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THE PISTONS' SPIELBERG?

Davis moonlights as producer for W.A.R. company

February 8, 2006

BY KRISTA LATHAM

FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

What: "Playas Ball," a film by W.A.R. Entertainment, a production company run by the Pistons' Dale Davis.

Plot: A basketball player on the cusp of superstardom gets entangled in a sex scandal.

Premieres: Feb. 17 in Houston. Date for the Detroit premiere to be announced.

More info: www.playasball.com and www.worldaintright.com.

Pistons reserve forward Dale Davis won't fly to Houston next week to play in the NBA All-Star Game.

But he will head to the Texas city to attend to a different career milestone -- the release of his first movie.

Substitute a red carpet for the hardwood, a power suit for a jersey. Davis has gone Hollywood.

The movie, inspired by life as he has known it in the NBA, is called "Playas Ball." The red-carpet premiere is Feb. 16 in Houston, three days before the All-Star Game. The film's public debut is the following day. "Playas Ball" is scheduled to hit Detroit soon, although a date hasn't been set.

This moment has been a long time coming for Davis, 36. The film, wrapped and waiting for the right distributor, was shelved in 2003 amid a strange connection to a famous rape case.

But the baby of Davis' 8-year-old company, W.A.R. Entertainment, is finally ready for release -- and he couldn't be prouder.

"My whole philosophy when I got this started was to create an arm for urban movies," Davis said. "And you now, it took me a little longer to get that finished, but now we have it."

W.A.R. stands for World Ain't Right. Those are more than letters to Davis. They speak his deeply held philosophy, a perspective gained from growing up "without the silver spoon" in his mouth, he said, and working toward a career in an exclusive club populated by mostly black men, like him.

While basketball is first and foremost in Davis' heart, W.A.R. follows as a close second.

In his journey through life, Davis said he has learned that there's still plenty of work to do to make the world a better place.

"It's about things just not being right in the world," he said. "It's the struggle, which is a war, a lot of the times, that's within. It applies to pretty much every situation that you can think of. I look at it as what I can do to make it better."

What he thought he could do was give urban artists, actors and writers a company committed to helping them achieve their dreams in the music and movie industries. And he wanted to spread positive, yet realistic messages, about urban life -- especially for blacks.

That means not ignoring the realities of wealth, fame, professional sports -- or guns, violence, gangs and drugs. He looks for artists or movies that show people emerging from those problems.

"I kind of built my business in the beginning with artists from the street who have had to overcome obstacles," said Davis, who grew up in small-town Toccoa, Ga. "People that have been through something and have tried to use their talents to change their lives."

"Playas Ball" centers on a fictional professional basketball player who enjoys a positive reputation, a high scoring average, a bevy of product endorsements and the likelihood of a rich and successful future.

But the character, played by Allen Payne ("The Perfect Storm"), soon sinks into a mess that involves an accusation of date rape and an ensuing paternity suit.

Davis based the concept on problems and issues he has seen during his 14-year NBA career. He handpicked the writers to turn the concept into a script, and he put up $1 million of his own money to finance the film.

Filming wrapped in early 2003, and about five months later, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old hotel worker in Colorado. (Charges eventually were dropped and a civil case was settled.) The incident mirrored Davis' movie in uncanny ways, even the endorsement deal.

In "Playas Ball," the character signs a major shoe deal before the incident. In real life, Bryant signed an extension with Nike just days before the incident.

Word spread that Davis was shopping a movie with an eerily similar storyline. He became the focus of some strange conspiracy theories. Some bloggers accused Davis, who was with Portland at the time, of planting the woman in Colorado with the dual purpose of disrupting the Lakers' budding dynasty and promoting his movie.

Davis chalked up the similarities to a "freak of nature."

"In actuality, it wasn't a Kobe Bryant story," he said "It was a story of a professional athlete -- he did sign a huge shoe endorsement contract, he did get accused of the rape situation -- and it showed some of the trials and tribulations that he went through (despite) being a squeaky-clean athlete."

But because of the sensitivity of the matter, Davis waited to release the movie. Now he's ready to show it to the world. And he hopes the fact that life imitated his art strengthens his message.

"It just shows that even if you're on the superstar level, you're only human," he said. "And if you don't have the correct guidance and mentorship, you can go out and get in trouble. Sometimes even if you do have it you can still get caught up in things.

"That side of professional athletes' lives, I don't think people really understand or have any clue of."