The noise is the sound of kids playing, background music for a life spent caring for children. The clutter — pictures, trophies, toys — reflects the scores of lives she’s influenced. The strong aroma comes from the kitchen — where soul food is cooking on the stove. This is where Davis’ life was shaped. Five minutes in Nicholson’s home, and it’s no wonder the Warriors point guard turned out the way he did. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 “She is everything to me,” Davis said of his grandmother. “I can pay her back, though. I can give her love, love her while she’s up in age. I can make sure every time I see her she’s smiling. I can tell her I love her, tell her how beautiful she is.” The first thing you see is a poster-size painting of Luke Nicholson, known as Papa Luke, over the television facing the couch. Lela Nicholson, affectionately known as Madea, met him at a Firestone tire store in Southern California, though they both grew up in Louisiana. Papa Luke is from Shreveport, Madea grew up about 300 miles south in Houma. Papa Luke died in 1993. “When my husband left me, I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Nicholson said. “He was the best thing that ever happened to me. But God saw me through.” Davis’ parents, Bernice Nicholson and Walter Davis, succumbed to drugs’ stranglehold on the inner city. As so many grandparents have done for a generation laden with abandoned African-American children, Madea and Papa Luke stepped up to the plate. After raising seven kids of their own, they took in Davis and his sisters Lisa and Toi. — Lela Nicholson’s residence in South Central Los Angeles doesn’t seem like the home of a millionaire’s mother figure. It’s loud and cluttered, and there’s a strong aroma. But it all makes sense if you know the woman who raised Baron Davis. Her house is littered with glimpses into her life, insight to her character. Lela also took care of nieces, nephews, great-grandchildren and their friends. She made her living as a child-care provider, so she took care of strangers’ children, too. She even welcomed Denver Nuggets point guard Earl Watson, Davis’ good friend and former UCLA teammate, into her home. “She called me shy boy,” Watson said. “I never had a grandmother. I was like her adopted grandson.” Her rearing was strict and revolved around church. Davis and his sisters went to Bible class on Wednesday, choir rehearsal on Saturday and services all day Sunday. She didn’t smoke, drink or curse and didn’t allow it in her house. It’s no wonder Davis avoided the trouble surrounding him in his neighborhood. “One, he was not that kind of guy,” said Daryl Roper, Davis’ basketball coach at Crossroads High School in Santa Monica. “Two, he just didn’t want to deal with his grandmother. She was just a powerful influence.” She taught them how to be responsible and accountable. She didn’t go for excuses, and the traumatizing sight of their parents coming out of crack houses wasn’t a good enough reason to free them from Madea’s expectations. Madea also showed her children how to find joy within, independent of money and materials. That was evident when she moved from the house Davis bought her in the Chatsworth suburbs and returned to her home in South Central. Her modest income became even feebler when Papa Luke died. But that only helped drive home her emphasis on humility and togetherness. When Davis was at Crossroads, he often received invitations to dinner and to spend the night with his wealthy schoolmates. While a comfortable guest room in Beverly Hills was no doubt better than sleeping on the floor at home, Madea resisted and often forced Davis to come home. “It was a tug of war,” Roper said. “For Baron, it meant getting away from where he had to go. But his grandmother didn’t want him to be a burden.” At 84, she remains spirited and fun-loving. She knows how to work a crowd, which was evident when she responded to applause at Davis’ summer basketball camp with a Miss America wave. Madea doesn’t have a shy bone in her body. In her bedroom, toward the back of the house, there’s a picture of her and Davis on the dresser. They are on the red carpet at the ESPYs. She is wearing a white dress and white hat, matching Davis’ white suit. When complimented on her style in the photo, Lela didn’t miss a beat. “I looked good, didn’t I?” It’s no wonder where Davis got his personality. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!