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Sons of Liberty: Baron Davis and the Long Road Home

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Baron Davis suited up for the Delaware 87ers on Friday night and played his first professional game in nearly four years. At 36 years old, the two-time All-Star his still chasing his dream of returning to the NBA.

Baron Davis sizes up a defender in his 87ers' debut.
Baron Davis sizes up a defender in his 87ers' debut.
Stephen Pellegrino/NBAE via Getty Images

Figuratively, the NBA Development League is a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Association.

Baron Davis - who spent 13 seasons in the NBA before injuring his knee nearly four years ago - is well aware of this, yet he still decided to kick off his comeback by signing with the D-League earlier this year. And when the Delaware 87ers selected him from the league's available player pool last week, Davis was eager to embrace the challenge.

Not everyone is built for the D-League, however, and Sevens' head coach Kevin Young isn't quite so certain that his newest charge is completely aware of what he signed up for.

"The fact that Baron's doing this, you've got to love basketball," said Young prior to the Sevens' 114-106 loss to the Iowa Energy in Davis's debut on Friday night. "I don't know if he knows exactly what he's getting into."

Instead of a 20,000-seat arena, Davis will now play his home games in a college gymnasium. What once were chartered jets are now 5:00 AM commercial flights to Des Moines, Iowa.

It's a hard life for any professional athlete, much less one who has two All-Star appearances on his resume. Yet there was Davis on Friday, sporting a white headband, black compression pants and a pair of black-and-rose-gold Kobe Xs as he battled against guys scratching and clawing their way to the next level.

"I survived," said Davis in the locker room after racking up eight points, four assists, and three steals in 19 minutes of action against the Energy. "I didn't die."

Literally, Newark, Delaware is about a two-and-a-half hour drive from Madison Square Garden - the arena in which Davis played his most recent NBA game. On that fateful night in May 2012, the former Knicks' guard crumpled to the ground while driving in for a layup during a playoff game against the Miami Heat. Davis was taken off of the court on a stretcher, and he would soon learn that he had torn his ACL and MCL as well as his patellar tendon.

Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, injuries of that sort aren't necessarily career-ending. That said, many would have understood if Davis had decided to call it quits given the rehab needed in order to get back on the court. Especially since said rehab took nearly three years to complete.

Yet there he was on Friday night, directing the Sevens' offense, running pick-and-rolls and giving the crowd glimpses of the player who at one time was one of the most explosive point guards in the NBA.

"A lot of it was happening in my brain," said Davis when asked to dissect his performance in his D-League debut. "I was playing, I was out there, but I wasn't really like all the way out there. And as we continue to practice and play, my mind will get sharper, my court awareness will get sharper... I know that I've got so more much room for improvement and I'm willing to take those steps."

Davis's thick beard - something of a signature for him during the later years of his career - was as prominent as ever during his D-League debut. The facial hair led several young fans in the stands to refer to Davis as "James Harden". Little did they know that B-Diddy was getting buckets long before Chef Harden ever stepped foot in the NBA.

There have been plenty of former stars who have simply gone through the motions while they used the D-League as a springboard for a potential return to the Association. The same can't be said for Davis, however: He cheered from his seat on the bench when Delaware cut the deficit to three late in the fourth quarter. He barked at the refs during a two-minute stretch when the Sevens were on the wrong end of every whistle. He counseled fellow point guard Russ Smith after the latter picked up an ill-advised technical foul in the third quarter.

Davis isn't required to do any of that, of course. But after just a few days in Delaware, it appears that he's more than willing to serve as a mentor to the young Sevens' roster.

"That's what I want to do here. I want to be able to help Russ, I want to be able to help a lot of the guys, and I can definitely do that. Not so much in being caught up in what I'm doing or how I'm feeling... just trying to be unselfish and a good teammate and help the coach try and translate some of those messages and things like that to the team."

As far as the NBA goes, Davis is considered a free agent and is eligible to sign with any team at any time. It'll probably be a while before that happens, though: His timing and conditioning isn't quite where he wants it to be at this point. But the court vision is still as sharp as ever: Smith may be the 87ers' most prolific scorer, but Davis is one of the better playmakers to have ever put on a Sevens' uniform.

With Davis turning 37 next month, it's fair to wonder how long he'll continue his comeback attempt. But when asked, he says that simply plans to take things one step and a time - literally and figuratively.

"I just want to see how it plays out," said Davis. "It's good to just get a feel for the game... and to see where I was [on Friday] as far as conditioning in the game, I'm not far off. Just gotta continue to work and fine-tune some of the things I've been doing."