As journalists and fans, we always wonder why a player does this or that during competition. Why he Dwight Howard smiles or Kobe Bryant scowls. It’s the way he or she passes or shoots…their in game personality. Sometime it’s different, often it’s not. What makes us watch is the person behind the talent.
I tried to break the interview up in segments to give you a more seamless consumption of what is in total a long interview. I say that to say, this is the soul part of the conversation. After what you read here, Webb and I go into music, but for now, it’s time for you to get to know his consciousness a little better and it starts with his parents. To make it out of any city or even rural area of this nation, there must be a strong foundation. That foundation begins and ends with the dedication of strong willed parents who fully grasp now what is imperative later without that future knowledge and experience at hand. It’s why I go so hard on the present state of journalism…because I have to be. It’s the same thing with parents…you have to do your part.
Imagine if Chris’ Dad allowed him to go to Southwestern High School with his best friend Jalen Rose. How would things be different? Parents know their children and you must know that Chris Webber has two of the finest parents in the land. Soul rock soul began when Chris messed up at home and had to face that Pop look we all know so well. Great parenting gives you a better understanding of how to face critical moments and make the right decisions. We all go through stuff, but In this case his parents shaped him favorably into the man he is now. Judge yourselves accordingly.
Michael Tillery: Should an athlete speak out when it comes to social issues? Is it his choice in the broader sense of social responsibility?
Chris Webber: I think it’s their choice but there isn’t enough of us doing it…not choosing to do it. I think people have to remember that we’re asking people to speak and do things some might not be comfortable with. It depends on your character and personality. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking in front of people or answering questions then you should do it behind the scenes and I know a lot of people who do that. It’s not because of them being afraid of what people are going to say, they hate getting in front of cameras. Some things are hard for them to do. I will say a lot of us cop out. A lot of us don’t speak up and a lot of us know it. A lot of us don’t care and a lot of us are worried about what corporations think…what White corporations and also Black corporations think. Some don’t want to deal with just Black corporations. It’s a dirty game man. That’s why when you asked the question about Hall of Fame I feel good about not wanted to ask for those things even though I want them, because on that side I feel like I’ve lived my life right. I know I’ve done all I can on that side to hopefully speak out and help and I know a lot more should too. Everybody’s situation is different but a lot more definitely should speak out on issues that affect us all.
MT: Because you were the type of men that you are, was there any strong consideration to go to a Black college a HBCU?
CW: What!?! Yeah! Oh my God! Yeah! I went to visit U of D, University of Detroit and one day I’m really going to address this…
MT: Webb I say this because and I know you’ve probably already heard and probably read it yourself, but in Bill Rhoden’s 40 Million Dollar Slaves Mr. Rhoden correctly stated how something of that magnitude would have set up HBCU’s for a long while.
CW: Bill Rhoden…that’s my man. Actually, I talk about it in this book. He said I gave him something to think about.
First of all, yes! Definitely thought about a Black college because I went to Hampton University on an AAU trip. Any college you go to they are trying to recruit you. Guys first time seeing girls, so you are not gonna stay at home…any college you go to. I don’t care if you go to “Swamp Academy” in I don’t know where, from a high school perspective, you are gonna like it there.
But to go to a Black college where everybody looks like you…it’s your neighborhood? C’mon! Number two, the education is great…so you cant throw that on them so that’s not a consideration. Three, it gives you a chance to be around Black professionals if you come from a neighborhood where you always long to see those working more…doing more.
So, yes I wanted to go. Now…let’s talk Mike T.
MT: Oh oh.
CW: (Hypothetically) I’m a race car driver. So somebody says go over to Mike T’s house and he got a car for you in the garage. Then, somebody calls and says I want you to go over to Chevy. Chevy has this car and they want you to race. I might not even go to your garage!
Remember back when we were younger it was big Monday? That’s where I got to watch Derrick Coleman (DC! Check the bang on Shaquille at the end) play, Rony Seikaly …the Big East. That’s what we grew up watching. Now we wore Nike because we see it on TV and they are a great brand, so if I never see a CIAA Tournament…that never came on TV…there was no ESPN2 back then. The only example we had of people making it into the NBA was Rick Mahorn (Hampton), there was no Ben Wallace then and Joe Dumars went to McNeese State.
At that time, I thought it was one in a million because it was one in a million to make it into the NBA. Then you go to the gyms and the gyms look like your high school gyms. Even the good gyms sat 13, 14 thousand. You ever been to the Dean Dome? You ever been to Michigan…some say Crisler is getting outdated. Please do not misconstrue this as speaking bad about historically Black institutions, I just think it would be a tougher fight if there was more of a priority placed on athletics. There is going to have to be a fundamental change in their approach to athletics. We’re talking and you know I don’t want to bad mouth their system, but I had a friend that went to FAMU…played basketball. He was freshman of the year. I was a rookie. He played on my high shool team. This is the same year I was a freshman at Michigan. Great player who decided to go to FAMU. He could have gone to a few other colleges that were Division 1. He went down there and as I said was Rookie of the Year…I think that was the year they had that big fight with Sam Cassell.
The next year he came back and the football coach was coaching the basketball team.
CW: I’ve heard this happen many many times. Back then it was a lot tougher and the progress they have made is great but at that time there was no way of you pulling me from Michigan. No way.
MT: Obviously it didn’t happen, but I think it’s something that people needed to know.
CW: No doubt. Actually I went to Minnesota and Clem Haskins was the coach. I asked him did he know of any Black colleges that I should go check out.
MT: Do you think there’s a higher purpose for you outside of basketball because of the bad luck injuries? Ala Grant Hill? It’s a question I asked him in an interview. It was my first piece in SLAM (I’m forever appreciative). Seems like you both came into the league as tremendously athletic and versatile players who would change the mindset. Wear and tear unfortunately made you leave under a different dynamic. There are a lot of similarities between you and Grant on and off the court. Your approach to life in terms of African-American art and the like.
CW: You know…I think we had the same upbringing. We both have an appreciation of life outside of our individual existence. I know his parents very well. When I think of his Father and Mother, I think of them being strict and my parents were similar. I know my Mother loved the fact that I played basketball, but I also know she could care less about basketball. She raised me to always have a higher purpose. My Mother was the one in the hood who would have things for parents in our house. We didn’t have food. She just was doing it. She had vacation Bible school at the house. She’s giving away our clothes when we didn’t have none.
I can’t front like this is me…and it ain’t Grant. That’s just the way our parents really made us. That’s just a testimony to his parents. His parents are definitely proud of him. I wouldn’t feel right if I had to look my Father in the eye living my life in different ways. His approval means everything to me because he’s the man. I always felt the second part of my career was going to be bigger. I don’t know if I’ve reached that second part, but yeah, my Mother has always taught us to seek a higher calling to put us in a position to fulfill our passion. I got to do that in sports and hopefully I’ll get to do that in whatever comes next and I’m sure Grant feels the same way.
MT: I’ve met your parents. They are great people. Your Mother is so beautiful because she has this quiet strength and your Pop is definitely a pop in every sense. How did they speak to you in big moments in your career…good or bad? This is the question I wanted to give back to parents and children to have a reference point.
CW: It was different. My Father…I got whuppin’s growing up. We treated everything like we’re gonna celebrate it right now but we don’t live off yesterday. It was always of thing of being happy, but not walking down the street blind for the set up.
After I called the timeout, I got on the bus…my parents were on the bus…I hadn’t seen my parents yet. I was crying. I sat in the seat to the left and Jalen put his head in my Mother’s lap. That’s how that go. It’s family man. It was just love. I’m the oldest of five so that was just the philosophy of growing up. Whoever needs it the most right now, gets it. It ain’t nothing personal. I didn’t need it the most. It was never a “why this, I’ll never play basketball again”. I go over to Jim…his Mom was there..and she tells me it’s gonna be alright. Jalen’s Mom was telling me it was gonna be OK.
Each time it was different. The biggest moment for me in high school was when he made me go the the high school I went to. I wanted to go to high school with Jalen. That was the biggest fight. That was something I didn’t want to speak to him for a year over. I was just being a stubborn kid at the time trying to flunk out.
Oscar Robertson gave me an award for everything I did for the community at the game and that and when I got drafted are the only times I almost saw my Father cry.
The good things in life are what you are happy about. He probably bragged to all his friends that could hoop about life decisions. It’s just the way they raised me.