Webber Is Looking for The Answer
"I didn't want to run from it. I didn't do anything wrong on purpose. And I could just hear my father saying, 'You're a man. Stand up to them is what you're supposed to do as a man,' " Chris Webber says on ESPN Classic's SportsCentury series about dealing with the media after calling a timeout Michigan didn't have in the 1993 NCAA Tournament final.
Contentment always seems right around the next bend, past the doorway of basketball fame, just beyond the troubles that have followed Chris Webber for years. For all his tall accomplishments and big-money contracts, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward has had to fight the notion that he's come up short. The introspective All-Star has fretted over his image while searching for life's comfort zone.
Throw out his embarrassing timeout call in the 1993 NCAA championship game, and Webber's image might look different. Throw in an NCAA title (Michigan was runner-up in both his seasons there) and a couple of strong NBA playoff runs -- achievements that have eluded him -- and inner peace might be at hand.
Then again, maybe not, for contradictions in Webber's life spread as wide as his 7-foot-6 wingspan.
"For every good instance in my career, there's been a bad instance," he said. "So people worry and wonder, 'Who is this guy?' "
Webber, who has averaged 20.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists playing for five teams in his first 14 seasons, often hints that he himself isn't sure.
Take a peek at Webber's portraits: Scowling, taunting Fab Fiver with low, baggy shorts and high-grade swagger. Ultra-sensitive sort with a big smile, engaging manner and intensely spiritual side. Pothead who runs into problems with the law, who can't get along with his coach, who can't find happiness anywhere in the NBA. Team leader, unselfish player and hard worker in practice.
An all-NBA first-team choice in 2001, Webber has never played on a successful playoff team, and that failing gnaws at him. He didn't win his first postseason series until 2001. Then the next year, after the Kings won two series to reach the Western Conference final, they were beaten by the Lakers in Game 7 in overtime.
In 2003, Webber tore the miniscus in his left knee during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals and had to watch as the Kings were eliminated by the Dallas Mavericks. They were ousted in the same round in 2004 - this time by the Minnesota Timberwolves - with Webber missing a game-tying three-point shot at the buzzer in Game 7.
Some NBA people thought Sacramento would be the perfect place to provide the stability and fulfillment that Webber craved. After being courted as a free agent, he signed a seven-year, $123-million contract in July 2001 to remain the king among Kings. But the marriage ended in February 2005 when Webber was traded to the 76ers as the centerpiece of a six-player deal.
"There were a lot of things Chris didn't have that some of the other children had," his father said. "But it was important to us that he have the chance to attend private school."
Webber started playing basketball as a sixth grader and grew to 6-foot-5 in middle school. He earned an academic scholarship to Detroit Country Day, a private high school where he became one of the country's hottest basketball recruits as he led the Yellow Jackets to three state titles in four years. He narrowed his college list to mostly Midwestern schools before deciding on Michigan.
Wolverines coach Steve Fisher landed four other talented freshmen -- Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson -- and the group was tagged the Fab Five. Quickly, they showed they could compete with almost everyone and antagonize many with their trash talk and showboating style.
In their fifth game, the Wolverines took top-ranked Duke to overtime before losing, and they went on to a 20-8 regular season in 1991-92. In the NCAA Tournament, they defeated No. 3 Ohio State in overtime in the Elite Eight, rallied to beat Cincinnati in the Final Four and finally fell again to Duke in the championship game. Webber scored 14 points in the 71-51 loss.
For his freshman season, he averaged 15.5 points and 10 rebounds and shot .556 from the field.
In the summer, he played on a select team that scrimmaged against the U.S. Olympic squad. "Let me know when he comes to the NBA," Dream Teamer Karl Malone said, "so I can retire."
His sophomore season, when he was a first-team All-American, was even better than his first. He shot .619 from the floor, averaged 19.2 points and 10.1 rebounds and led Michigan to a 31-5 record. Again, the Wolverines gained the NCAA Tournament final, and again they lost, this time to North Carolina.
With Michigan trailing by two points and in possession for a final shot, Webber called a timeout the Wolverines didn't have and was whistled for a technical with 11 seconds left. Michigan lost, 77-71.
The costly mistake brought sympathy from all corners, including a letter from President Clinton. "These people seem to like me more because I made a mistake," Webber said.
After the season, Webber turned pro and was drafted No. 1 overall by Orlando, which promptly traded him to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three top draft choices. Webber played like a top pick, displaying an excellent shooting touch and soft hands as he averaged 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds.
During the season, he feuded with coach Don Nelson, whose yelling upset the rookie. Webber, who wanted Nelson "to treat me like a man," wondered whether the jump to the NBA had been a mistake, the first of many second-guesses as a pro.
All of 21, he became a holdout and essentially forced a trade to the Washington Bullets (for Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft choices), then talked of how he really had wanted to stay in California.
Webber was reunited with Howard, his Fab Five teammate, and joined a Bullets club that had gone 24-58 the previous season, a team the home fans booed. He missed 19 games with a separated shoulder and despite good numbers (20.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists), he wasn't happy. "I walked around emotionally dead," he said of that 21-61 season. "I didn't go anywhere. I didn't do anything. I was a hermit."
As time went on, Webber went from hermit to off-court problems that made him harder to figure out. Shoulder injuries erased all but 15 games of his second Bullets season and cut short the third, when he played in his first All-Star Game and the team made the playoffs.
That year was probably Webber's most difficult time as a pro. "I doubted myself," he said. "I started to second-guess anything I did."
In the offseason, while leaving Puerto Rico on a promotional tour for Fila sneakers, he paid a $500 fine after customs inspectors found 11 grams of marijuana in his bag. Two weeks later, his endorsement deal with Fila was gone.
Webber worked himself into his best playing shape while waiting out the NBA's lockout. When play resumed in January 1999, his free-throw percentage hit a personal low (.454), but the rest of his game picked up. He averaged 20 points and a league-leading 13 rebounds in his first season with Sacramento.
"I didn't realize how talented he is, how well he sees the floor," Kings coach Rick Adelman said. "He doesn't care if he scores 12 or 26. He wants to win."
The Kings added players who can run and shoot and embraced Webber, whose scoring average improved to 24.5 in his second Sacramento season and 27.1 in 2000-01, when he was fourth in the MVP voting.
In 2001-02, Webber led the Kings to the best record (61-21) in the NBA as he averaged 24.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists. The next season he averaged 23 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists in helping the Kings win their second straight Pacific Division title.
After missing the first 50 games of the 2003-04 season while rehabbing a surgically repaired left knee and then another eight games when he was suspended by the NBA (five for violating the league's anti-drug policy and three for lying to a federal grand jury), Webber returned and averaged 18.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 23 games. Slumping late, the Kings finished 55-27 and were dethroned as Pacific Division champions when they lost on the season's final night.
Looking to unload his salary, Sacramento sent Webber to Philadelphia the next year. However, while his numbers for the season were decent (19.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists), he didn't mesh with Allen Iverson and was deemed a disappointment. While Webber's play improved in the 2005-06 season, his 20.2 points and 9.9 rebounds a game couldn't help the 76ers reach the playoffs.
In January 2007, the 76ers bought out the remaining 1½ years of Webber's contract. After the five-time All-Star cleared waivers, he signed with Detroit. While he was productive during the regular season, he failed to come up big in the playoffs when the Pistons were upset by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference final.
Off the court, Webber has had his share of problems. In July 2003, 10 months after being charged with obstruction of justice and making a false declaration to the FBI and U.S. attorney's office, Webber avoided a federal trial when he agreed to plead guilty to criminal contempt, a lesser charge. He escaped with only a fine and damage to his reputation.
Previously, Webber had said he didn't lie to the grand jury regarding his dealings with Ed Martin, a Michigan booster who said he loaned Webber $280,000 while the basketball star was in high school and college.
Because of Martin's involvement with Webber and other Michigan players, the university imposed sanctions on itself, including vacating its appearances at the 1992 Final Four and 1993 NCAA Tournament, when Webber led the Wolverines to the finals both years.