clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Many have waited years for Anthony Davis to leave New Orleans — I’m just happy he was here

New, comments

A story of my woeful and wonderful journey with the Pelicans’ Brow.

NBA: Playoffs-Portland Trail Blazers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

May 30, 2012

Being a Hornets fan as a high school sophomore in New Jersey was, as you may figure, different. I was oblivious to the existence of League Pass, so I followed the games that were not nationally televised (most of them) on ESPN’s Gamecast. My naivety also resulted in my inability to venture off to the corners of the internet that discussed the team, leaving me to just the game recaps and the occasional feature from a national publication. However, I was at least able to glean one thing from these limited resources: the Hornets were horrible.

As that season trudged along, and my friends who loved the Bulls, Lakers, and Celtics continued to demolish my Greivis Vasquez-led Hornets in NBA 2K12, many a lunch period were spent in my school’s computer lab running simulations on ESPN.com’s Draft Lottery application, which says more about me than I would care to admit. (I have searched and searched for a screenshot that I know I have somewhere of New Orleans securing picks one and two. When I eventually find it, it will be tweeted.) I watched the absolute minimum amount of college basketball, but as far as I could tell, this Anthony Davis from Kentucky was worth those embarrassing defeats on Xbox Live.

The night of May 30, 2012, finally arrived. My family has New York sports-fandom roots that stretch back generations, anchored by the Yankees, Giants, and Rangers. The Knicks were never part of the picture though, and as a result, they were just a non-factor in my childhood. As far as I can tell, the 2012 NBA Draft Lottery was the first time my family gathered around the television for a professional basketball-related event, which means a lot to me even to this day. Why did I care so much about this team that I was hundreds of miles away from? They probably still don’t really know for sure, but they had gifted me the Chris Paul jersey that dressed me on this night and they were willing to watch, and that was good enough for me.

Most of the broadcast is a blur. In fact, my whooping and cheering when Cleveland showed up as the fourth pick comes to mind only because it acted as a reminder that maybe I should make sure everyone else in the room knows how this whole event worked. It was an oversight that probably diminished most of that 30-minute broadcast for them, but at least we were all in on it for the final segment of the night. I also remember Monty Williams being there, looking like a giant compared to the representatives for the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards, which felt like both an advantage and a good omen.

What I do not remember is hearing the Hornets’ name called, because like I assume many in New Orleans did at the moment the Bobcats logo showed up on the screen, I was flying around the first floor of our home like a lunatic. I hugged my family, I pumped my fist and ran a few more laps before settling down to see Monty smile into the camera. New Orleans did not just have the first pick.

They had Anthony Davis.

April 15, 2015

The only light came from the projected display on the whiteboard, which covered half of the classroom wall. The voices of Joel Meyers and David Wesley probably hadn’t been heard by the halls of Rowan University before that night. But I knew this classroom would be empty, and that the view could not be beaten, so I was determined to change that.

In a classroom fit for 40 students at a distance from the screen that was undoubtedly unsafe, I sat alone for this match-up between the Pelicans and Spurs. No matter how much my friends liked basketball, it was still the Pelicans on a Wednesday night before Thursday morning classes. (I hold no grudges for the decisions that were made on this night.) I felt like I needed as much space as possible to watch this game go down.

Davis was blossoming into the “Prince Who Was Promised” three years earlier, and despite a season plagued by injuries, the Pelicans were positioning themselves for their first playoff appearance under their new name. Just two months before, I had run out of a viewing of a movie I did not watch for a second to celebrate the Brow’s buzzer-beating three-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a shot that turned this game against the Spurs into one last chance at the playoffs.

My New Orleans basketball fandom was too young to remember a legitimate playoff push before this. Despite becoming a “fan” when Peja Stojakovic came aboard (a story for a different day), the first season I was genuinely engaged in was taken over by these two. The CP3-led 2010-11 Hornets finished in seventh, but the feeling was just not the same.

The beginning of the Anthony Davis era coincided with my formative high school years, which resulted predictably in my being known among my basketball-loving peers as the New Orleans fan. For the first time in my life, I was consistently talking basketball with kids who had loved the sport longer than I had and to friends who had burgeoning NBA interests of their own. These memories are now inextricable from the core of Davis, Holiday, Gordon, Evans and Anderson that may not have ultimately achieved many wins, but it had fueled a fandom that I expect will last a lifetime.

The first quarter was dynamite. A 34-19 lead was more than I could have ever hoped for, and somehow, miraculously, the momentum did not stop there. On multiple occasions in the second quarter, the lead ballooned to at least 20 points. All they needed to do was hold on.

And they needed to, for the Oklahoma City Thunder’s must-win game against the Minnesota Timberwolves had already turned into a no-contest. At halftime, Russell Westbrook and company led by 22 in what would wind up being a 138-113 win.

In reality, that game meant something, but at this point, it meant nothing. If they Pelicans win, they are in. And the Spurs were not, and have never been remotely close to being, the Timberwolves.

A minute into the fourth quarter, the lead was down to seven. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan were trying to win, which had been enough to take down some of the best teams in NBA history over the last couple of decades.

But Eric Gordon’s shots kept falling, as did Anthony Davis’. And Tyreke Evans, who would finish with 19 points, 11 assists and zero turnovers was playing nearly flawless offensive basketball.

The perpetually pesky Patty Mills hit a triple that cut the lead to three with 11 seconds left, but Jrue Holiday knocked down a pair of free throws. The threat was subdued.

They made it.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at New Orleans Pelicans
A coach and his team celebrate a powerful victory
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

February 19, 2017

By the 2017 All-Star break, the 23-34 Pelicans were, for the second straight season, facing the reality that their playoff hopes had gone bust. Alvin Gentry’s new, up-tempo system was a drastic change of pace from the plodding days of Monty Williams, but their respective end results were unfortunately far too familiar.

At the very least, the grotesque discriminatory practices of North Carolina meant that New Orleans would, as they did in 2014, host the All-Star Weekend festivities, and Anthony Davis, now in his fifth year, was at center stage. For a few days, hometown fans could leave the struggles of the current season aside and relish in the popularity and prowess of their superstar.

It took only a few possessions of the actual All-Star Game to realize that the night’s priority was to feed the Davis as much as possible. After years of turbulence, a relaxing night of watching AD waltz his way to bucket after bucket was an ideal reprieve.

But that was not to be. Hours before tip-off, the stove began to warm.

It was All-Star Weekend, though. A lot of GMs were in town. It was very possible that Demps and the Kings contingent had mentioned DeMarcus Cousins’ name, but even so, did the Pelicans have enough to offer? If by some chance that they did, it would surely be for naught. Cousins was going to get a supermax offer, and he would probably sign it. Why wouldn’t he?

Moments later, an exciting word entered the fray: progress.

All of a sudden, time began moving a mile a minute. Or maybe it had come to a complete stop. This couldn’t be right. Right? My assurance came in the form of what appeared to be the Pelicans’ best trade assets, which couldn’t possibly be enough for a player of Cousins’ caliber. Until, that is, about five hours later, when they were.

In the lead-up to the 2012 Draft Lottery and the 2014-15 postseason clincher, the possible outcomes were easy to pin down. They would win or they would not. The joy that would follow those victories was plentiful, but it had also been anticipated for a long time. The spontaneity this trade produced an hours-long adrenaline rush, unlike anything any of my favorite sports teams had ever done. I was beside myself with joy. Anthony Davis, fresh off of his 52 (!) point performance in the presence of his most elite peers, finally had his fellow superstar.

And the Pelicans finally had a future.

January 29, 2018

“Will this pairing work?”

That question caromed between a bottomless pit of NBA media personalities from the moment Boogie joined the Brow, but I had become too optimistic to be phased. The time between Cousins’ near-perfect arrival and this night’s match-up against the Rockets was filled with wins (the Pelicans had a 26-21 record to begin the day) and plays like this:

That was plenty. I did not want to think about whether or not a team built around these two would work. Considering how rough the road had been in the years prior, the fact that it could be more than enough.

Throughout January, the pieces had actually begun clicking into place. The team had won six of their previous seven contests when the red-hot Rockets came to town. Houston was sporting a spotless 19-0 record when James Harden, Clint Capela and Chris Paul took the floor. They had constructed their team to play foil to the unrelenting championship machine that was the Golden State Warriors, and by all accounts, it was working.

I’ve always loved games where New Orleans was considered a heavy underdog. The emotional high of watching your favorite team secure a win that they weren’t supposed to get is something every fan can relate to. Given the Pelicans recent success though, this wasn’t another one of those nights. A win here would submit them as a legitimate force to be reckoned with, even among the league’s best.

Halfway through the third quarter, a Darius Miller triple put the Pels up by 21. That’s 51 points better than how they had fared against Houston in Cousins’ first game in his new uniform. Harden, Paul and company closed the gap entirely at one point, but with 15 seconds remaining in the game and the Pelicans up 111-109, Cousins snagged his 13th rebound of the evening and put it home while getting fouled. In 30 minutes of action, he had 15 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists, 3 steals, and a +13. The perimeter-oriented Rockets had no solution for Cousins or Davis, and certainly not the two of them together. At this moment, I was pretty sure that no team did. The Pelicans had zagged against the rest of the league’s small-ball zig, and they had done it successfully. A couple more trips to the line were all that stood in the way. For the first time in the Pelicans era, I honestly had hope that this team had what it took to make a run for it all.

It couldn’t even last a minute.

The and-one free throw rattled out and that probably frustrated Cousins, as missed shots usually did for most. He almost got the rebound, but Houston got the loose ball and shot down the court as he tried to get up. The camera followed Harden and Paul down the court, but the eyes and the voice of the broadcast crew were on the Pelicans’ big man.

DeMarcus Cousins is injured on the other end.”

My first instinct was not to worry. Davis had countless close calls over the years, and I assumed that this was just another such case for a different player. The camera finally found Cousins again, sitting up in the corner of the hardwood floor right in front of Houston’s bench. In that first shot, his face was as calm as could be — and that’s when I knew it was over.

He tried to get up moments later, but my gut says he knew then too. Some people wear their emotions on their sleeve, but DeMarcus Cousins had built a career and a brand by always wearing them right on his face. The ability to know precisely what Boogie was thinking was what made him Boogie in the first place. At this moment, his face was blank. In that split second, there were no signs of pain, no sounds of a struggle. There was just an emotionless DeMarcus Cousins who could not stand, and who would never again don a Pelicans jersey.

NBA: Houston Rockets at New Orleans Pelicans
The final shot of Boogie in Pelicans blue
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

April 17, 2018

When Moe Harkless’s three-pointer put Portland ahead 100-99, their first lead since 67-64, I was not feeling great. The Pelicans had stolen Game 1 of this first-round playoff series on the road, but the chance to take a second straight was slipping right through their fingers, as so many games had. This game was a fight from the opening tip, unlike Game 3 against Golden State three long years ago, when a nuclear Stephen Curry willed his team back in a game that had firmly been in the Pelicans control. Nonetheless, the pain of that loss had been lingering ever since, but it was finally showing itself as Portland paraded down the court on defense.

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and a freshly-shaven Nikola Mirotic defied expectations from the beginning of February through to this series. In a stretch that included a 10-game winning streak, a four-game streak, and a five-game streak to finish the season that required wins over Golden State and the San Antonio Spurs, the Pelicans clawed their way back into the playoff picture.

There was no reclaiming the hope that the Cousins injury had sapped, but I did not need it to enjoy what, in retrospect, was the best stretch of Pelicans basketball in the Anthony Davis era thus far. It continued into Game 1 of the postseason, but was there enough juice left for Game 2?

In the possession that followed the Harkless lead-taking three, Mirotic took a three-point shot that might have soared higher than any shot I had ever seen. He forced it. And he drilled it.

It was not a shot I was used to seeing this team hit. All of a sudden, the Pelicans had life. Just over a minute later, Holiday stared Zach Collins right in the face and essentially gave the Pelicans a ticket they could take all the way back to New Orleans. What had seemed so distant for so long, the prospect of victory in a playoff series, was one flight and two home games away. If they finally cleared that hurdle, just how far could these Pelicans fly?

NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

January 28, 2019

I began writing this piece after work, but the idea for it had been floating through my head for longer than I’d like to admit. The years of media coverage that seemed to will my favorite player from my favorite team was both exhausting and unavoidable. To be engaged in the constantly-ongoing dialogue that makes the NBA great means subjecting yourself to stories that you simply do not want to hear. It was a necessary evil.

In a way, being at least somewhat prepared for the news that Anthony Davis had officially requested a trade helped. Mostly though, it did not.

During the 2017 All-Star Game, my heart pounded incessantly as I was rifling through social media, scanning for even the tiniest morsel of information about the trade that would ultimately go down. In retrospect, it felt almost like a race against time, a race to be the first to find out the news that seemed too good to be true.

I probably did just as much if not more scrolling on this day, but just like Boogie at the time of his injury, I didn’t feel anything. Nor did I as I spent the day waiting to read about what could possibly come next. The impulse to keep searching out information that could only be bad was horrible and did nothing to better my emotional state, yet I could not resist.

I’ve had a lot of time to process the other five events that I’ve listed, but I can’t quite speak to what this day will mean to my fandom until we get further from it. I’m sitting in front of a Davis doll wearing Mardi Gras beads, beside a pair of hanging Davis jerseys and next to a boxed-up FatHead of, you guessed it, Davis’ head. He may have expressed his desire to leave the Pelicans on this day, but he had not left just yet. Nor had he done so from my life. And perhaps, he never will.

You have to understand that Anthony Davis entered my life when I was 15 years old, just young enough to invest an irrational amount of emotion and identity into a professional athlete, and just old enough to recall each and every beat of his career. I will forever cherish all of them.

Wherever he winds up spending the next part of his career, I hope he can spark a new generation of fans in the same way he did for me. Because rooting for Anthony Davis, through thick and thin, through the phenomenal ups and the tragic downs, has been the most fun I’ve ever had.

And what are sports without the fun?