Q&A with Rome, Webber

Chris Webber talked about his depression over being injured, his lie to a grand jury and his Olympic dream.

Updated: December 12, 2003, 8:04 PM ET

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of Jim Rome's interview with Sacramento Kings forward Chris Webber during ESPN's "Rome Is Burning."

Rome: You've missed all of this season with a knee injury. How close are you to returning to action?

Webber: Well, I'm going to see the doctor on Monday and hopefully I'm going to spend some time out there in Alabama and hopefully get re-evaluated and hopefully I'll be able to practice after that. All my one-on-one stuff and my drill stuff is coming along good and I'm able to shoot and run and do certain things. But I'm having problems with certain parts of the knee, so I don't know when I'll come back -- hopefully soon. I did think I would be back at this point but I'm not in charge of this -- my body is. We'll see what happens.

Rome: Hey Chris, what has been more challenging: not being able to go or actually grinding out the rehab?

Webber: I think both things. For myself personally, this year has been a challenge. With the year that I've had with everything that's gone on inside and outside of basketball, it's been real frustrating. It's hard. I have to fight the pressure and I have to fight the urge to just sit in the house and not do much. Sitting behind the bench at games is the hardest thing I've ever had to go through because basketball is really most of my happiness. So when I can't go out there and exert energy and have fun and things like that, it kind of puts everything else into perspective. It's been really tough not having basketball in my life. I'll tell you the biggest part is just not being able to play right now.

Rome: You've overcome so many obstacles in your career, but I've never actually heard you say anything like that before. Have you been depressed?

Webber: Oh yeah, definitely man, I mean I love basketball. Not being able to play ... I mean this is what it's all about. Thank God I have a contract, thank God I'm here in Sacramento with a great team and I'm happy that we're winning and I don't want to change any of those things, but at the same time I make money, money doesn't make me. What makes me happy is being able to play and being able to be part of the game. And right now not being able to do that and contribute to my team ... that's been really hard. When the team goes on road trips, you're not there you're at home rehabbing. You know, I don't want to be on the phone, I don't want to talk to friends and family because I don't want to be encouraged because I know the fact of the matter is I can't come back before it's ready. But in the meantime it's just a lot of dead time. I've just been trying to exert more time into my business ventures and things like that, but still it's just not as fulfilling as being out there on the court.

Rome: You know, Chris, do doubts start to creep in and are you at all apprehensive that when you finally do come back that you might not be the same player as you were prior to a major injury like that?

Chris Webber
It has been a long, painful 2003 for Chris Webber, who's still recovering from a knee injury suffered in the playoffs.
Webber: No, that's the one thing that keeps me going. Hopefully I have doubters out there, No. 1, and I love using that as an incentive. ... Right now my two-leg jumping is nice, so I felt like the last three years I haven't been able to be myself, I haven't really been able to really get up like I want to. I've had to stick to the perimeter game because I haven't been able to jump and just dunk on people, so my goal is to get my college hops back. If I can do that or at least my rookie- or second-year-in-the-league hops back, I think I can show what a better and more mature player I've become because I've learned to play on the ground, say like a Karl Malone or someone else that's a little bit older in their age and reverted to just skills only because they can't revert to that athletic ability. And so now I think if I can come back with that athletic ability I used to have. It will open a lot of things up. I just wait until Mike Bibby throws me an oop and I can go get it and play with it in the air like I used to be able to.

Rome: Now speaking of the Lakers and Karl Malone, you've got Shaq who's in shape and clearly re-dedicated himself, Kobe has done a good job of keeping his head, Karl Malone and Gary Payton are playing like the Hall of Famers that they are. Has Sacramento's window of opportunity slammed shut?

Webber: You know that's funny that people say that. You know I'm a pretty young cat and Brad Miller is young and Vlade (Divac) is still good so with Peja (Stojakovic) playing the way he is and Mike Bibby, I think we got seven more years in this window of opportunity, so I don't think so. I feel as good about this year's chances as I've ever had. I don't think that window is closing, I think that everybody else's window is closing and we can just sit back and take our time. We should be a team that people fear to play later on this season.

Rome: Fair enough. You feel pretty good about your team, but is this the best Laker team you've ever seen?

Webber: They're all right, they're good you know ... They have a lot of names ... They got a lot of names, but I'll tell you this: If that big monster in the middle ain't touching the ball, they're not as good as they would be if he was on Memphis. It's all about Shaq. It's just that simple. Shaq is the man inside in the paint and you got to give him his props and Kobe is definitely a great player, but we're all human. It'll be good to see how things go. It's good to be part of a real sports rivalry, something that doesn't need to be pumped up or over-exaggerated. They have the rings, so really what can I say? I don't have any rings, but I think we're still a team to be reckoned with.

Rome: Chris, you talked about the challenge you faced this entire year and how tough it's been on and off the floor. Of course, I think you're talking about the fact that you lied to a grand jury about your dealings with Ed Martin, a former Michigan booster. Why did you not just tell the truth?

Webber: Well I really can't talk about that. All I can say is that if you know the court system ... (pause) ... What you just said ... (pause) ... If you know the court system, you know the court system. I think sometimes you're put in the position. ... You have to do what's best for family and people around you. That's all I can say about that.

Rome: With respect to that and I hear you just said that you can't really comment on that, knowing what you know, would you handle it the same way?

The worst part about it is to be perceived as a liar. That's not something that you want for your family. If I had children I don't want that to be something that they look at their father.
Chris Webber
Webber: I wouldn't want the same outcome, but hopefully when this is all over and I write a book, I'll be able to say everything I want to say. But by then it'll be a blip on the headlines. It won't be as big as people made it. That's the one problem about being in this position. You can't talk when you want to talk and then when I can come out and say the truth of what really happened, it probably won't be in the interest of people's minds. The worst part about it is to be perceived as a liar. That's not something that you want for your family. If I had children I don't want that to be something that they look at their father and saying. That's the toughest part about it is the perception. And in our business, perception is reality. There is no other way to cut it. You're guilty until proven innocent. Perception is reality, that's the way that it is in this world. You know it's tough as far as that goes. I have good people around me and the Lord has definitely been my strength. I don't know why all this happened, but I know all things work together for good so we'll see what comes out of it.

Rome: Let me finally ask you this: Was it an unfair assessment what I said, when I said you lied to the grand jury? Was that an unfair and untrue assessment on my part?

Webber: Well, I think I know you have to do your job so I can't take that personally, but I would say that that's what I pleaded to, so that's probably what should be said, I guess. One thing I've learned from Vlade is to not take yourself or certain situations so seriously as you would take them. I'm consumed by basketball, I'm consumed by the people around me and being treated right and being thought of in a good light. And for that reason, it hurts to be said you lied or whatever. I can't sit here and argue, I can't sit here and debate it and if I did, it wouldn't make much of a difference anyway because people's minds are already made. I just want to come back healthy, win a championship; I would love to play on the Olympic team. Right now I just have to stay focused and not focus on what people think about me because we'll all be judged. So for people to judge me, you got to be careful because the light will shine on you some day.

Rome: The Olympic team is a goal of yours, you've made that pretty clear. Is this going to cost you a spot on the Olympic team?

Webber: I don't know, I've never had a spot on the Olympic team, so I don't know, I don't think I was that serious on the Olympic team. I'm an 11-year veteran, I think my stats and winning percentage and all that stuff pretty much shows I should be on the team. I was on the college team that practiced against the Dream Team with Bobby Hurley, Jamal Mashburn back when they took it from the college players, but in all fairness this league has a lot of horses in it and a lot of great players. Whatever you are on that team, you're lucky and you're blessed to be on it. I can't (put) down anybody on that team, saying I deserve their spot because everybody on that team has proven they belong. All I can do is be my own cheerleader and say I hope I get a spot, but those guys that are on that team, they deserve it.

Rome: From a basketball standpoint, I don't know how they keep you off the team. You're an 11-year vet, you're a six-time All-Star, and they need help in the front court and you're one of those guys saying I will do this, I will commit to it. If you don't end up on that team, it seems that it's not because of basketball and if that's the case, is that not somewhat hypocritical?

Webber: Like I said, there are so many good players you can pick anybody. The West is packed with centers and forwards so you could pick anybody and say they deserve a spot. For myself, I would definitely say yeah I deserve a spot, but truthfully your off-the-court matters do define who you are. And for me I've had a long time in this career. I came into the league when I was 20, so I've had a chance to make mistakes and I've had a chance to do some good things, but if that's the way it determines whether I make a team or not, then you know maybe that's right. I can't blame the NBA for anything. You have to stick to the rules that they have and you have to be worried about the perception of the league, but myself I would like a chance to play on the Olympic team.

Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose and Chris Webber
APChris Webber, right, says he and Jalen Rose, center, were perceived as 'bad guys' because of their 'bald heads.'
Rome: You mentioned that you came into the league at age 20. You have been under the microscope pretty much forever. Can you ever remember a time when you were not under the microscope?

Webber: That's one of the hardest parts of this year. It was like I finally got a chance to breathe in Sacramento. Every year it has been something from people saying it was my fault with Don Nelson, then being injured in my second year in the league, not having surgery because I didn't want to hurt the team, which I should have had surgery, didn't have surgery, dislocated it the next year, then after that we made it to the playoffs, next year missed the playoffs by one game. Next year got traded, didn't know it until I heard it from the man at the corner store. Then next year I come here to Sacramento when I really didn't want to be anywhere. The next year playing for the contract and having all that pressure on me. Every year it has been something and this year has really given me a chance to reflect on how good God has been. I just want to win the championship and be able to walk away from this game and still love it and appreciate it. I don't want to become bitter because it's real easy to. Really, I'm just trying to keep my mind focused and think positive things. It's been a long 10 years with every year being something. I don't want to be loved, appreciated. I just want to be able to play my game and just disappear under the radar. I just want to be able to have some enjoyment and peace in my life. It's not good to be perceived as this terrible guy or this or that. You get tired of it, but that comes with the job. If someone were to ask me before I made the NBA, you going to have to go through all this, you're going to have to sign your soul away to play in the league, I still would have done it.

Rome: I don't think you've been that guy, the guy that you're talking about, the guy under the radar without people pointing the finger at or asking the questions of since you and Jalen (Rose) were 10 years old talking trash to each other in that church league.

Webber: In college, we were bad guys because we had bald heads. So what, we did it before anyone else. Then everybody else comes with the bald heads. I remember Bill Walton called us thugs. This is when we were 18 years old and the only reason we were playing on TV was to be in front of our parents. We were thugs with our long shorts. We really initialized all of that stuff. Now it's cool to be yourself, now it's cool to wear long shorts, now it's cool to be urban, now it's cool to be from the 'hood, but when we were going through all that, it really wasn't cool.

Rome: The thing is Web you're not that guy though, you've never been that guy. You were a prep school guy with a suburban background to a large extent. I mean, you're not that guy and you've never been that guy right?

Webber: No, I'm from the 'hood now, I'm definitely from the 'hood, but definitely I played in the prep school league, but I remember I wanted to go to the same high school that Jalen went to because we all lived within a few-block radius of each other. I didn't get to go to that high school because my mother chose a better high school so I could get a college education, which I'm happy she decided to this day for. We still grew up playing in the parks together, playing at the church together. We really were a product of our environment, we really grew up poor, we grew up with nothing, but the fact of the matter is we grew up on a large stage we just enjoyed ourselves. We wore long shorts, we wore black socks. No one did those things. I think that made our perception reality. They dressed like that so they must be like that, instead of saying these are some young 18-year-old kids with baggy shorts and bald heads. If you came to a practice and saw the way Fish (former Michigan coach Steve Fischer) worked us, we had to earn those things, the right to have those freedoms was incredible. I mean the discipline was there. Just because we were smiling and talking junk to each other doesn't mean we were undisciplined. I think we really taught a lot of people to be yourself because people are going to make their own decisions.