- Scott Howard-cooper
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Chris Webber stepped in front of a media gathering Tuesday at the Sacramento Kings practice facility to read a statement that included the passage, "This case is about a man who befriended kids like myself, preying on our naivete, our innocence, claiming that he loved us and that he wanted to support us, but later wanting to cash in on that love and support that we thought was free." Very deep.
There may be a big-picture issue in the interaction of street hustlers (Ed Martin) and athletes with talent at a young age (Webber), but at this moment, as his past intersects with the future of a hopeful franchise, nothing will be resolved about what took place in Detroit as far back as 1988. Whether Webber really believed the comment or it was designed as spin control to deflect attention from the real topic is also irrelevant -- he would not take questions from reporters -- but there is no debate that he was indicted on four felony counts Monday and that not one of the charges came because he had a relationship, financial or otherwise, with Martin.
Conspiracy to obstruct justice. Making false statements under oath to federal prosecutors. In 2000.
Not allegedly taking money and breaking NCAA rules in high school and college.
Webber continues to insist he is innocent, so he is until proven otherwise. People with knowledge of the workings of a federal grand jury note in response that the indictment would not have come without evidence far beyond the he said/she said of Martin's previous testimony, especially given that this case would receive extra scrutiny because of the defendant. That is for the people of Michigan to sort out. The judicial system is not a spectator sport, so the final score will come on their time.
Except that this is not strictly a private matter between Webber and the courts, which is why the story is relevant here. The NBA could suspend the Kings' All-Star forward depending on the outcome of the case or new developments that come to light.
If lying was an offense in the NBA, rosters would be so depleted that in a far-fetched scenario, the league would have to be represented at an international competition by some group that might, oh, lose two nights in a row and then show no heart in the fourth quarter of another defeat and finish in something like sixth place. That could never happen, of course, but let's just say for the sake of argument. But for some reason, the courts seem to regard things like honesty under oath as central to the system, so they file charges and then the league responds to one of its players crossing the line.
Debate with someone else whether telling a lie is a big deal or not. ("Hey, everyone does it, right?") The issue here is that Webber's personal predicament could become one for the Kings as a whole. And, yes, it could have a minor impact in terms of the length of a suspension, if one were to come. But it could also loom over the season, depending on the timing of the case and how Webber handles it in the meantime. He could say he won't talk about his situation, but that plan didn't work so good in the season before he was about to become a free agent. It became a story when he didn't say something.
And so it becomes an issue for the Kings as a whole.
"We'll support Chris in whatever he chooses to do," Geoff Petrie, the president of basketball operations said. "And we don't think it will affect what he does on the court."
It's too early to know anything for sure. The NBA almost certainly would wait until the judicial process has concluded before doing anything, so the timing of a potential announcement is impossible to predict. There is also no way to gauge possible penalties, including the scenario that Webber could take a hit even if he was found innocent by the courts since league rules may have been broken.
"There's no way to speculate what might come out or what doesn't," an official said.
But what great timing. The indictment comes just weeks before the start of a training camp that will convene with Sacramento for the first time being picked by some, if not many, as the favorites to win the championship, not to mention at the end of what has otherwise been a very successful offseason on several fronts.
The most important thing was the re-signing of point guard Mike Bibby. Reserve center/power forward Keon Clark came to town as a free agent, adding depth and versatility to the front line. Even in the most minor of deals, third-string point guard Mateen Cleaves was traded to Cleveland because he wouldn't have played for the Kings and Jumaine Jones was acquired because at least his athleticism is a perfect fit and gives him the chance to get minutes as a backup small forward. Things had been going so good that Peja Stojakovic starred -- and Vlade Divac played without being run into the ground -- while Yugoslavia won the gold medal at the World Championships.
More importantly for the Kings, Stojakovic made it through nine games without aggravating the sprained ankle originally suffered in the Western Conference semifinals, an injury he said had remained a nagging problem all these months later, and he finished by scoring 26 points in the title game. Divac, although dragging himself through the final, in the end averaged just 21.6 minutes, exactly the pedestrian pace he said would ensure his freshness for an entire NBA regular season.
That leaves the Webber case as the bad news. (Apart from the fact that Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant didn't retire.) Exactly how bad is yet to be determined, but rest assured the league is watching. Honest.
Scott Howard-Cooper, who covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
3dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann