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Paul Pierce and Baron Davis Learned From Their Fathers’ Mistakes

The retired NBA greats on how they want to be remembered by their kids.

We are living in a golden age of the NBA. The league is packed with superstars who put on clinics nightly. But long before the days of LeBron James, Steph Curry, and James Harden, Celtics legend Paul Pierce and consummate journeyman Baron Davis were setting precedent, showing up-and-coming players how to evolve into both all-stars and responsible adults. Together, the now-retired superstars have more than 30 years of NBA experience, 12 All-Star appearances, and nearly 30,000 career points. They also have five kids between them. That’s the more pressing piece of information.

Pierce has two daughters and a son. Davis has two young boys. They both have a lot they want to accomplish as parents and are keenly aware that their kids, as the children of famous men, are growing up in unusual circumstances. Fatherly spoke with these two living legends about coaching their kids, learning from the mistakes of their fathers, and comparing new cartoons with the classics.

You both had long, successful careers in the NBA. As your kids have gotten older, have you found that they share your love for sports?

Pierce: My kids are starting to get into sports. I have three. One is 10, the other one’s six, and the youngest is five. My daughter blank is the oldest and she just started softball. She’s playing tennis and basketball in the last couple years. And my son just got into softball.

Davis: My two boys are three and two years old so they’re not really into sports right now. They’re more into cartoons, playing with toys, and they’re iPads. I try and coach them in soccer but they more want to play in the dirt.

Would ever want to coach your kids if they got into sports?

Pierce: I feel like I coach them now. I’m not the actual coach, but I’m a sideline coach constantly yelling on giving them instructions during the games. So I feel like a coach already.

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Davis: I would like to coach my kids someday. I feel like I’m a pretty neutral and fair guy, so I would like that.

As former professional athletes, you guys are obviously very competitive. How do you instill that competitive spirit into your kids without putting too much pressure on them?

Davis: I think you got to give a kid, you know, first and foremost a permission to fail. So I try and allow my kids permission to fail. But I don’t let them quit. So you may get upset or may feel like you didn’t do your best but you have to finish the project. You got to finish the task because it’s only going to make you better. So I try to teach from that perspective that allows them to have more compassion for themselves and their mistakes.

How do you feel like you have changed since becoming dads?

Pierce: I guess the biggest way is how I live every day because I got something to live for. I got kids that depend on me every day. When you’re a young, single with no kids, you can go out with your friends your friends and you can do whatever you want to do. That’s who I was but now that I’ve got kids, I can’t just think about myself. I have to think about how my actions affect my family because I know daddy gotta make it home. They need their dad.

Davis: I always say it’s the little parent inside of my head that’s parenting, right? Once I became a dad I started to become more aware of what I was saying and what I was doing because everything I’m doing and saying isn’t just for me anymore. So I am now the translator to my kids and I have to help them be prepared for life.

Being a parent obviously requires a lot of time and dedication. You both have busy schedules, so how do you balance your careers with the demands of fatherhood?

Davis: It is challenging, but also not so challenging because I don’t play basketball anymore. So my life is not beholding to anything but my kids. It makes it easier to travel because I know I’m coming home and they’re the foundation. They are the life, they are the practice, they are the everyday.

Pierce: It’s a little difficult for me right now because I’ll feel like I’m traveling about the same as I did as a professional player, which is grueling. Then, on top of that, I have to find time for my wife and then for myself and then for kids and work. So it’s tough trying to balance it all because when I have a long week of work with a lot of traveling, I come home and I want time to myself. But I got two kids so I’ve got no time. It’s difficult trying to balance it a bit. So in the summertime, we spend more time together where we travel and do vacation and things of that nature.

You two have both spoken about your complicated relationships with your own fathers. How have those shaped your attitude towards being a dad and being there for your kids?

Davis: For me, it’s like fight or flight. I didn’t really have a dad at all growing up and he passed away when I was 22 so I never really got a chance to know him. And he never really got to know who I am through him. So as a parent, I am aware of all the things that I want to do for my kids that I missed out on as a kid. It helps me build the character that I want and helps me be the father I want to be for boys.

Pierce: For me, not having my dad around, it just makes me want to give my kids the love and care that I didn’t have. I think about it all the time. My kids are at the age now where they’ll ask, “Dad, who’s your dad?” And I will tell them that I didn’t grow up with a dad and that’s something they don’t really understand yet. My kids are privileged to have their dad in their life. And I’m here. I’m there always there for them. And so I just try to be the dad that my dad wasn’t.

Your kids are being raised in just very different circumstances than you both were, as you were raised in poorer households. Are you trying to make sure your kids are aware of the privilege they have?

Pierce: Oh yeah, I definitely want them to know. My kids are very privileged because of the success I’ve had as a professional basketball player and so I try to ground them by helping them see what their lives look like compared to others. During holiday seasons, like Christmas or Thanksgiving, we’ll go to a mission or a shelter and feed the poor and try to help however we can. And beyond just helping others, I hope my kids understand they live in a small percentage, of a world that a lot of kids don’t.

They should be more appreciative and less spoiled but it’s hard not to spoil your kids. It’s your kid, you know? But you try to put a perspective on it. And as I get a little older, I want to take them to around the world and let them see some of these other countries too where, you know, people are in desperate need of food and water and shelter. I want to help them realize that it’s best to help other people if you can.

Have you guys had any “dad injuries” that have happened to you because of your kids?

Davis: I step on so many toys. I have twisted my ankle, I’ve bruised the bottom of my foot, and then at night bumping into their bedposts. Just stuff like that. It’s everywhere.

Pierce: I definitely have cuts on my feet from stepping on one of their toy cars or something like that. I’ve stubbed my toes so many times.

You guys recently participated as coaches in Bengay’s Sore Winners Showdown. What can you tell us about that?

Davis: We were out in Atlanta and Bengay invited some weekend warriors and some fraternity guys from the National Panhellenic Council of Greater Atlanta (NPHC) to participate in the Sore Winners Showdown. But they didn’t know that me and Paul were the surprise coaches and we gave them the full NBA experience as coaches. Practicing and preparing like it was a real professional game. It was a great time. We wanted to help make men our age and older than us feel good and push themselves to see that there is pleasure and reward that comes from pushing through pain.

What did you guys learn about your coaching styles?

Pierce: I’m a tough coach. I like to yell and I’m easily irritated by mistakes. So I don’t think I would make a very good a professional coach but fortunately, this was all recreation.

Davis: You know, I thought it was a great coach in these celebrity games. But the ones that are equal opportunity where everybody got to play, I realized I’m not a good coach. I’m up yelling at the players trying to give them the experience that they would get in an NBA game. So we treated it serious but also allowed them to have fun.

Weird question, but front-of-mind for a lot of parents: Parents are forced to watch a lot of children’s television. What are some of your kids’ favorite shows right now?

Davis: Peppa Pig is big. We’re watching Monsters University over and over. They love Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Sing.

Pierce: My son is into Scooby Doo right now.

Do you like watching the older shows with them more or do you like the new stuff?

Pierce: The new animation is better.

Davis: Yeah, but the older animation storylines were cooler and a little weirder. Like how the Flintstones is just the Honeymooners but animated. I never knew that until my kids were watching The Flintstones while I was driving. It sounds exactly like the Honeymooners. That cracked me up.