APRIL 9, 1990
Brian Davis has always had a problem: He's tall and ceilings are low. As undergraduates at Duke, the 6'7�" Davis and his 6'11" buddy, Christian Laettner, often discussed how to address that and more serious city planning issues, such as the need to refurbish old and abandoned inner-city structures to create apartments and business spaces. "I remember seeing how bad urban life was," says Davis, 30, who grew up in Atlantic City and Washington before majoring in Afro-American studies at Duke. "There was no good housing. Being tall, Christian and I knew that loft-style apartments worked well. High ceilings were absolutely part of our vision."
In 1994, Davis, Laettner and a third partner, Duke business-school graduate Tom Niemann, established Blue Devil Ventures (BDV), a for-profit community development company in Durham, N.C. that restores and reuses dilapidated urban properties. Although Laettner's day job as a Dallas Maverick cuts into his office time, managing partners Davis and Niemann regularly consult him. BDV raised $43 million from banks, venture capitalists and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to purchase and convert five tobacco warehouses into West Village, an apartment complex that includes 38,000 square feet of commercial and retail space in Durham. "We want to make downtown better," Davis says, "make it functional again." More than three quarters of the 243 apartments—all of which have ceilings that satisfy the partners' elevated vision—are rented (at $600 to $1,600 per month), and 85% of the commercial space is leased, with construction scheduled to wrap up in January. The next stop on BDV's hoped-for urban restoration tour is St. Louis (Niemann's hometown).
When they weren't city-planning in their dorm, Davis and Laettner were building a legacy on the basketball court. Although Davis's only, and Laettner's first, SI cover appearance came as Duke was crushed by UNLV in the 1990 NCAA finals, as senior co-captains they led the Blue Devils to a second consecutive NCAA title. Coach Mike Krzyzewski called Davis "the best leader for our team"—a team that also included Grant Hill and Bobby Hurley. The NBA proved tougher for Davis. Drafted and released by the Phoenix Suns before the 1992-93 season began, Davis rode the bench for the 1993-94 Minnesota Timberwolves. He retired after that season but has never stopped playing basketball and hopes to mount an NBA comeback next season. In the meantime he and his pregnant wife, Marcia, 28, look forward to spending time in their West Village penthouse apartment, marveling at their 15-foot ceilings. Problem solved.