From St. Clair Ave to the NBA
and The Best is Yet to Come
Harry Davis grew up on Arlington Avenue in Cleveland's Glenville neighborhood. He attended St. Aloysius Grade School at 110th and St. Clair and then went to Cathedral Latin High School, Class of 1974. He is third in a line of four children. His sister Elizabeth and brother Irvin are older; sister Madeline is "the baby."
Young Harry Davis in garden at Grandma's House
He reflects back on his time growing up in Cleveland. He says life was exciting for him then. He never had to leave his own neighborhood for anything he wanted or needed. "These same things" he says "that we now take for granted."
Playhouse Square was a "huge deal" when Harry was growing up. "There was a big screen movie theater. Every neighborhood had theaters. And the screens were huge - before they broke them into lots of smaller theaters like they have today."
He remembers eating at the Forum Restaurant and feeling like an adult when he got to decide on his own dinner. He used to swim in Forest Hills Park at their swimming pool.
Harry recalls "There was a tremendous sense of community at that time. There was a 'Grapevine of Goodwill' in my neighborhood. I guess today you would call it a support system, but it's not the same. It would be good to have that grapevine in the neighborhoods today."
Young Harry Davis with grandmother Estelle
Both of Harry's parents were influential in his life, but for very different reasons. His father left when he was eleven years old. In retrospect he says "his leaving let me know how the world can be. Looking back on it now he was overwhelmed and did the best he could do at the time."
12 year old "Uncle" Harry Davis with nephew Tony
He says you come to a point in your life when you realize you are on your own. "This can be tough on anyone, regardless of the circumstances."
His mother was a strong woman who took care of the children and raised "us with principles and values. She taught us about hard work and independence."
Harry always loved sports and played them all. Whatever the season, that was the sport he played. The idea of being an athlete interested him early on. "Not for the trophies, but for the sport."
His sports weren't limited to basketball, football and baseball. He took swimming lessons and even tried archery. "I tried it just to see if I could do it and I really enjoyed it."
He speaks fondly of his time at Cathedral Latin. In addition to standard education he says he was introduced to traditions and legacies and the dynamics of how an institution works. As an example he points to The University of Notre Dame. "It wasn't just a movie about Knute Rockne; Not just the corny rah-rah stuff. This was the real thing. That's very important."
Harry Davis' first trophy - for football at age 10
He also learned a lot about time management. "We may not have been Ignatius but we weren't far behind." He goes on to say that Cathedral Latin was always an "incubator" for Case Western Reserve. "It may never have been formalized, but everyone knew it was so."
At that time all parochial high schools required an entrance exam. "I even learned a lot from that experience. Dealing with the different levels of school brought it very close to home for me. It taught me preparation and thoroughness."
There was never an option in Harry's house when it came to pursuing education. He would continue his education and that was all there was to it. He was motivated by the athletes at school and knew he wanted to play.
The school had a strict policy prohibiting playing any sports if the academics weren't up to par. Another life lesson Harry took to heart and learned well.
About the recent merging of all girls Notre Dame High School and Cathedral Latin to form NDCL, Harry says he is not privy to all of the pertinent information but was surprised that Latin had to be sold.
Harry Davis and mother Madeline at Harry's graduation from Cathedral Latin in 1974
Harry was recruited to play basketball for Florida State. "Not heavy recruiting like you see today." In fact his recruiting was the result of a phone call from one of his coaches suggesting that Florida State take a good look at Harry. They did and they liked what they saw.
Harry remembers the Class of 1974 as being "loaded" with talent. Shaw High School also had a superb class that year. "You had at least 30 Division 1 guys in that class. It was one of the best that ever came out of this city both from suburbia and the inner city."
From 1974 to 1978 Harry went to Florida State and played basketball. He majored in Speech Communications with a minor in marketing. "My other choice would have been Speech Pathology. I think it would be so cool to be able to help people in sign language and with speech impediments."
Harry Davis at Florida State
In 1978 he was approached by a number of pro basketball teams, but to his surprise the Cavaliers weren't one of them. But when the draft came, it was the Cleveland Cavaliers who drafted him in the 2nd round.
The Cavs roster at the time was incredible. Harry was joining Bingo Smith, Campy Russell, Mike Mitchell, John Lambert, Jim Brewer and Jim Chones. As a 6'7", 220 lb. forward Davis became part of a very elite group.
He was very excited to be coming home, but was not sure about making the roster. He prepared hard and strong and had a great rookie camp before the veterans got there.
"I focused on how I could make the team. There were tons of featured offensive players so I went the other route and did the dirty work as a defensive player. I stood out as the guy who could do the dirty work."
Finding out he made the roster was a tremendous relief to Harry. As was the case with all rookies he was constantly looking for floor minutes. Bill Fitch was the coach and it was not his style to play the rookies much. "I had a tough year. I only averaged 4-5 minutes a game."
Harry Davis's long reach at Florida State
This was very frustrating for Harry so he tried to occupy his thoughts with things other than basketball. He maintained a very hard physical work out, but did not neglect his intellectual side. "Even though I just left campus life I tried to be an adult."
When the team was on the road he would often visit the local museums and galleries. "I had three things I always tried to do in each city I went to. I would go to their main library. Their zoo. And then I went to whatever the main attraction of that particular city was."
Using this formula he was able to see things such as The New York Museum of Art, Frank Lloyd Wright Museum, Fisherman's Wharf and ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit.
Harry became good friends with members of the team. "As a young guy trying to make it I certainly knew who Bingo Smith was and always paid close attention to him and his moves." "I spent a lot of time with the other rookies like Mike Mitchell and Kenny Higgs."
He also got close to a number of the other players. "Austin Carr was a class guy. On the road he always knew the best restaurants." He looked to Jim Chones for shopping spots "He really knew clothes."
The camaraderie of the locker room is something he will never forget. "I remember those guys hanging out by the phone waiting for news - a child was being born or maybe somebody was sick. All of the important events. Now those kids are in college or have kids of their own."
Cleveland Cavalier Harry Davis
Pro basketball was in its infancy when Harry was growing up and he was the first to make it from this area. People like Clark Kellogg (St. Joe's alumnus) didn't enter the pros until the eighties.
After only one year Harry got cut from the roster. Stan Albeck took over the team and Coach Bill Fitch went to the Celtics. Harry and Albeck had a somewhat adversarial relationship which resulted in Harry being cut.
He joined the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and went to play in Bangor, Maine. Soon after, The San Antonio Spurs picked him up for two ten-day contracts which he says worked out really well for him. He wound up staying longer than expected.
He enjoyed San Antonio where he played at the old Hemisphere Arena. He became a very close friend of San Antonio's George "The Ice Man" Gervin. During his second year with the Spurs, Stan Albeck became the coach and Harry went back to the CBA.
Harry played for Atlantic City averaging 24 points a game with 10-12 rebounds. The team was the first to be named All-CBA two years in a row. In 1982 the Indiana Pacers made him an offer and he went to camp there.
"Things were going really well, but 2 days before the season I got cut. Basically the choice came to cutting me or George McGinnis and it made no sense to cut McGinnis." So Harry played one more year in the CBA.
Harry Davis with Intercontinental Cup team teammates John Washington from Memphis State and Dexter Reed
Harry then began to play European Basketball. His first year was in Italy "But not the same team Danny Ferry was on. I played for Chiceti. When Danny played he played for Rome."
Then to Spain and finally to Antwerp, Belgium. He found European life to be much slower, with the obvious exceptions of the major cosmopolitan areas like Rome and Milan. "Other than those areas it was very laid back."
Harry came back to the States after Belgium. Even though he always maintained a home in Cleveland he settled in Florida before moving to Washington DC. After 6-7 years his mother got ill and Harry came home to the east side of Cleveland to assist her in getting well. "I'm happy to say she's doing fine now."
1981 Plain Dealer article about Harry Davis
Harry sees noticeable progress with the Cavaliers in their second year under Mike Brown. He notes two major improvements. The first is that the shooting percentage against the Cavs has gone down as a result of the Cavs defensive pressure and second he sees that the Cavs are rebounding much better. He notes, however, that Cleveland fans are jaded "and have every reason to be."
He himself has become more of a fan of the game now. "There was a time in my life that I lived to have the Cavs beat Boston. It was that much passion. Now I am more interested in how they put the whole thing together both as a product and on the floor.
He sees how technology is working to make the game more fan friendly. "It used to be entertainment sports. Now it's sports entertainment."
Harry Davis and teammate Eugene Harris (now coach at Georgia State U) in the Florida State Student Union
Harry is a home-town guy and as much as he loves the Cavs he also loves the Indians and Browns - and the city in general.
He hopes to see a Basketball Camp established and operational by next summer to address the total person. "Time management, life skills, citizenship - all the things that make a good team player."
Harry suggests young people remember it should be fun. If something develops, that's fine, but if not, it was still fun. And his 3 step plan, regardless of your skills or the path you have chosen is: 1) Prepare 2) Pursue and 3) Have fun.
He thinks the success of the League has taken some of the fun out of it. "They're scouting elementary schools and rating 8th graders. That's too much for me!"
Harry's Cleveland Legends patch
Harry is a member of the Cavaliers Legends - an auxiliary arm of the Cavs organization that helps with outreach. This is his first year back with it and he joins such notables as Campy Russell, Austin Carr, Elmore Smith, Bingo Smith, Barry Clemens and Jimmy Chones.
"I was in High School watching those guys play. They were part of my formative years and then became team mates. Amazing!"
Harry has very strong opinions on the concept of role models - athletes and non athletes alike. "If you are an adult you should be accountable. It's as simple as that. It is not too much to ask of anyone to be a role model. Some of the so-called celebrity athletes and movie stars and such need to grow up."
Harry Davis going to the NCAA Tournament in 1978 meets George Clinton and The Parliaments (at airport in Atlanta)
He feels society in general talks about role models and setting high standards, but in the end we market the deviant and reward the deviant becomes that is how products are sold and millions are made. "Role models don't get the extras."
He points to Dennis Rodman. "When he played he held the rebound record for three years - and was named the Worm. Then he started dying his hair and getting piercings and he got the Pizza Hut contract."
He continues "We have to quit doing what is comfortable for us. It's easy to go after the bad boy - but are you also going after the company that's rewarding him? You can't just pluck a leaf off a tree - you have to go after the root."
He sees how different the demographics are now. When he was growing up it was rare to see a single parent raising a family and now it is more of the norm. "So" he says "we must use other avenues to get the information to kids that they would have gotten at home. Now they need to get it somewhere else and we want to be sure that other source is a positive one."
Playing in front of a home team audience adds a level of intensity to a game. "You can feel the presence of the fans."
Forced to name an all-time all star team Harry comes up with the following:
- Center: Kareem Abdul Jabbar
- 1st Guard: Michael Jordan
- Point Guard: Magic Johnson
- Small Forward: Larry Bird
- Power Forward: Karl Malone.
Even while he is straining to name his team he is adding names to the list. "How can I overlook Wilt [Chamberlain] or Bill Russell? And what about Julius Erving, John Havliceck, Walt Frazier, Maurice Lukas, Bill Bradley, Dave DeBusschere? I could just go on and on. Some of these guys are just really all-star players.
Austin Carr and Harry Davis at a Sports Banquet in 2007
"Me, I'm a capable player kind of guy - not an all star." He also sees a number of great players that never got their chance or the credit they were due. Included in that list are names such as Bernard King, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson.
He thinks the 50 Greatest of all times were well chosen over-all, but questions whether they were all really "that good" or "that popular". "It's hard to argue with most of them, but what about Bob McAdoo?"
When it comes to Lebron James, Harry says simply "He is learning how to be a Superstar. He is a work in progress. He is the real deal talent wise." He describes the jump to the NBA as a "huge mental step". Everything is done in a professional way and one needs to get used to it.
"Training, diet, practice. It's not just a game anymore. You are exposed to things you never knew existed. You learn how your body works and functions and that is how you establish techniques."
Harry is a member of the Cathedral Latin Hall of Fame as well as the Florida State University Hall of Fame.
Larry Key with Harry Davis at Harry's 1998
induction into FSU Hall of Fame
"There've been a lot of things in my life - ups, downs, pitfalls. Through the Grace of God we're okay. I just continue to try and be the best person I can be. I want people to know who I am not what I did." He says he is fortunate in so many ways and when he goes to bed at night he is content with the man he is.
"I have not been a saint, a choir boy or a boy scout. I am an inner city kid from St. Clair Avenue. But my motto is 'The Best Is Yet To Come'!"
At only 51 years old Harry does not mind being called a senior. "Too many people I know never made it here."
Harry Davis in May 2007
Harry Davis is a man of substance and character. He stands tall in all of his endeavors. He looks to the future with a game plan which always includes his 3 step program - Prepare; Pursue; Have Fun.
He challenges us all to step up and be role models and guardians of our precious youth - just as he himself has met that challenge.
To have Harry speak to your group, contact us.
Profiled by Debbie Hanson (5/07)
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