There were too many kind stories to recount or selfless gestures to recreate. Perhaps the best way to sum up the afternoon at John F. Kennedy HS in the Bronx to remember former student and basketball player Andre (Pop) Davidson was silence.
Davidson fatally collapsed July 5, one week after his graduation, when playing a pickup game of basketball at St. Mary’s Gym in the south Bronx. There were many speeches given as part of the memorial, but the moment of silence was the most touching moment prior to Kennedy’s season-opening 79-58 victory over Truman Tuesday evening.
“I’ve never seen our gym so quiet,” Anthony Rotunno, the school’s principal, said. “To me, that was a sign of respect.”
Said Rhoda Lucas, his great-grandmother, who raised him: “I’m in awe of the love and attention.”
Davidson, 18, nicknamed Pop by his younger brother Brandon, a freshman at the Bronx school, because he was skinny like a popsicle, touched many of the people cramped into the gymnasium. He was remembered as a mentor for younger students – Rotunno said Davidson often gave lectures to underclassmen about the importance of staying in school – and a peacemaker. Once, basketball coach Johnny Mathis said, his former starting small forward stopped a fight between football players by getting involved himself.
“Pop came in with his magical wand and ceased the whole uproar,” the coach fondly recalled.
When Rotunno addressed the gathering he told a story of when a group of classmates were giving their teacher a hard time, refusing to enter the classroom. Davidson greeted the troublemakers, shook their hands, and entered the class with them.
Two years ago, a school bus was boarding for the PSAL volleyball city championship game, a match featuring Kennedy against Francis Lewis. The bus was overcrowded so Davidson got off. He still was there in time for first serve.
“One of those once-in-a-lifetime kids,” Rotunno said.
Most of all, Davidson put a smile on everyone’s face – friends, family, teachers, teammates, even acquaintances. His best friend, Shanay Lewis, said he could barely walk around the neighborhood without getting stopped.
“If you didn’t know him,” he said, “you heard of him.”
Davidson was a C+ student who was preparing to leave his home in the shadows of Yankee Stadium for Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, where he planned to further pursue his basketball career.
Lucas called him a clown, but in a good way. He was extremely popular; her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. She often joked his friends followed him around “like a pied piper.”
He was constantly joking, making others feel comfortable in times of hardship or stress. Lewis remembered when her grandparents passed away, in May of 2007, and he was there for her, getting a smile to peak through.
“Around Pop you couldn’t be sad,” she said. “He’d lift your spirits.”
It is why the ceremony was an uplifting one, filled with happy stories; why his funeral well-wishers had to offer their condolences from the sidewalk – too many people wanted to attend – why the day he died, 250 people gathered at nearby Nelson Park, where he could often be found playing pick-up games, to remember him. The gym was coated in posters and pictures of Davidson, his No. 23 jersey haning from the hoop during the memorial.
“We were blessed to be around a young man who was so good,” Mathis said.
In honor of their fallen teammate, many Knights left practice early Monday to get the words RIP and POP shaved into each side of their head. Many had his number 23 written on their shoes or socks. The season is being played in his memory.
“We talk about doing it for him in the huddle all the time,” senior Jeffrey Arzu said.
“For Pop,” Mathis said, addressing the crowd, “we’re going to go all the way. We’re not thinking about just going to Madison Square Garden. We want to go to Glens Falls.”