Rarely do you find guards like Walter Davis. He was sleek, his game was glossy, his style was gossamer and well-groomed. It’s little wonder Davis earned the nickname “Greyhound”. And at 6’6″ tall and just 195 lbs, Davis looked evermore the part of a greyhound as he bounded and sped up and down the court.
Davis also had an absolutely smooth, silky jumper. It was the definition of soft. It was the pinnacle of delicacy. The effortless stroke on his jumper begat another nickname, “The Man With the Velvet Touch.”
The Phoenix Suns certainly got themselves a gem of a player with the 5th pick in the 1977 draft. Davis wound up averaging 24 points as a rookie and was voted the Rookie of the Year for the 1977-78 season. From that season through 1981, Davis would average 22 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.5 steals, 55% FG, and 83% FT. The sensational shooting guard was placed on the All-NBA 2nd Team twice during this span, and also was named an all-star every one of those seasons.
However, the 1981-82 season revealed the true scourge of Walter’s career: cocaine.
Limited to just 55 games, and starting only 12 of them, Davis averaged a paltry (for him) 14 points and 3 assists per game. Mind you, he did those averages in just 21.5 minutes a night. In fact, that’s another important theme of Davis’s career: his ability to rack up lots of points barely any time.
During his 15-year career, Davis averaged over 30 minutes per game seven times. His career-high in minutes per game was 33.5 in the 1986-87 season. Despite this, Davis averaged 18.9 points per game for his career. If he had played “regular” starters minutes he’d easily have been in the 23 to 25 point range for his career.
But that scourge of cocaine plagued Walter’s career.
He bounced back in 1983 and 1984 averaging 20 points and 5 assists per game those two season. Then in the 1984-85 campaign, he relapsed and tested positive for drugs. He appeared in just 23 games that season. Davis, acting as some basketball phoenix, rose yet again. He would average 22 points and 23.5 points over the next two years after cleaning up. In 1987 he was named an all-star for the sixth and final time.
But that year, a huge cocaine scandal broke in the Arizona desert. Several current and former Suns players were charged with drug trafficking. Davis was not one of those indicted, but nonetheless admitted to still doing cocaine. Another stint in rehab followed for Walter. Now at age 33 and with a troublesome back, a third comeback for Davis didn’t seem likely.
But he did it anyways.
Over the final five seasons of his career, Davis got clean. In his mid-and-late-30s, the Greyhound maintained his velvet touch and scored 15 points a game in just 23 minutes a night. Finally in 1992, Davis retired from the NBA.
A great player that played mostly with the Phoenix Suns, Davis can’t be said to have had a great career. Actually, it was a great career, just one that didn’t run smoothly. The herky jerky nature of his career and the sensational nature of cocaine can lead one to falsely conclude Davis didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t leave a mark.
As the Suns’ all-time leading scorer, as a man with a perfect jumper, as a man who resiliently (if excruciatingly) rejected personal demons, Davis did truly leave a mark for those who bother to look.
Years Played: 1977 – 1992
Rookie of the Year (1978)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1978-’79)
6x All-Star (1978-’81, 1984, 1987)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1978)
NBA – 1033 Games
18.9 PPG, 3.8 APG, 3.0 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 51.1% FG, 85.1% FT
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1977-78 through 1991-92 season)
8th Points, 31st PPG
6th FGs Made, 37th FG%
31st FTs Made, 8th FT%
21st Assists, 33rd APG
15th Steals, 38th SPG
6th Games Played, 18th Minutes Played