Baron Davis glanced out onto the playground from the window of Room 51 at South Park Elementary in Florence-Graham, Calif.
About 25 years ago, as a young boy in the Los Angeles Unified School District, he stood in that same spot, looking out onto the basketball courts that he would practice on for hours each day, with hopes of one day being a professional basketball player.
Days, weeks and years of practice helped Davis earn basketball scholarships from Crossroads High School in Santa Monica and then UCLA. After an All-American sophomore season at UCLA in 1999, Davis declared for the NBA Draft and parlayed a third-overall draft selection into a 13-year NBA career, with two NBA All-Star selections to boot.
Now two years removed from playing in the NBA, Davis returned to Room 51 on Wednesday to officially reopen it as the “Baron Davis Reading and Learning Room” – a fully refurbished learning center which Davis helped fund and establish, with the assistance of his sponsor IVC Global Sports & Entertainment.
But before Davis unveiled this gift to his former school, he took a moment to remind the current students at South Park what hard work can accomplish.
“My message to you kids is work hard, work hard, work hard, work hard,” Davis said to a group of about 200 South Park students and faculty members at the unveiling ceremony for the Reading and Learning Center.
“When you’re frustrated, work hard. Find things that you love to do, and just go for it. Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.”
Davis has developed a love for building new educational centers for children over the past year, and he has worked diligently to continue the initiative.
The Baron Davis Reading and Learning Room at South Park was the newest of three educational venues that the former UCLA guard and NBA All-Star has helped create in the greater Los Angeles area since August 2013. He unveiled a reading and learning room in Santa Monica last year, and opened the Baron Davis Reading and Leaning Center in South Los Angeles earlier this month.
With the assistance of sponsors, Davis said he hopes to continue opening new and high-quality learning environments throughout the city, and beyond.
“For me, it’s something that I want to do constantly,” Davis said. “We want to ramp ’em up as much as we can.”
After Davis cut the ribbon to officially unveil his reading room at South Park, he did not leave, instead sticking around to spend time with the young South Park students and faculty, sparking conversations with them.
South Park principal Dennis Schaffer, a UCLA alumnus, said the interest Davis showed in helping his former school is key to inspiring South Park students and community members.
“It’s always big when people show interest in our community, in particular our school, because then it presents a springboard for our children to have something to be proud of,” Schaffer said. “Our community needs things to be proud about, and they need to be able to correlate hard work can make a difference in you achieving your goals. So, it’s big.”
To Hall of Fame women’s basketball player Cheryl Miller, Davis’ accomplishment of reviving community resources and instilling confidence in young children is bigger than anything that he could have ever achieved on the basketball court.
“You have … a living legacy that no one could ever, ever take away from you,” Miller said to Davis at the unveiling ceremony. “And this, my friend, is more precious than any championship ring that you could have ever won. I’m so proud of you.”
Davis has gained both admiration and praise for his philanthropic contributions, but he said he is nowhere near finished. Just like that young boy who practiced day in and day out at South Park to chase a dream of playing professional basketball, the 35-year old Davis will continue to do the best he can to accomplish his new dream of providing new and renovated learning centers for children.
“We want to establish and build reading and learning centers in all parts of L.A., where kids are underprivileged, you know, to reinforce education and give them some confidence, and give them a place, a safe haven, a place where they can study,” Davis said.
Just as the South Park school basketball courts served as one of the starting points for Davis’ long and illustrious career as a basketball player, maybe Room 51 can serve as one the starting points for Davis’ new undertaking as a philanthropist.