THE COMEBACK OF WALTER DAVIS : He Has Regained All-Star Form in a Comeback From Knee Injury, Drug Problem

United Press International

With his grace, speed and fluid jump shot, Walter Davis is primarily thought of around the NBA as a finesse player. Not many would consider the Phoenix guard as a battler.

His coach, John MacLeod, heartily disagrees.

“I’m impressed with his mental toughness,” MacLeod said of Davis. “A lot of people have tried to do what Walter Davis has attempted to do and not been successful.”

What Davis has had to do is come back from two major crises over the past two years.

First came a severe knee injury suffered when Davis went down on a slippery Forum floor during a game against the Lakers prior to the 1984-85 season. He tore three ligaments in his left knee, and many thought his best days were over.


Davis played in only 23 games that year, but achieved nearly a complete recovery during the offseason. He was well on his way to winning Comeback Player of the Year honors last season when he had to face an even bigger battle.

The morning after tying a career high with 43 points against Golden State, Davis admitted to a cocaine and alcohol habit and underwent treatment at a Southern California hospital for substance abuse.

“Sure, I think of myself as a battler,” Davis said. “I love basketball, and I think I can play. There’s nothing else I’d rather do right now than play basketball. That’s why I’m going to keep coming back and fight the adversity facing me.”

Davis has not only come back, but has done so with a flourish. He is ranked 14th in the NBA in scoring this season with a 22.6 average, and topped his career-high with 45 points against Utah earlier this season. He also played in his sixth NBA All-Star Game Feb. 8.

“It’s a tribute to Walter Davis in terms of what the coaches in the NBA think about him,” said Phoenix General Manager Jerry Colangelo. “The fact that he came back the way he did and is having the kind of season that he’s having just tells you that his efforts are being appreciated.”

However, Davis stops short of saying that his All-Star appearance this year was his most gratifying.


“The previous five were just as thrilling,” he said. “It’s always an honor to get picked to play. But I can’t think of any one being more special than another one.”

Davis is one of the best pure shooters in the NBA. He has never averaged less than 14.4 points per game in his 10 NBA seasons, and is the Phoenix Suns’ all-time leading scorer.

“He’s about as consistent as you’ll find in this league or in the world,” MacLeod said. “He’s as good offensively as comes down the pike when it comes to flat shooting the ball.”

But Davis said that although he is looked upon as a scorer, he doesn’t go out looking for points.

“I never think about it,” he said. “If you do that, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Basketball is a team sport. If you look at it as having to score 20-something points to win, that may not be the case. You take yourself out of the game and it’s not real fun for your teammates, either.”

Davis seems to be having more fun this season, saying that “I’ve got my priorities straight now.”

He still says little about his rehabilitation from substance abuse, preferring to let his actions speak for themselves.

“I think the ratio of players going back into clinics hasn’t been that good,” he said. “So I just want to be a positive note, where if I can do it the right way, I can make it.”

MacLeod has been impressed with Davis’ progress, saying his star guard “has great mental toughness and great courage to not go back to past temptations.”

“He has been able to stay away from the things that have haunted him in the past and to abstain,” MacLeod added. “As a result of his abstention, he has become much, much stronger as a person. Only one person gets credit for that, and that’s Walter Davis.”

Saying he will only play two more seasons after this one, Davis also is beginning to look out for his future. He went back to school and completed his bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation. He recently opened up his own travel agency, which is run by his wife, Susan.

“I’ve got somebody else to take care of. It’s not just Walter anymore,” Davis said. “Basketball is like life -- you can’t be selfish. You’ve got to think about someone else.”

And after the trying times, Davis says he couldn’t be any happier than where he is now.

“I’ve got a nice wife, two lovely kids, I’ve got my health, and I’m playing basketball, he said. “There’s nothing else I could want.”