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‘It didn’t have to go that way’

NBA champion Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis talks about his friend Alton Sterling


Three days after Alton Sterling was killed by police, NBA champion Glen “Big Baby” Davis came back to his native Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to march in a rally on Friday for a man he called a “neighborhood friend.”

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden asked Davis to attend the march for Sterling, who was shot to death on Tuesday evening after an altercation with two police officers. The incident was caught on video by two people. (Both are extremely graphic.)

According to CNN, police were called to the Triple S Food Mart by a homeless man who had repeatedly asked Sterling for money. Sterling, 37, declined to give the man money, and according to CNN, showed the homeless man that he was armed to get him to leave him alone.

Louisiana is an open carry state. But Sterling had a criminal record and therefore was not legally allowed to have a gun on him. Friends of Sterling said he recently obtained the gun after a friend, who also sells CDs, was robbed.

The two officers have been placed on paid administrative leave and the Justice Department has been called in to investigate. On Thursday, President Barack Obama gave a speech about Sterling and the shooting Wednesday of Philando Castile in Minnesota. On Friday morning, he addressed the ambush shooting deaths late Thursday night of five police officers in Dallas.

Davis, who won a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, discussed his friend, the relationship between the police and his community and what his mom told him about how to interact with police:

How did you know Alton Sterling?

Alton Sterling was kind of like a neighborhood friend. He’s been posted up at that store for years. So when you have a guy that’s always at the store or is always selling CDs, he knows my mom. My mom used to always get Johnnie Taylor CDs from him. He’s just like a neighborhood friend, everybody knows him, because if you’re in that neighborhood, you’re going to pass by going to the store and see him. I really couldn’t believe it was him at first, but then when I saw the video, it’s mind-blowing – just quick a miscommunication or anything can turn into something really bad.

What was Sterling like?

Alton was a straightforward guy. He had a great personality, because he was around people every day – people buying CDs from him every day, so he had to, personalitywise, touch his customers. He had an aura about himself, but in a good way. So as you can see from the tapes and what is going on, he wasn’t refusing anything. He was more scared that he didn’t want to move. It wasn’t called for. Alton’s a guy you can talk to: very smart, very good with money. It didn’t have to go that way.

Tell us about a moment with him.

I was coming in town, and I was just passing in the neighborhood and stopped by the store and he was out there. He’s been out there for years, so when you see him you’re like, ‘Man, you’re still killing with the CDs, huh?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah,’ so I told him he has to start making my CDs for my group and for us playing them. And he was just telling me, ‘Ah, well, you know ain’t nothing for free, buddy. You gotta get it how you live, man. So whenever you’re ready, we can do business.’ He was always trying to make money or always do business. This man is a hustler, so that always kind of touched me.

Did you hesitate or immediately watch the video?

I watched it and then I made a comment on it. It’s just amazing how the world is still kind of in a fear mode. … I was really, really, really sad.

What were your thoughts?

I just thought it was something that was really, really unnecessary. It was one thing if you see that this man has a weapon. You got a call from dispatchers saying this man has a weapon on him. You don’t know, you don’t see. It’s not like he was refusing to be arrested, so I just thought the situation was worse than called for.

What is the Baton Rouge community’s relationship with the police?

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a really tough environment to grow up in some parts and especially that part. … It’s the police officers that have to kind of clean up the streets, because of the direction Baton Rouge is trying to head to. When you talk about an area like that where there’s drugs and there’s violence, police are a little bit more aggressive over there. They’re a little bit more the instigators. … The police and the community, they’re really at war with each other. … So that area is kind of tough, especially with the color barrier. I honestly think police officers need more training and need to be more hands-on with the community so they can kind of understand situations, so it won’t go to that level.

When you were growing up, what did your mom tell you about how to interact with police officers?

My mom always told me to play the game. … As far as being African-American and going through these hardships, and seeing this firsthand and witnessing these color barriers we still deal with today, how do you get past that when you don’t have nowhere to go and you don’t have no access to education and you don’t have access to a lot of things to better yourself? … You play the game. … When you get to where you gotta go, and you’ve done everything that you did in your heart and in your mind to make not only yourself better, but other people, too, of the same color, that’s when you know you’ve mastered the game and you’re breaking down those barriers.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.