A LIFE WELL TRAV­ELLED

Ex-Glo­be­trot­ter pen­ning me­moir af­ter doc­u­men­tary on his past

The Province - - FRONT PAGE - GOR­DON MCIN­TYRE

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.”

Mel Davis

ARLEN REDEKOP/PNG

For­mer Har­lem Glo­be­trot­ter Mel Davis re­laxes in the Van­cou­ver home that he shares with his wife Me­gan. Davis spent 18 years with the Glo­be­trot­ters

ARLEN REDEKOP

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.

PHOTO COUR­TESY HAR­LEM GLO­BE­TROT­TERS

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.

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