Christian Laettner and Brian Davis helped put Duke University on the map with back-to-back victories in the 1991 and 1992 NCAA basketball tournaments. But the former co-captains have since traded in their blue jerseys for blueprints. Laettner and Davis are the co-founders of Blue Devil Ventures, a real-estate development company based in Durham, N.C., where Duke is also located. Starting in 1999, the firm began converting old tobacco warehouses into a complex of fashionable apartments and condos called West Village.
While Laettner, the leading scorer in NCAA tournament history, rehabs an Achilles injury in hopes of restarting his 14-year NBA career, Davis, the firm's managing partner, has been dedicating himself to BDV's next turnaround project: some 30 acres of urban space in downtown Baltimore. Davis recently spoke to Inc., about life as an entrepreneur.
Q: Christian Laettner is famous for his prickly persona. How did you come to choose his as your business partner?
Davis: I met Christian back in high school, when we both played in the McDonald's All-American game. He was always talking trash on the court. I was kind of dreading the fact that we were both headed to Duke in the fall. Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] made the smart move of making us room together so we wouldn't tear the team apart! Now he's my brother. We would always eat corned beef and hash, watch SportsCenter, and talk about what kind of business we were going to open together after we stopped playing. We tried bottled water, a magazine, and a barbershop, before we got it right with real estate.
Q: Where did you get your interest in real estate?
Davis: I grew up in Atlantic City, so I've been playing Monopoly my whole life. I always knew I wanted to be in real estate. I always wanted to make a contribution to other black people, and thought real estate would be better than being a politician. During my summers in school, I did a lot of networking on my internship, like with former North Carolina governor and senator Terry Sanford Jr. in D.C., and with John Mack with Morgan Stanley on Wall Street. Coming in contact with people like that, and former Duke president Keith Brodie, inspired me and gave me the connections I needed to start the business.
Q: How hard was it for you to finally hang up your sneakers?
Davis: It was like a jazz player deciding he can't play his sax anymore. I had been drafted by the Phoenix Suns, played in France for a year, and ended with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It got tough trying out for one-year contracts. I have a wife, Marsha, and two kids -- Brian Jr. and Brock. I was looking for stability. And I had never stopped thinking about real estate. I knew I needed to get it out of me. It turned out to be the right move since it has become my life's work.
Q: You have a new project starting in Baltimore. What can you tell us about it?
Davis: We bought 30 acres right behind the football stadium. We are going to take our 3 million feet and do the same kind of downtown revitalization that we did in Durham. We want to bring in high-end retailers, and we talked to both Magic Johnson and Robert Redford about bringing in theaters. Christian and I believe we're not just business guys. We're trying to start a movement that gets people excited. We want to show people that what we did on the court was not a fluke -- we're for real.