Davis said Sunday when asked where winning gold ranks in terms of importance for NBA players. “You don’t really get an opportunity to win a gold medal every year, and I’m fortunate to have two, one for the World Cup and one for the Olympics.
“Winning — just the feeling of them playing your national anthem and them putting a gold medal around your neck — is huge.”
The New Orleans Pelicans forward was expected to play in Rio de Janeiro but had to drop out after a partially torn labrum and knee injury ended his season in March. The Americans also will be without LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook, but Davis said the U.S. roster is so loaded with talent there will be no drop-off regardless of who’s on the floor.
As if there were any doubt, he started ticking off names of some of the players left: Kyrie Irving, who played a big role in the Cleveland Cavaliers finally shedding that oh-for-decades title streak; Splash Brother Klay Thompson; DeMarcus Cousins, a member of the U.S. squad that won gold in the 2014 FIBA World Cup; and Paul George, a starter in this year’s All-Star Game.
“They’re going to do fine,” Davis said. “They know what USA Basketball holds their standards to, and it’s nothing less than winning gold.”
Also on the U.S. roster is Carmelo Anthony, who along with James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade delivered a passionate speech at the ESPY Awards last week challenging their fellow athletes to advocate for change and get involved in their communities. Their plea came after the fatal shootings of two black men by police officers and a retaliatory ambush in Dallas that killed five police officers.
The speech was important, Davis said, but even more so is what comes after.
“There’s a lot of people that look up to us, lot of people that listen to us,” Davis said. “It’s huge for us to get out here and make change. It starts with ourselves, and it starts with our communities. Once we start there, we can look into bigger things.
“But we have to start in places where we have influence, and that’s in our respective teams’ [cities]and our hometowns.”
Those aren’t just empty words for the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. Davis was back in his hometown over the weekend for the Red Bull Reign, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. Yes, Red Bull is one of his sponsors. But being at the tournament, held in a park adjacent to the old Cabrini-Green housing project, gave him a chance to interact with kids who might need inspiration or motivation.
Davis remembers what a big deal it was for him to meet NBA players when he was in high school. If he can reach kids at an even earlier age, all the better.
“[Being a role model] is something you don’t ask for. It’s something thrown on you, and you’ve got to accept it. It comes with the territory,” he said. “I love talking to kids and just giving them the knowledge that I know. Because I know if I was in their shoes, I would want the same thing.
“I was in their shoes.”
Davis wouldn’t talk about his rehab but did say he’s confident the Pelicans can get back to the playoffs next season.
Thought to be a possibility for MVP at the start of the 2015-16 season, Davis was largely forgotten by the time the season ended; his absence from any of the All-NBA teams cost him an extra $24 million. Though his numbers — 24.3 points and 10.3 rebounds — were similar to what they’d been the previous season, New Orleans struggled with injuries and the adjustment to Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo system.
A year after making the playoffs, the Pelicans were back in the lottery.
“We have a solid foundation, a solid core of guys,” Davis said.
That now includes big man and Kentucky teammate Terrence Jones, whose versatility — “He’s very physical. He can put the ball to the floor. Great slasher, can drive to the basket,” Davis said — should provide some cover for Davis.
“[We] played well with each other, complemented each other well at Kentucky,” Davis said. “Hopefully we can do it in New Orleans.”
Davis was ecstatic when the Pelicans drafted Buddy Hield, a pick he lobbied for even though he’d never heard of him until last season.
“When I watched (him), the first thing I said was, ‘We’ve got to get him.’ He’s an exceptional player,” Davis said.