LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — This is the moment Los Angeles Lakers star forward Anthony Davis has been waiting for. Before he was traded to the Lakers in June 2019, he told Yahoo Sports he valued legacy over money.
More than a year later, he’s a central member of one of the last two teams standing. He's ready for his NBA Finals closeup.
“You know I wanted this,” Davis told Yahoo Sports.
After spending seven seasons in New Orleans with only two postseason appearances, he came to the realization that a change of scenery was in order and he wanted up-close experience with a player who has made numerous championship runs.
After his first NBA Finals media day on Tuesday, Davis explained that learning from LeBron James in his first season with the Lakers has him thoroughly prepared for the Miami Heat, and he’s banking on this trip being the first of many, which is telling considering he has a $28.7 million player option for the 2020-21 season.
“You see the work and preparation LeBron puts in every day, and you understand why this is his 10th NBA Finals appearance. He never stops. I plan to follow this motherf---er to hopefully nine more Finals,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “We’re all ready to go.”
As rare of a talent Davis is, he’s traditionally vanished from the postseason landscape once the conference finals rolled around. Considered a top-five talent because of his versatile skill set as one of the best two-way players in the NBA, he simply was not present when the game’s biggest stars have the opportunity to evolve into legends.
Davis, 27, said it took him a few years in the league to realize what he was capable of. And from that point on, he began to not only have lofty expectations for himself, but for his employer as well.
“I knew what I wanted,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I wanted what he had,” pointing to James, a three-time champion who was shooting before practice began on Tuesday.
Davis’ first taste of the playoffs occurred in his third season, a first-round sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, who would go on that season to win the first of their three championships. It took the 6-foot-10 big man three more years to get back to the playoffs, advancing to the second round and losing again to the eventual champion Warriors in five games.
“My thing from the beginning was that I have to get to the playoffs. I’ve got to give myself and my team a chance at the postseason,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “Once I experienced that, I was like, ‘I need to get to the second round.’ That took a few years, and then I wanted more. I wanted to advance past the second round. If you want to be great, you have to contend for championships and that’s why I’m relishing this opportunity in front of me. I had a three-year gap in between playoffs. That was tough, but I want championships, not [periodic] playoff appearances.”
Those gaps are what resonate with Davis.
“I don’t want to have long gaps in between Finals,” Davis told Yahoo Sports. “You look at [Rajon Rondo], he’s 10 years removed from his last Finals, and Dwight [Howard] is 11 years out. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to be here. I came to Los Angeles to contend for championships and I’ve put in the work to do so.”
With the series tipping off Wednesday night, a key focus will be on Davis’ matchup with Bam Adebayo. Davis said whoever wins that battle will elevate their team's probability of winning the series. Two former Kentucky Wildcats going up against each other will certainly garner their share of attention, but Davis is focused on one thing: winning the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
James is confident Davis will continue to thrive when the games are at the ultimate level, and he believes his teammate has another untapped gear.
“There’s a reason we wanted him here,” James told Yahoo Sports. “He’s a complete player, and now the world is seeing what he can do in games that matter. All he ever wanted was a chance. That’s all anybody ever wants. And now that he has it, I think you’re going to see him flourish and he has. We haven’t seen the best of AD yet. He’s just scratching the surface.”
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