Webber, battling chronic knee problems, calls it a career
After playing just nine games back in the Bay Area, Webber is retiring.
New problems with the surgically repaired left knee that has plagued him for the past half-decade have prompted the linchpin of Michigan's famed Fab Five team to leave the game, not even two months after Webber returned to the team and city where he began his NBA career.
"I really didn't want to rehab and come back this season because I don't think that was possible," Webber told reporters Wednesday at a farewell news conference in Oakland. "Plus, because the way the team is playing, the chemistry is great with these guys, they're on a roll. I feel like they're going to win, they have a great chance to go very far in the playoffs. I just felt it was time to let the game go and be able to be happy about what I accomplished without trying to keep coming back."
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The 35-year-old will exit as one of the sport's most polarizing personalities but also as one of just six players in history -- along with Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird and Billy Cunningham and the still active Kevin Garnett -- to average at least 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists.
"One of the best power forwards to ever play in the NBA," Pistons president Joe Dumars said. "Chris was always a class act and someone we're all proud of in Detroit."
Sources close to Webber told ESPN.com that he has worked toward this decision for the past week after spending most of March in injury rehab, trying in vain to recover from a bad landing against Philadelphia on Feb. 29. He played in only one more game for the Warriors after that, which convinced Webber that time had indeed run out a career that spanned 15 seasons, albeit with his mobility compromised over the last five of those seasons following a serious tear in the 2003 playoffs that required microfracture surgery.
"People say you've got to go until the wheels fall off," Webber said. "Well, my wheel fell off. I went all the way until the end, so I'm happy with that."
Warriors coach Don Nelson said he was happy with the brief reunion with a player with whom he had clashed years before.
"I really enjoyed working with him," Nelson told the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was great to get to know him again as a man and I really enjoyed our short time together. I wish it really would've worked out better, but it didn't. And I think we'll remain friends for the rest of our lives."
Added Sacramento Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, with whom Webber came closest to winning it all: "We had a lot of fun together. He was the face of our franchise for many years and we almost got it done. Almost.
"We were so close so many times. But after that [knee] injury, that's when the gradual decline of that particular group we put together all started. We never really recovered. We have some disappointing memories, but we have some really happy memories. Chris had a great career. I can't say enough good about him."
With Chris Webber's career ending, it's time to view his career in perspective. Webber is among a short list of legends to average 20 points, nine rebounds and four assists a game.
|Elgin Baylor||1958-72||Yes||* -- 20.7 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 4.2 APG|
Webber sat out the first four months of this season and discussed a return to the Pistons before signing with Golden State on Jan. 29, hoping for one last run at the championship that has repeatedly eluded him and hoping as well for a fairy-tale reunion with the coach under whom he won NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1993-94.
But his seemingly unlikely return to play for Nelson -- after the collapse of their first marriage led to Webber's trade to Washington within six months of winning his rookie award -- was aborted faster than anyone imagined after Nelson pushed harder than anyone in Oakland to bring Webber back.
Webber appeared in a mere nine games with the Warriors this time, averaging just 3.9 points and 3.6 rebounds in 14.0 minutes as Golden State went 6-3 in those games. He found the knee slow to rehabilitate after such a long layoff to start the season.
Asked Monday about a timetable for Webber's return after almost a month out of the lineup, Nelson conceded that the end was near, saying: "It would be pretty hard [to bring Webber back] at this point. You have to go through the process of getting his rhythm and a few airballs. All this is really hard on a head coach because any one of those things could cost you a game."
It was Nelson, back in January, who scoffed loudest at the widespread skepticism regarding Webber's ability to keep up with Golden State's run-and-gun game. Nelson insisted that the Warriors needed Webber's passing from the high post and ability to sink midrange jumpers to get them unstuck when their half-court offense bogged down or when their 3-pointers weren't dropping.
"I'm afraid if we don't get him here [that] our team is not strong enough to be a playoff team," Nelson said at the time. "That's my biggest fear. [Webber] can benefit our team, it can benefit his and my relationship [and] it can benefit players on this team. I think he has a chance to make some of our players better and make our team better. Really, that's all that's important. I'll get along with anybody who can help our team."
Since Webber got hurt, rookie Brandan Wright has shown flashes and could play a key role down the stretch.
Warriors executive vice president Chris Mullin said it was too late to get any help from the outside.
"Brandan does different things than Chris does," teammate Matt Barnes said. "Brandan is an explosive young player and he's definitely helping our team out right now. He's right in the middle of the rotation, doing a great job."
When Webber was signed, Nelson also dismissed the idea that he would struggle from a personality standpoint to coach Webber again, insisting that he and Webber had reconciled years ago, starting when he chose Webber to replace the injured Shaquille O'Neal -- over Dirk Nowitzki from Nelson's Mavericks -- as the West's starting center for the 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia.
But Nelson's anticipation that Webber could give his tiny team an injection of size and guile in the frontcourt never really materialized, largely because of the knee issues. The Warriors are on pace to win 50 games for the first time since Nelson and Webber's only full season together in 1993-94 but are clinging to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, with slender center Andris Biedrins standing as Nelson's only rotation regular taller than 6-foot-9.
Having signed a pro-rated veteran minimum contract that would have paid him just under $570,000 to finish the season with the Warriors, Webber departs instead as a five-time former All-Star whose greatest NBA successes were realized in nearby Sacramento, before the injury robbed Webber of his spring and speed.
Dealt from Washington to Sacramento in the summer of 1998, Webber initially resisted the trade to the lowly Kings but wound up transforming them into one of the league's elite franchises with the help of teammates Vlade Divac, Peja Stojakovic, Jason Williams and later Mike Bibby, as well as the coach/general manager tandem of Rick Adelman and Geoff Petrie.
Webber's Kings were just one win away from the NBA Finals in 2002 but lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at home to the Los Angeles Lakers after a controversial Game 6 in which L.A. was awarded 27 free throws in the fourth quarter. Webber also reached the Eastern Conference finals last season in a brief homecoming with the Pistons, only for Detroit to lose in six games to LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers after taking a 2-0 lead.
Webber entered this season with career averages of 20.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists after enduring similar championship frustrations at Michigan. Joining Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson and ESPN's own Jalen Rose in comprising the revolutionary, trash-talking Fab Five -- who were known for bringing a Showtime feel to college basketball with their unmistakable baggy shorts, black socks and playground flair -- Webber led Michigan to back-to-back NCAA title games but lost both.
In the second of those defeats, Webber infamously called a timeout in the final minute against North Carolina when Michigan didn't have one, helping to seal the Wolverines' 77-71 defeat.
Yet Webber mostly had a winning impact on teams he played for amid the turbulence that accompanied his acrimonious first departure from the Warriors and the demise of both Golden State and Michigan's program soon after he left. The Warriors spiraled into a 12-season playoff drought after winning 50 games in Webber's rookie season and his brief detour to Philadelphia to team with Allen Iverson also delivered little, but Washington halted a drought of eight seasons without a trip to the playoffs with Webber as its star in 1997. Sacramento, meanwhile, had reached the playoffs only twice in its first 13 seasons in Northern California before Webber's arrival.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.