The Importance of Giving Back as Entrepreneurs and Business Owners: With Former NBA Player, Dwight Davis

By Yitzi Weiner and Casmin Wisner

“When I suffered a career-ending injury, I had to find a new path. It wasn’t easy — it took me many years to regain my confidence and character — but I believe those years of struggle made me a better person.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dwight Davis, a native of Houston, Texas who moved to New Hampshire in 2004, where he now owns and runs Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast. He dedicates his time to helping give seniors the quality care and peace of mind that they deserve from the comforts of their own home.
Davis is a former professional basketball player and first round draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Post-NBA spotlight, he is passionate about giving back to the community, and incorporates teamwork and his laser-focused work ethic into the way he runs his business. They now seek to build the most comprehensive home care team on the Seacoast. In addition to his responsibilities at Senior Helpers of the Greater Seacoast, Dwight serves as Vice Chairman of the NBRPA (National Basketball Retired Players Association). Dwight is a graduate of the University of Houston, and is Senior Gems® (special program seniors with Alzheimer’s and Dementia) and Veteran’s Program certified so seniors with special needs can receive the care they need.

Thank you for doing this with us! What is your backstory?

My backstory starts as a black kid in the segregated and hostile Houston, Texas during the 50s and 60s. Having to ride in the back of the bus and being refused service at many establishments was the norm back then. Using this as self-motivation, my goal was always to make something of myself and show the world that I was just as capable as the next person, regardless of my skin color.

To my surprise, I was able to achieve this goal through my success in the NBA after I was selected as the third overall draft pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1972.

When I suffered a career-ending injury, I had to find a new path. It wasn’t easy — it took me many years to regain my confidence and character—but I believe those years of struggle made me a better person. I always knew I eventually wanted to own my own business, and as it turns out, skills that I learned in the NBA would help me do exactly that; skills like discipline, preparation, anticipation, long-term and short-term goal orientation, leadership, and learning how to play to win when the scoreboard says you’re losing.

Having cared for my own aging parents, I understood firsthand what it meant to be a caregiver. When my wife Gayle and I came across the opportunity to become franchise owners with Senior Helpers, we felt this merged our skillsets into a business that genuinely helps others. It was important for us to associate with like-minded people, and we selected Senior Helpers because the organization was most in line with our values, providing open and efficient communication, a positive environment, a focus on continuous improvement, and a platform to improve our clients’—and their families—quality of life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

When I entered college at the University of Houston, I enrolled in the Pre-Pharmacy program and was fortunate enough to be introduced to an alumnus who owned several pharmacies in Houston. I was hired as a delivery driver for the pharmacy, and worked hard over the course of several summers. The delivery car was an old VW Beetle that had about 150,000 miles on it when I was first hired. After the years I served as a good and reliable employee, the owner gifted me the car, which had racked up over 250,000 miles.

That didn’t matter to me though. I was so proud of that car, despite its faded pharmacy logo and missing passenger seat that was removed years before to make room for boxes of prescription drugs that needed to be delivered. I was so happy to have a set of wheels and would shamelessly show up to pick up a date in that car. In fact, I was driving that same car the day I heard over the fuzzy AM radio that the Cleveland Cavaliers had selected me as the third player in the first round in the 1972 NBA draft. I still smile about that memory to this day.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Are you working on any meaningful nonprofit projects?

Because of my NBA career, I’ve been frequently asked to speak, join, or endorse a number of organizations over the years. I try to select organizations that reflect my values. One organization in particular is New Heights, an after-school program for kids in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area. Over the years, Gayle and I have raised and contributed over $250,000 dollars for this program through fundraisers, golf tournaments, and more.

In general, Gayle and I are extremely active in the community and work with various nonprofits—with our primary focus being to promote community education surrounding aging. We have brought numerous groups including hospitals, long-term care communities, hospice volunteers, nursing students, and families through the Virtual Dementia Tour — an experiential activity offered only by Senior Helpers, which exposes the participant to what living with dementia is like. We educate families on services, best practices and how to support their aging loved ones.

We are also founding members of the National Aging in Place Council of New Hampshire, which is a network of like-minded businesses that support seniors and their families with resources including in-home care, elder law, long term care insurance, reverse mortgages, financial advice, assisted living, and home makeovers.

Apart from aiding the senior community, I also support Project Safety, a very effective alcohol and drug diversion program for youth in Portsmouth, and the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire (BHTNH), an organization that serves to research and inform the public about the life, contributions and the challenges of people of color in New Hampshire and New England from the days of the first colonist.

I also serve on the Board of Directors for the National Basketball Retired Players Association (NBRPA) an organization that was founded 25 years ago by NBA greats Archie Clark, Dave Bing, Oscar Robinson, Dave Cowens and Dave De Busschere. The mission of the NBRPA is to assist players transitioning from the NBA to normal life, and to perform community outreach for youth serving as mentors, clinicians, and role models.

Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Dwight Davis with his wife Gayle.

It was the end of summer following the horrible shooting that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary, and Gayle and I were reflecting on how difficult it must be for the surviving kids to face going back to school in the fall.

Transitioning back to school with new classmates and teachers is hard enough, and we wanted to find a way to help these students heal after such a tremendous tragedy. I reached out to a couple of friends from the National Basketball Retired Players Association who are CEOs of large companies and asked if they would consider funding the project, to which they gave me a resounding yes. After making a few phone calls with the administrators of Newtown, we were given permission to come to the school.
We spent an entire day taking over 200 kids through basketball drills, playing basketball games, and answering any and all basketball questions the kids had. Afterwards, our contact, the Director of Parks and Recreation in Newtown, told us it was the first time many of the children had smiled since the day of the shooting. It was one of the best days of my life.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why?

The five things that come to mind are things that I was told, but clearly did not hear or internalize until a later time in life.

  1. I wish someone had told me how blessed I was. Growing up poor in the segregated South, I understood things were difficult, but I wish I had paid more attention to how blessed I was. I had wonderful, loving parents, and I was fortunate to grow up in America. It’s important to focus on the positive in life.
  2. I wish someone had told me to get a mentor early on. Even though I had great parents, they worked many, many hours just to keep us afloat. If I had known how beneficial a mentor could be, I could have benefited from spending time with someone I could learn from early on.
  3. I wish someone had told me that girls take on more importance than they should to a teenage boy.
  4. I wish someone had told me early on to get a post-graduate degree.
  5. I wish someone had told me to start my own business while I was still playing in the NBA.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would love to have a private meal with Mr. Obama. I think I could learn a lot about leadership over just one meal—especially when it comes to the work I do with the National Basketball Retired Players Association. This organization has so much to offer the community, but is functioning at what I believe is 25 percent of its potential. Mr. Obama’s unequaled ability to communicate, his intelligence, and his calm demeanor could awaken and inspire the members of this organization so its higher purpose can be achieved for the good of players and the community.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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