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How Basketball Gave Big Baby His Family (…Back)

Big Baby

Last night, Glen “Big Baby” Davis put years of practice to good use and drained the Celtics’ game-winning shot.  As Dan Shaughnessy noted, it was a shot that childhood dreams are made of.

But while last night’s triumph was filled with joy and validation for Boston’s hefty (in size and talent) star, the poignancy of the moment was even greater because the shot fell – literally and figuratively – on Mother’s Day.

During these playoffs, just like last year’s postseason, Big Baby’s mother Tonya has moved-in with her son and supported him at times of utmost importance.  Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way.  Tonya began using drugs when Glen was seven — and she’s never fully kicked the habit.  Once, at the Louisiana state basketball tournament, mother and son made simultaneous headlines — Glen for being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, and Tonya for being arrested for trying to “participate” in the MVP ceremony while high on drugs.

With his mom in-and-out of the picture, and no father around, young Glen turned to basketball as a sanctuary.  He moved between foster homes with his two sisters, forcing him to “grow-up” even faster than the rapid pace that he was growing physically.  Davis first earned the moniker “Big Baby” for whining after being fouled — but managing his life required a toughness possessed by few. 

Eventually, Glen’s salvation came from Collis Temple, Jr. – a former LSU Center and pioneering African-American athlete who recognized Big Baby’s talent and sympathized with his situation.  Temple brought Davis into his home, nurtured him, and gave stability where there had been none.  Finally blessed with guidance, structure, and someone to believe in him, Big Baby developed into a man with a large-sized work ethic, on- and off-the-court. Watch the  video story on ESPN.

After huge success in high school and a Final Four at LSU, Davis finally made it to the Big-time with the Celtics – but his first two-plus seasons were mostly Baby steps.  Teammate Kevin Garnett famously made him cry during a game, bringing the old nickname to the forefront once again. Undaunted by some discouraging setbacks, coach Doc Rivers still fully believed in his pudgy prodigy, and told him to keep practicing his 20-footers…

Which brings us back to last night.  With seconds on the clock, Ray Allen blanketed, Paul Pierce double-teamed, and KG in street clothes, the ball — and the Celtics season — fell squarely into the big mitts of Big Baby. Without hesitation, Davis buried the shot, quieted the crowd and, in so doing, provided a bittersweet sort of Mother’s Day tribute.

With one flick of the wrist, Big Baby gave hope to the woman who gave him life, and the men who made him a man. But, even with last night’s triumph, the Celtics still have a long road ahead,  and Tonya’s addiction battle is still very much uphill. The challenges for Glen Davis are huge — thankfully, he might just be a little bit bigger.