By Amanda McGregor
SALEM — Teenagers at the Plummer Home for Boys got the thrill of a lifetime yesterday when they were visited by retired Boston Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell and Celtics forward Glen Davis, who played one-on-one basketball with some of the residents.
Davis, who goes by the nickname "Big Baby," and Maxwell, now a sports radio broadcaster, were in Salem for the dedication of a new basketball court that was donated to the Plummer Home. Later, they visited the Boys and Girls Club.
"I remember myself as a young child and I was in the same situation as you with nowhere to turn to," Davis told the Plummer Home residents, as well as a crowd of more than 100, including Plummer Home staff members and their families, TV crews and local officials.
The Plummer Home, founded in 1855, is a group home for up to 16 teenage boys who have a history of abuse and neglect and, in some cases, behavioral issues.
"Oh my God, I'm flipping out right now," said Diarra Pickett, 16, a resident who gave Davis a tour of the house and took pictures of him on his cell phone. "... If Glen Davis from the Celtics was in a place like this, I can for sure just go from here and be something."
From the second he arrived at the Plummer Home just after 11 a.m., Davis — at 6-foot-9 and 290 pounds — was a tornado of playful energy. He launched a basketball at the hoop and missed a few shots before sinking one.
"How y'all doing?" he called out. "It's beautiful scenery. You want to show me around?"
While the crowd waited for Cedric Maxwell to arrive, Davis, 24, toured the group home, followed by a cluster of photographers and television cameras.
He barreled through the rooms — talking to the residents, sampling a handful of fruity cereal, picking up a video game controller to play Xbox, goofing around on the drum set in the music room, making up a song on the spot ("Celtics rock. Yeah. Big Baby, Big Baby"), and challenging a resident to a quick game of pingpong.
"I'm hungry, man. Let's get something to eat," said Davis, who happily slurped down a bowl of Ramen noodles that the boys made him.
"He has a very good personality," said Thomas Luongo, 18, one of the residents who got to play basketball with Davis. "It was just fun. I respect him. I was happy he could come out here."
Maxwell, who brought his 14-year-old son, Deven, ran a shooting clinic with the boys on the new basketball court.
"It's just a pleasure when we're able to do something in the community," said Maxwell, who presented the Plummer Home with a white-and-green Celtics jersey that read "PLUMMER" on the back above the number 10.
"This gives us an opportunity to really come out and see kids and enjoy ourselves," Maxwell said as he watched Davis goof around with the boys.
"This stuff is meant for him. He's like a big kid," he said with a laugh.
The new basketball court replaced an old cracked, asphalt court with weeds growing through it, according to Plummer Home executive director James Lister. It was funded through a donation from football Hall of Famer Steve Young's Forever Young Foundation.
The old court was torn out to make way for a new 6-inch concrete slab on which a specially manufactured, all-purpose sport court was installed, according to Plummer Home Development Director Nicole McLaughlin, who said the court itself cost $35,000.
Thanks to the Celtics and RE/MAX of New England, the Plummer Home was selected as a recipient of the RE/MAX Home Court award program and received donations of an electronic scoreboard, basketballs, racks and Celtics-themed items — as well as the visit from Davis and Maxwell, and the Celtics mascot Lucky.
Lister said the boys and the staff helped install the court, which was just completed Friday.
"We can't get these guys to wash their socks sometimes," Lister joked, "but they were out here for hours and hours."
He said basketball is more than just a game for the residents, many of whom haven't received a lot of opportunities from their families.
"We build relationships and teach teamwork out here," Lister said as he gestured to the new court, which offers a view of Salem Harbor in the background. "We put it up Friday and they haven't been off it since."
Staff writer Amanda McGregor can be reached at email@example.com.
"Big Baby" Glen Davis fielded questions at the Plummer Home in Salem
Why did you want to come to Salem today?
"I have a lot in common with kids like this — believe it or not, I do. To be able to touch a real life basketball player means a lot to them," said Davis, who grew up in Baton Rouge, La.
What did you like about meeting these kids?
"Kids being happy — that's what it's all about. To see their faces. I'm just glad to be here."
Any future NBA stars?
"I see some good talent, but everybody needs a little work. That's what we're here for."
Advice to these young men to achieve?
"Look at your situation as a stepping stone to help you to become a better person. ... Don't fall into what you're used to and what you know; go the other way. Instead of me being a product of my environment, I switched it."
Are the mosquitoes bothering you? (he was swatting at them)
"No, I'm a country boy."
What have you been doing in the off season?
"I've just been trying to do some rehab mentally. ... Other than that, I've just been relaxing and having a good time."
Thoughts on your upcoming season?
"I'm just looking forward to becoming a better player. ... This is the year of becoming that whole player."
Thoughts on Shaquille O'Neal ("Shaq") joining the Celtics?
"He's going to mix well. He's a veteran ... He's such a great guy; he knows so much about the game ... I'm excited to have two animated guys on the team (referring to Shaq and Nate Robinson) other than myself."
You're Big Baby. What about a nickname for Shaq?
"The Big Shamrock, I like that."