At the Baton Rouge Rotary Club luncheon Wednesday, guest speaker Glen “Big Baby” Davis led off delivering the wit of a 6-foot-9, 289-pound standup comedian.
“Am I the tallest person ever to be up here?” Davis said, smiling while adjusting the microphone.
The former LSU basketball star then thanked the crowd at Boudreaux’s for having him, saying how honored he was to join a list of past guests such as LSU football coach Les Miles, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mayor-President Kip Holden.
“And I couldn’t really believe this — Snoop Dogg?” Davis said, referring to the rapper’s cameo alongside Miles at a Rotary luncheon three years ago.
Before long, though, Davis was done making jokes.
He was crying.
Davis choked up when the Baton Rouge native talked about his childhood, the rocky path he traveled to reach the NBA, the people in the community who showed him the way and his mission to pay it forward.
Back home to launch his nonprofit foundation through the inaugural “Booking it with Baby” campaign, Davis started a four-day whirlwind Wednesday that has him joining with the East Baton Rouge Parish Library to promote literacy awareness.
Davis grew up in a single-parent home, struggled with academics in grade school and watched his mother battle drug and alcohol addiction throughout his childhood.
“I was one of the lucky ones, but I clearly didn’t do it alone,” Davis said, excusing himself at one point to wipe away tears.
Davis, who recently completed his fourth season with the NBA’s Boston Celtics, thanked former teachers, coaches, teammates and family members for helping him survive the rough upbringing and achieve his dream of playing professional basketball.
He gave a special thanks to Collis Temple Jr., who allowed him to live with the Temple family whenever the big youngster’s life at home became tumultuous.
Temple was the first black basketball player at LSU in the early 1970s.
He said the turning point for Davis came when he got to University High, where he played alongside Temple’s son, Garrett, and blossomed into a top college prospect.
“As I look at how he rounded himself out, he’s moving in a really healthy direction,” Collis Temple said. “He’s learned to become a very effective communicator. That, combined with his natural love for people and life, has allowed him to flourish in a place called the NBA, a place where you must know how to market yourself.”
Davis said he’d been planning on giving back to the Baton Rouge community, but he wanted to take his time and find the initiative that felt right.
Davis remembered how much he struggled with reading assignments while he bounced from school to school when he was young. He remembered how discovering Harry Potter and Goosebumps novels got him excited about reading and how that changed his course in life.
“I want to share my passion with the kids who are just like me when I was growing up,” Davis said. “I want to give them hope. I want to encourage them.”
That’s what he aims to do while dropping by local libraries and community events during his four-day tour, which Davis said will reach more than 1,500 youngsters ages 5-15 years.
After speaking at the Rotary luncheon, signing a few autographs and posing for a few pictures, Davis hopped back into East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s bookmobile and rode the converted, charter-style bus to the Zachary branch, where he participated in hang-out time with teenagers.
Saturday, Davis will be at Cortana Mall to sign copies of “Basketball with Big Baby,” a kids’ book about sportsmanship with Davis as the main character.
“We’re delighted he’s here to share his celebrity for a purpose,” said Mary Stein, East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s assistant director.