In a recent interview with New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked him about his place among the NBA’s elite players, his recent switch of representation and what his role will be in leading the Pelicans this coming season. An edited transcript of the interview appears below:
Nichols: What does Chicago mean to you?
Davis: It means a lot. This is my hometown. This is where I grew up. This is the city I represent every time I play. I love it. My family’s here. Brings back a lot of memories, just being here right now. And we talked about having field trips here at The Bean. Of course, everybody around is showing love. So anytime I come back to the city, it means a lot to me to be here.
Nichols: I was trying to make a list of the best Chicago players ever. And you’ve got Isiah Thomas — well, I’m not counting, like, Kevin Garnett, because he was only here for a year, right?
Davis: Yeah. Yeah — we count him.
Nichols: You count him?
Davis: We count half. He’s half.
Nichols: All right. Well half. Isiah Thomas.
Nichols: You got Dwyane Wade, Tim Hardaway, George Mikan is from here.
Davis: I didn’t know that.
Nichols: Yep, I just learned when I had to look it up. Also Mo Cheeks. Where do you think, when you’re all said and done, you will fit into that? It’s a pretty good group.
Davis: It is a good group. Great group. Elite group. When I finish, I want to be on top. When you mention Chicago basketball, I want to be the first person that people think about. First name people mention. I have a long way to go, obviously. But I think that’s something that can be attainable, and that’s gonna be my goal from here on out.
Nichols: So you were talking just outside there, talking about how you want to be the best Chicago baller ever, but what about this NBA, right now? Where do you see yourself in today’s NBA?
Davis: Honestly, I see myself as the best player in the league, most dominant player in the league. I think it’s time for that step. You only get a short window. And, I don’t want that window to close, so I think my time is now.
Nichols: So give me the sell. Why should I put you up ahead of guys like LeBron, Kevin Durant?
Davis: It’s — don’t get me wrong — those two are great, great players, but I think I bring something unique to the table. My game is different from both of those guys. Both ends on the floor. I was MVP candidate and Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and so that’s why I feel like my name should be at the top of that list.
Nichols: When you look at guys who are always mentioned as those top best players, you’re talking about LeBron, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Steph Curry. All four of those guys have reached the NBA Finals. Three of them have multiple championship rings. How much do you think winning has to be a part of all that conversation?
Davis: I think it has to be. It’s a big part. Winning definitely helps everything. It helps with your legacy. It helps to be in the top of that list. So for me — yes, people see everything that I do. But not going forward in the playoffs or going to the playoffs every three years doesn’t help my case.
Nichols: You can only go as far as the team around you is built to go. Will there be a point for you that if the Pelicans can’t get you to deep into the NBA playoffs, you will have to think about going somewhere else?
Davis: At this point, it’s just about winning for me and being the most dominant player in the league. And whenever that time comes … I have a great team behind me, who advise me on some decisions. But my focus right now is on this year, focusing on our game tomorrow in the preseason and then starting this season off right.
Nichols: You recently switched agents. You’re now with Rich Paul, who — of course — his most famous client is LeBron James and — of course — as soon as that happened, everyone’s like, “AD to Lakers, that’s gonna happen. AD’s gonna demand a trade to the Lakers.” What has that been like for you to hear that from everywhere?
Davis: Oh, you hear it everywhere. And it’s funny. How did that even — how do those things even correlate?
Nichols: Well, you know how that correlates?
Davis: Yeah, I mean, of course. But in my head, like I said, I don’t pay attention to it. And I keep going back to it, but it’s the truth, I look at what I have now, and what I can do now. And that’s helping my team win. You can’t listen to what somebody else is saying or listen to all the white noise or, ‘AD’s going here, he’s going here, he’s going here.’
Well, AD is playing for the Pelicans this year. So my job is to focus on winning and helping these guys as much as possible on and off the floor. And the rest will take care of itself.
Nichols: People forget, I think, also, that the Pelicans are the team that next summer can offer you a supermax contract. They could make you the highest-paid player in the NBA. How important is something like that to you?
Davis: It’s important, of course. But, like I said, I want to win. But when that time comes, we’ll get to that point. My biggest thing is to focus on this year. Help my guys. And like I said, the rest will take care of itself when that time comes.
Nichols: What is it about this year’s New Orleans team that gives you confidence?
Davis: The way we play. When you’re playing at a fast pace — like practices and training camp has been off the charts. Danny Crawford has been there, and he’s like, “Man, you guys go hard. You guys going at each other.” And like the same thing we have, everybody’s focused. We don’t have any distractions. Everybody loves each other and everybody loves playing with each other so far.
Nichols: I was looking over the Pelicans rosters from the last few years, and the amount of change you have had to deal with. I want to know if you can tell me how many players you have played with over just the last three seasons?
Davis: Counting G League players?
Nichols: Guys who suited up to play with you in an NBA game.
Davis: At least 50.
Davis: Yeah, I knew it.
Nichols: Three seasons; 51 teammates you had in three seasons. When you have that much change around you, you have to learn to be the consistent voice. It thrusts you into a leadership role whether you want to or not.
Davis: Last year DeMarcus was the bad cop. I was the good cop. Somebody’s not doing all right, he’s being DeMarcus. And then I was always that pat-on-the-back guy. And then of course you had Rondo. So when those guys left, I made an emphasis to myself, that it’s not on Coach to say, “All right, guys, we gotta pick it up” or “Everybody listen up” or “We need to hurry up” — that’s me. That’s me now. And it kinda feels good, because you’re getting guys who want to follow you. But somebody has to lead, and I kinda took on that role.
Nichols: It’s been striking to see you at All-Star Games over the years or at Team USA minicamp just this past summer. When you first got in with those kinds of groups, your eyes were always so wide. Like: “I can’t believe I’m sitting here with these dudes.” And then now you’re one of the main dudes that the other people are, “I can’t believe I’m sitting here and AD’s here.” What does that feel like?
Davis: Oh, it feels amazing. Walking into the Olympics, I was first like, “Oh man, there’s LeBron. Oh, there’s Kobe, oh.” Kobe would say, “Man, young fella, let’s go to dinner.” And I’m like, ‘Wow, Kobe wants me to go with him.’ But now it’s like, “What’s up, LeBron? What’s up, Kobe?” Because it’s not just that I feel like I’m one of those guys. I know I’m one of those guys.
Nichols: Well, you’ve come out and said it, you don’t want to just be one of those guys, you wanna be the guy.
Davis: The guy.
Nichols: You’ve written the check. Are you ready to go out and cash it this season?
Davis: I’m ready to cash it. Cash it at every bank in the world. Like I said, I know all of the confidence I have in my ability, in my game and in my skill set. And my team knows it. And now it’s just a matter of time before we go out there and do it for real for the season. We’re gonna come out guns blazing.