He's 36 years old, he's been around the National Basketball Association 14 seasons, he's scored nearly 20,000 points, he's played on two of the best Phoenix Suns teams in history, and he says that moving to Portland has made him feel a lot younger.
"I don't feel a day older than 30," said Walter Davis, the Portland Trail Blazers' most venerable reserve. This was moments after scoring 12 points in 13 minutes against the Utah Jazz in the opening game of the Jazz-Blazers second round playoff series Tuesday night. The 6-foot-6 swingman also had four rebounds, an assist and a standing ovation from the Memorial Coliseum crowd, a crowd that grew up hissing and booing Davis, not praising him.In 11 years with Phoenix, and another two with the Denver Nuggets, Davis was not always the most welcome visitor to Portland. He'd bring in his 20-point scoring average and his six-time All-Star status and usually not do the home team any favors.
But after a midseason trade brought him from Denver to Portland, he has made a quick transformation in becoming a Trail Blazer. He has given Portland a veteran insurance policy on the bench, and Portland has given him salvation - the rare opportunity to jump in the space of a single airplane flight from the NBA's losingest team (Denver) to the NBA's winningest team.
Does Davis like the change? Did Guinevere like Camelot?
"Nobody likes to lose as much as we were losing in Denver," he said, rolling his eyes. "When you're a competitor, how can you like that much losing? I'm just glad to be out of that situation."
And onto the best team he's ever played on.
"No question, from 1 to 12, this team is the best I've been with," he said. "You've got three All-Stars (Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Kevin Duckworth were on the West All-Star team this season), you've got Buck Williams, whose been an All-Star (three times), and also Danny Ainge (one time), and Cliff (Robinson) is coming on, and Coop (reserve center Wayne Cooper) has been around almost as long as me. There's just a lot of weapons."
Davis has had to get used to playing less, a lot less, than anytime in his career. He averaged a career-low 13.7 minutes per game during the regular season, and a career-low 6.1 points. And in the first five games of the playoffs - in the Seattle series - he saw those figures drop to 7.4 minutes and 1.8 points.
But he knew less-minutes was the deal going in. "The first thing the coach said when I came here was he had 11 other guys to think about," said Davis, "and I told him I was just glad to be here."
In the series with the Jazz, however, Portland Coach Rick Adelman told Davis he will be used more. He matches up better with Utah than with Seattle. "The Jazz have more guys my size," Davis said, "that means more minutes."
After his vintage-form outburst Tuesday - an outburst that ended a miserable 3-of-16 shooting slump against the Sonics - Davis, whose last All-Star season was in 1987, said it was a relief to do something positive. "It's good to finally help this great team I'm on," he said. "So far they've been carrying me on their shoulders."
Davis is the only member of the Blazers whose playing career dates back to Portland's last championship - the Bill Walton-led title of 1977-78.
A rookie that year with the Suns, Davis, fresh from an All-America collegiate career at North Carolina, scored 24.2 points a game. It would be the highest average of his career and it would win him the Rookie of the Year award.
Fourteen seasons and 19,064 regular-season points later, he's still playing. Davis has had his ups and downs. He was part of a drug scandal in Phoenix in 1988, a situation that got him traded to Denver. He's had injuries that have shortened two of his seasons (in 1982 and 1985). And in the playoffs, he's taken his lumps. Coming into this season he'd played in 65 playoff games with either Phoenix or Denver, for a total of 16 series. His teams have gone 7-9 in those series, and have only made it as far as the third round twice, once when Phoenix did it in 1979 and again in 1984.
Now, he's with a team that won 63 games during the regular season and wouldn't surprise anyone if it makes it to the NBA finals. It's enough to make Davis feel like not acting his age. "I don't wish I was any younger than I am," he said. "I wouldn't want to take back anything I've done as a basketball player. But being here is making me feel good. I feel young enough that when they want me to play, I'm ready."