It’s said that life is not about the end result, but the journey to get there. For Baron Davis, the 1998-1999 season was journey of recovery, struggle and triumph.
During the 1998 NCAA Basketball Tournament, Davis was coming down from one of his powerful dunks against Michigan. Usually at this point, Davis would run back on defense getting the Bruin faithful pumped up and riding the wave of in-game momentum. Only this time, he crumbled to the floor and never got back up.
Davis tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, ending his first NCAA tournament run with doubt and fears that he may have lost the explosiveness and power that made him one of the most dangerous point guards in all of college basketball.
Fortunately, after surgery and incredibly painful physical therapy, Davis was able to return to the court for the start of the 1998-1999 season. He started out slowly, but eventually would gain back that signature Baron Davis combination of speed and rocket launch jumping ability, averaging 13.6 points and 5.1 assists a game. By the time the Washington Huskies arrived at Pauley Pavilion on February 27, Davis and the Bruins were on their way to being #21 ranked team in the nation and 3rd in the Pac-10 Conference.
However, the journey back was not complete. The Huskies were in town hoping to spoil any chance of the Bruins making it to the NCAA tournament.
Well, they tried to at least.
UCLA was running away with the game and with 2 minutes left held an 18-point lead. After forcing a turnover on the defensive end, Baron Davis led a 2-on-1 fast break with freshman JaRon Rush threatening to build the Bruin lead to 20 points.
With Davis on right side and Rush going wide to the left, Davis threw a devastating behind the back fake pass/dribble that fooled would-be Washington defender Bryan Brown so bad that he stumbled like a bar patron leaving his 5 pm to 12 am drinking session. He then rose up on that surgically repaired knee and threw down an empathic two-handed dunk that sent the entire arena into a frenzy of breathtaking exhilaration.
Though UCLA would lose to #12 ranked Detroit in the 1st round of the NCAA Tournament, Davis used the season as a springboard to be picked No. 3 in the NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets and have a productive and entertaining professional career.
Was the dunk itself one of his more explosive dunks? Probably not, but like his comeback from the ACL injury, it’s all about how he got there. The steal and the flashy behind the back dribble that all came together in that cathartic dunk was the completion of a difficult journey to recovery; a journey that was completed that night.