Once the applause subsided, Anthony Davis planned to talk to an attentive audience about a new business partnership. Then, someone yelled something that captures what the Lakers and their fan base have wanted all season.
“We need that ring!” the fan yelled. “We need that championship!”
Davis raised his right hand and smiled in acknowledgment. That exchange captured the delicate tightrope act Davis hopes to master that some professional athletes have struggled with in the entertainment capital of the world – how to balance endorsements without compromising their play.
Davis and First Entertainment credit Union hosted a screening at The Theater at Ace hotel in downtown Los Angeles last week to unveil a commercial he filmed with them titled “All Dreams Apply Here.” When the Lakers acquired Davis last summer from New Orleans, however, he stressed he dreamed more about collecting NBA championship hardware than signing business deals.
“I think I’ve done a great job. You don’t want to do too much where you can’t focus on basketball,” Davis said. “But you don’t want to focus on it where it’s just all about basketball. The reality of this business is you have opportunities to do certain things that others don’t because of the game. I always want to make sure I appreciate that and take advantage of it while I can.”
The Lakers will judge Davis mostly on whether he can help deliver their 17th NBA championship and first in 10 years. Davis has offered promising early returns, complementing LeBron James and becoming a favorite to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Less than a year into his first Lakers season, though, Davis also has expanded his business portfolio.
Last summer, Davis and James filmed separate scenes in “Space Jam 2,” the Looney-Tunes sequel that first starred Michael Jordan more than two decades ago. Davis partnered with Ruffles to launch his own flavored potato chip (Lime and Jalapeño) and unveiled the “Ruffles Ridge Tops” shoes. For the NBA celebrity game during All-Star weekend in Chicago, his hometown, Davis and Ruffles unveiled a court-side lounge and featured a “four-point Ridge” line with each made shot resulting in a $4,000 donation to the Special Olympics.
Davis, who also held Nike-sponsored clinics during All-Star weekend, said he is currently in talks to have his own signature shoe. Davis has filmed commercials with Exxon and Foot Locker. The terms of Davis’ numerous endorsements were not disclosed.
Beyond the commercial he completed with First Entertainment credit Union that began airing Friday, Davis plans to help with the company’s financial literacy program later this year. First Entertainment credit Union also partnered with the Lakers and invited numerous guests for its event with Davis, including current Lakers (coach Frank Vogel, executive Kurt Rambis, JaVale McGee, Alex Caruso, Avery Bradley, Jared Dudley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Quinn Cook), Lakers luminaries (James Worthy, Derek Fisher, Robert Horry), company employees and stakeholders.
As for what is next? Davis said he remains unsure other than expressing hope to partner with various tech companies. Davis has mostly focused on his on-court work.
“You don’t want him sending a message overtly that he’s trying to split his time and persona to grow his brand off the court. Winning is going to be part of his personal brand. It’s understood coming to this market that winning enables you to unlock that value long term. You have to be careful on how you thread that needle.”
He has become increasingly selective on which business deals to consider. Instead of actively seeking partnerships, Davis has weighed inquiries directed through the agency that represents him, Klutch sports Group. He has occasionally consulted James, who called Davis “my brother on and off the floor.” Both parties did not share specifics, but James said, “wherever he needs help, I’m there for him.” Just like James has learned, Davis has embraced the power of saying no.
“He doesn’t lend his name to too many things. It has to be something that is identifiable with him and something that he personally believes in,” said Amondo Redmond, the CMO of First Entertainment credit Union. “One of the things that struck a chord with him being an athlete, lot of money is being thrown at him. He was fortunate enough to have good advice around him to make wise decisions.”
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During his presentation last week at the Ace hotel, Davis said he made those decisions by leaning on his parents (Anthony Sr., Erainer) and hiring a financial advisor shortly after the Pelicans selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Beyond his interest in collecting Lamborghinis, Davis said he did not splurge his earnings. He admittedly lacked the same wisdom, however, with evaluating possible endorsements.
In 2015, Davis recorded a commercial for Boost Mobile to promote the NBA’s Game-Time app that featured him wearing a wig. Davis found the commercial spot to be too goofy and forced.
“I don’t want to be seen in that light. I didn’t feel comfortable and I didn’t feel that was me,” Davis said. “I did it not because I was forced to do it. But you have an obligation. They had an idea. This is what they wanted and we need to stick to the script. I learned if I take any punishment while I do anything, I want to be able to put my own style into it before I say yes to it.”
Since then, Davis filmed one-off commercials for “Foot Locker” and “Beats By Dre” that showcased either his competitiveness, his laid-back personality or his subtle sense of humor. When Davis filmed “Space Jam 2” last summer for three days, he became comfortable enough to improvise and give acting tips to other NBA players in the movie.
And then when it came to weighing endorsement deals? Davis said, “I always try to create partnerships with companies that have some reference with my life.”
Davis agreed to a partnership with Ruffles after snacking on their chips during his childhood. James Talamo, a Frito-Lay representative, said that Davis taste-tested his flavored chip before its release.
Redmond called Davis “my first personal choice” to sign with First Entertainment credit Union because of his star power and because he represents the numerous transplants in Los Angeles that hope to revitalize their careers. Davis initially balked at working with a credit union. He warmed to the idea after hearing the company’s initiative to help the community with financial literacy.
Davis became more empowered while filming their commercial last month. The spot shows Davis overlooking various L.A. landmarks and the diversity of its citizens. Later, Davis poses as a director and chastises the actors for not filming the scene to his liking. In real life, Davis enjoyed the finished product because he had creative freedom with the concept and the ability to improvise some of his lines.
“That’s the good thing I like about First Entertainment – we’re able to have that balance,” Davis said. “They said, ‘Here’s the structure and here’s what the idea is. But I want you to integrate your own style into it.’ That was something that you don’t really see a lot from partnerships.”
That partly explains Davis’ selectiveness. The other reason? Just remember the fan that yelled his hopes for the Lakers to win an NBA championship this season.
“For the most part,” Davis said, “I’m focusing on playing and doing great things.”
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