Editor’s Note: Preston Ellis of The Bird Writes — our sister site that covers the New Orleans Pelicans — did an exclusive interview with Lakers star Anthony Davis for a story on the two-year anniversary of his trade demand as Davis promoted his upcoming Super Bowl commercial with Michelob Ultra.
Below is a lightly edited transcript of their conversation, which you can also listen to on “The Bird Calls” podcast.
Preston Ellis: So, you’re here to talk about your new Super Bowl commercial featuring Michelob Ultra and a catchphrase that has given your life particular meaning. Can you elaborate on happiness leading to success?
Anthony Davis: “It’s a true fact. Most people think success is determined by dedication, hard work, grit, grind, which is very true but if you’re not happy, it’s hard to be successful. You can see a lot of people who are successful who are not happy. But for me, when I realized being happy off the court for me leads to winning for me was when I got drafted and went to the Olympics. I was just so happy to be around all these guys. LeBron, Chris Paul, Kobe, Kevin Durant, all these guys who were successful. (That’s) when I realized I’m happy.
“I didn’t play much, but I know they were happy and it leads to winning. I knew it played a part in it, and it’s fun because I had a coach my rookie year, Monty Williams, who always told me, ‘Never let anyone steal the joy from you. Never let anyone steal your joy for the game from you.’ I carry that with me and it just so happened that Michelob had the same idea. You can’t let your joy of the game go away, because if you’re not happy, you won’t be successful. You’ll never win. That’s where this came about.”
Naturally, the follow up is to find what led to this discovery. In order to appreciate finding your joy or purpose, you must trace a sort of eureka moment that led to it. When did you make your discovery?
“When you’re losing. You don’t realize, especially a lot of athletes... you don’t realize that you’re not happy. You made a ton of money. You can do whatever you want. You can live this lifestyle, quote-unquote ‘The American Dream.’ You don’t realize you’re unhappy until you’re not winning.
“For me, as the season went on like the first year before I wont a championship, yes I was getting paid a lot of money and I was playing the game I love, but losing sucks. I’m not happy. I want to be happy. And you kind of go through these times where it’s like, ‘do I really want to play basketball? Am I really good enough?’ You start doubting yourself because you’re not happy. Or it might be stuff in your personal life where you’re not happy. Whether it’s in a relationship or family, whatever it may be. I had some of those things where it’s like I’m going through something off the court. I’m not happy and it’s reflecting my game. It starts leading to minor injuries, you’re not playing hard enough, things like that.
“The best way to bounce back from that is to find your joy. Going back to what I said before, ‘never let anyone steal your joy.’ As long as I’m happy and happy with life, happy to be alive and happy for everything that I have, it’s going to translate to the floor and translate to success. I had those times but I continued to try to find a way to be happy and be thankful for what I do have and let it translate on the floor.”
I imagine this discovery and the way you have implemented it would be a pretty powerful message to some other athletes in the league, guys who have publicly struggled and even those who have privately. Talk about how you were able to channel those difficulties in the bubble and ultimately overcome them?
“We had great people around us. Some guys that actually came out and said it felt like the walls were closing in on them. When they had a bad game, the first thing they’d do is go on social media and social media is killing you because you played bad. So, the walls are closing in and you start overthinking.
“For our team, we always found something to do to make us happy to be joyful, whether it’s video games, watching a movie, comedy special or anything to make sure we’re happy, because we know the mind is the strongest muscle in the body. If you’re mind goes, your body goes. We wanted to make sure that we stayed happy, stayed upbeat while being in the bubble for three and a half months and I think that’s part of why we were able to win a championship.”
Who are some of the people in your life who reinforce you and your desire to live each day joyfully?
“Everybody I hang out with this to this day. It’s not one individual person. Everybody I’m around, they know I don’t do the whole negativity thing. I don’t like being sad and grumpy and mad. I don’t like that around me. I’m real big on aura. If your energy is bad, if you’re not through the roof happy and excited all the time, I don’t need that. I’m a happy person. I want to enjoy life. I want to be happy. I know what it can do for me and my respective field. I want to spread joy to everybody else because I know what it can do potentially for them. My entire team that’s around me, I try to make sure we’re always laughing and having a good time.
Can you delve a bit deeper in aura? It sounds like it’s something that takes particular significance in your life. Is it something you practice daily?
“I get really deep into it, the energy of it. I don’t really do the rocks, where they surround themselves with crystal rocks. I don’t do that. I just mean the energy. The vibes. And the team that’s around me, they’re the same way. I’m just talking about keeping a good spirit. Always look on the bright side. I know that’s cliche. But when you’re able to look at the bright side and the potential of it and be optimistic about something? It changes your light. It changes your mindset, your motivation, your drive, whatever.
“It’s all about mindset. I’m real big on having a positive mindset. The people around me do a great job of making sure my mindset is always positive.”
If joy leads to happiness and you earned yourself a title in LA, what happened in New Orleans? Did you lose that joy at some point? Or did you keep it despite the hardships?
“For the most part I did. Even though we were losing, I was still happy. I still had that joy. It wasn’t until I requested a trade that I started losing joy. I didn’t want to go to practice, I didn’t want to play. There was just a lot going on because I didn’t have that joy with me anymore. Getting into it with the fans, the media, it was just a lot on and I wasn’t in a great mind, a great space for me to be joyful. Everyday was like, ‘ugh, here’s another day. I can’t wait until the season is over,’ things like that. That’s when your team really is needed and I was able to overcome all that and get happy again, be joyful again, be excited again. That helped me to win a championship.
“You kind of need those moments to know how to get out of them. When you get into those moments, you have to get the right people around you. You can’t have other negative Nancys around you, like ‘ah man, the whole team is depressed.’ But I was lucky because I had a great team around me who said, ‘man, you’re good. Just keep playing. You can’t let anyone steal your joy. How can you get upset about what someone else says about you?’ The old saying, ‘sticks and stones can break my bones. You’d see people say, ‘AD you traitor!’ and I’d think, ‘what? You don’t understand what I’m going through.’
“It was all wearing down on me at one time, but I had a great team around me, from my agency to my family to my friends (who said) ‘nah, forget what they’re saying. You’re doing what’s best for you and your family.’ So I was able to persevere through that and get out of that space.”
What would you say to some of those fans and even your peers in regard to that exit?
“No one can live your life. You live your life the way you want to. Now, people can help you and direct you in a way that they think is best for you, but at the end of the day, it’s what you want to do. It’s your life. So I have to make changes and decisions that are going to benefit me and make me happy. And I think that’s for everybody. You have to do things and make decisions based upon your happiness. If you’re happy, you can sleep well at night. If you’re making decisions that you can’t stand by and not happy about? You’re going to be up all night.”