They tell Anthony Davis that sometimes he’s being scammed.
The New Orleans Pelicans star has been warned that, when he rolls down his window at a New Orleans stoplight to hand over cash to someone apparently in need — and Davis says he does it regularly — the recipient might not be homeless at all.
“But you never know,” Davis says.
And Davis knows well how many are struggling, how many need acts of kindness. He knows because he grew up in Chicago, where poverty touches so many lives, and because he lives in New Orleans, where its impact is apparent in so many places Davis goes.
“Poverty is everywhere,” he says. “Nobody can change that. But I try to do as much as I can to help as many homeless people as I can. And not just homeless people — people who are struggling, people living in bad neighborhoods.”
So Davis was at the New Orleans Mission on Monday, dishing out hot meals with his family for about 300 homeless men and women, the second straight year his AD’s Flight Academy has hosted a Thanksgiving week event.
Last December, Davis took part in a holiday toy drive for underprivileged kids, and something similar will follow next month, one of a monthly series of events that puts Davis in the community in front of people he wants to see.
“Just seeing the glow on the kids’ faces — the excitement they have, running around, coming up and saying thank you,” Davis says.
“That’s what makes me happy and makes me feel like I’m doing the right things.”
Davis can’t tell you how he came to value giving. He didn’t see celebrities in his Chicago neighborhood, never attended an event hosted by a Bulls or Blackhawks player.
But he remembers a camping trip that he says his “whole class” at Perspectives Charter School in Chicago took in sixth grade.
Davis’ parents couldn’t afford to send Davis or his twin sister, and that week — sitting in a classroom together, just the two of them — has stuck with Davis all these years. It’s part of the reason why he still likes giving young people a chance to spend time together at events.
From his one college season at Kentucky, Davis says, he has vivid memories of loading into vans with his teammates and knocking on the doors of Lexington families in need, delivering gifts and spending time in living rooms.
That taught Davis that, while presents are nice, sometimes a presence matters more.
That’s why his Flight Academy focuses on Davis attending events — kids’ bowling parties, toy drives, movie premieres — and getting face time with people who could use some.
“A lot of people don’t have a lot to be thankful for, especially when you’re in the situation that some people are in. I was fortunate that I never had that situation,” Davis says. “I was always around family. Some people don’t have a lot of family — or any family at all — and I want them to be a part of my family for that day.”
Almost the moment Davis left the New Orleans Mission, he pressed a cell phone to his ear. But in the hour-plus that he and his family spent at the mission, his focus was on the people in front of him. As cameras clicked around him, Davis’ focus was on the food line.
He laughed with a 25-year-old woman when she marveled at his height. He posed for pictures and handed out sweatshirts. He struck up conversations.
They’re small gestures, but they can send significant messages, says David Bottner, executive director of the New Orleans Mission. “To me, what these men and women realize is that they are important. They aren’t forgotten about. That people do care and people are interested in helping them.”
Long after Davis is gone, the New Orleans Mission carries on. Its “Three Rs” plan — rescue, recovery, re-engagement — will provide some 250,000 meals in a year. It will offer vocational training and mental health and addiction counseling. It’s a system that requires resources and volunteers, and the attention Davis gets for coming one night carries value all year long.
“When an athlete who has very little time makes time for a hurting person, I think when the community sees that, people say, ‘Why am I not doing that?’ ” Bottner says. “The reality is, when you serve in this capacity, it gives everyone — a kid, an adult, all the range — the realization of how blessed (they are).”
Events like Davis’ — Eric Gordon also hosted a Thanksgiving event for 25 families Saturday with his EG10 Gives organization — show New Orleans that players “want to try to do everything they can to help the community,” coach Alvin Gentry says.
Davis, who’s in his fourth season with the Pelicans and signed a five-year extension in the offseason, is “very much involved not just on the holidays, but year-round,” Gentry says.
Davis admitted that he’s competitive about the NBA Community Assist Award — he knows Stephen Curry won it last season and that John Wall claimed October’s monthly honor — and that being known as someone who gives back is “the best thing in the world.”
More than that, he says, he wants to do what he can for the city that’s becoming home. He has picked up eating habits and slang from the city — “Ya heard me?” has snuck into his daily speech, he said — and he wants to give it something in return.
“Of course Chicago means the world to me, and that’ll always be my home,” he says. “But I’m here all the time. My house is here. It’s a great feeling to have a home away from home. ...
“Being in the position that I’m in, I think giving back is everything.”