A LIFE WELL TRAVELLED
Ex-Globetrotter penning memoir after documentary on his past
A Vancouver resident for more than 30 years, former Harlem Globetrotter Mel Davis has lived a full and rich life
The movie was great, an Academy Award-nominated short documentary called Hardcourt directed by his son. The book should be good, too, the one Mel Davis and his wife Megan are writing about the former Harlem Globetrotter’s full and rich life.
The book will encapsulate the long and tangled trail Davis travelled before family and love called him to Vancouver 31 years ago, the life of a man who believes you don’t just teach a kid how to play basketball, you teach him or her how to be a decent human being, too.
“I taught basketball and I taught about life, how to treat people,” said Davis, who turns 81 today.
“I learned that from my mother and my grandmother.”
That philosophy got him inducted into the B.C. Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. The hall received 20 letters from community leaders endorsing his induction.
Davis played for the Globetrotters from 1961 to 1979 and the team spent a lot of time in Vancouver.
His wife Megan, who grew up all over B.C., had seen him play on a date and they later met up at a party.
“The rest is history,” Davis said.
The first quarter-century of that history happened long distance because, although the two of them were married, it wasn’t to each other.
“Twenty-five years is a longtime, long-distance relationship,” Davis said. “Phoning. Writing. Sneaking.”
Davis didn’t know his dad at all growing up in the mean streets of Ainsworth in Chicago’s South Side, where the original Globetrotters were born in the 1920s.
“It was a slum,” Davis said. His mother had two cleaning jobs to put food on the table.
Still an imposing 6-foot-5, Davis, whose mom was maybe 4-foot-11 at best, said she wanted him to play baseball.
Like her dad did in the Negro leagues with Satchel Paige and other coloured players banned from playing in the major leagues because of their skin colour.
“My mom loved baseball,” Davis said. “She loved the Cubs and she loved the White Sox, but I got hooked on basketball.”
Young Mel was a shy kid, skinny, too. There was this guy, he said, who called him Frail Mel because he was so skinny.
“He said, ‘This Naismith guy (James, the Canadian gym coach who invented basketball), he didn’t know this is a contact sport.’”
And the guy elbowed Davis to make his point.
“I fell in love with basketball. Not women, basketball.”
The conversation shifts from locales visited by the Globetrotters (Rome, Paris, Japan, China, the Prairies — “so cold”) to friends (Jim Byrnes), to the NBA (the Grizzlies should never have left, Toronto should not have traded DeMar DeRozan), to skating (the ponds in Chicago would freeze and his mom bought him a pair of skates, white figure skates he painted black), to U.S. President Donald Trump.
“People have all this hate, all this, I don’t know, resentment,” Davis said.
He cites Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Joe Lewis, athletes whose hard-fought accomplishments look like they could all unravel.
Davis was a consultant for the movie Air Bud, when parts of the movie were shot inside a YVR hangar.
He loves basketball as much as ever, watches every game he can: College, WNBA, high school, 3-on-3, old tapes of Vince Carter at all-star dunking contests.
He came to visit Megan and their son Hubert in 1987 and decided to stay. Hubert, then 11, would at 29 direct an Oscar-nominated, 30-minute documentary in large part to figure out his mixed feelings about his dad: Hardcourt is father telling son his life story on film.
One wall of the couple’s False Creek condo is floor-toceiling bookshelves. Megan has lived in the building since it was built in 1985.
A giant chair cut from a single cedar log on Haida Gwaii holds Davis’s large frame, still powerful looking even though he needs the aid of a walker these days.
He had open-heart surgery earlier this year to have an aortic valve replacement and pacemaker put in. He’s survived prostate cancer.
Davis and Megan are as in love as ever, they each say, the secret to 55 years of loving and caring for one another being?
“The secret? Love is the secret,” Davis said. “Love is different stages at different stages of life, but it’s love.”
“Caring about each other,” added Megan. “That’s the key.”
Davis: “Don’t go to bed mad. There’s no, ‘That’s mine, this is yours’ — it’s both of ours.”
My mom loved baseball. She loved the Cubs and ... White Sox, but I got hooked on basketball.”
Former Harlem Globetrotter Mel Davis relaxes in the Vancouver home that he shares with his wife Megan. Davis spent 18 years with the Globetrotters
Mel Davis and wife Megan, who live in the False Creek area, are working on a book about the former Harlem Globetrotter’s life. His son Hubert previously directed a short Oscar-nominated documentary on his life.
Mel Davis was inducted into the B.C. Basketball Hall of Fame after playing from the Harlem Globetrotters from 1961 to 1979. Davis also spent a lot of time in Vancouver during that span.