SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Bobby Davis was a basketball-crazy teen who was handed a virtual all-access pass to the world of big-time college hoops by Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine. As a ball boy for Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim’s squad during the 1980s, Davis heard halftime locker-room tirades from the legendary coach, took shots at practice, sat courtside, hit the road and ate nice dinners.
Davis, now 39 and the prime accuser in the sexual abuse scandal at Syracuse University, says the indebtedness he felt toward Fine made it hard to break from the man he claims molested him throughout his teens and into his late 20s.
“I wanted to be around basketball so bad,” Davis said. “As I got older, I understood more that Bernie had this power. You almost feel it’s like a cult in a sense. You don’t know how to get away. And as more and more time went on, you feel indebted to him. You feel like you owe him. He’d always remind me of all the good things he did for me: ‘I’m the first one who got you a steak dinner. ... I took you to these restaurants. I took you to these hotels.’ ”
Davis and his stepbrother Mike Lang claim they were repeatedly forcibly touched in the 1980s by Fine, who has since been fired. Davis and Lang last week filed a defamation lawsuit against the university and Boeheim, who initially called Davis a liar and opportunist.
Fine has denied the allegations. He has not spoken publicly in the month since the allegations were raised, and his lawyers declined to comment Thursday.
During an interview Wednesday night with the AP, Davis said the abuse would sometimes occur in Fine’s campus office with secretaries just beyond the closed door, in Fine’s home, at Syracuse University’s basketball camp and at a fraternity house. After he became a ball boy around age 11, Davis said, he went everywhere with Fine.
Davis’ claim that he was always hanging around is crucial to his defamation lawsuit, which contends Boeheim “knew or should have known” about the alleged conduct of his assistant.
Federal prosecutors are investigating.
Davis said Fine began abusing him around the time he became a ball boy in 1983. As Davis spent more time at the older man’s house – actually living there sometimes – the abuse escalated from touching outside the pants to inside, according to Davis.
Davis said he never saw another boy being abused but claimed he saw Fine rubbing the legs of other youngsters.
Davis said the sexual contact continued until his late 20s. His last contact with Fine was after Davis moved to Utah in 2003, after he tried to interest Syracuse police in his case. He called Fine to confront him.
“I called him and I said, ‘Bern, you need to get help. I’m doing this because I want you to get help, you know.’ ” Davis recalled. “And he just said, ‘Oh, you’re trying to hurt me and my family. Just stay away.’ He got mad at me.”