*repost from July 24, 2009 (because of Fab Five doc). I’m working on last part as this posts. –Mizzo*
If you are a sports fan, there are players that come along and give you a charge. Sometimes you don’t know why. It could be their athletic ability that is sports exciting. It could be their demeanor or the way they play the game. Maybe there is something familiar in the way they do things on and off the court when interacting with teammates. Chris Webber was that dude for me. I was working at the post office when the Fab Five shocked the scene. I dug them because they would bang on you and your grandmother, help her up in a gentleman type of way, leave you embarrassed on the floor, talk trash to you the whole way up the court and then pay you the proper respect after the game. Damn they were talented! In my eyes, the face of that dynamic team, Chris Webber, was the perfect combination of student athlete…with swag. I learn about success through the accomplishments of others and then set the bar for myself to see if their way of doing things suits my determination and following Webb’s career gives me a sense of chill even when I wanna show ’em some rage.
Chris Webber was an enigma in the same fashion of Albert Belle or Randall Cunningham. Tremendous ability present, but there was also an undeniable stroke of bad luck he was both properly and improperly scrutinized for. That being said, Chris Webber’s “failures” as a basketball player do not define his existence. He’s way more than that. He cares more about others than himself and is present throughout the communities where he chooses to rest his head maintaining his debt to society. I also consider the brotha a friend and the challenge was to give you a personal view, while staying true to the game and ask difficult questions. Approaching the interview process the way I do is paying respect to the art form. In this interview I wanted to give you a sense of who Chris Webber is by documenting a walk in the past surrounded by direct questions of current and futuristic relevance. I learned a lot about Chris that I didn’t know in this 2 hour conversation. I also get terrific quotes from all sorts of players cool with Chris, his coaches, adversaries and the like. No Bada Bling this year…today is usually the weekend Chris pops off his weekend for charity in Vegas…but the event will be back next year in full throttle.
This is Part 1. Part 2 Monday. Be peace and have a great weekend.
Michael Tillery: Being that you have transitioned over to NBA TV, you are now essentially a journalist. Speak of the change in scope.
Chris Webber: It’s like anything. You have to prepare the right way and I’m definitely learning. It was always something I knew I wanted to do. Unfortunately, the injury allowed me to think about it earlier. I wanted to be around the game of basketball and I’ve always had a passion for writing. I was comfortable because of speaking engagements or appearing at private companies speaking on corporate issues. It’s fun. Looking forward to the challenge. We have great times on the set. I see game differently now in a more objective way. I appreciate it more.
MT: Why did you sign with Golden State?
CW: I signed with Golden State because of the year they had previously and Baron Davis. I felt I could go back out, have fun again and play my game. I had to wait on Detroit…who was making some moves. I definitely wanted to get back because I was waiting so long. I wanted to get back out there before the season was over. I also felt like anything could happen in the West.
I did that. It didn’t work out but there was a healing process because it was the team I started with and offered closure before the end of my career.
MT: Was it contrived for you to retire as a Warrior?
CW: Truthfully, I wanted to retire as a King. I thought about going home and signing with Sacramento for one day, but again, signing with Golden State offered me closure I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t have the opportunity.
MT: When you hear or see the words, “Chris Webber retired” what goes through your head?
CW: You know…it’s surreal…but at the same time I told people after playing with Detroit that I was going to retire. I wasn’t going to come back the last year at all. I was going to take off the year, write this book and come back the next year. I was still going to get into commentating and I’m glad I came back. It was weird. I was physically and mentally exhausted. I’m ready to put this energy into something else.
MT: Are you satisfied with your career?
CW: Yeah definitely! I would love to have won a championship and I wish I didn’t have certain injuries I had. I thinking about bad ankle sprains…probably missed seventy games with that, shoulder injuries…sixty games with that…my knee…sixty games. You look at what you could have done in that time. I lasted 15 years and you are going to have some bumps and bruises along the way. I just thank God for giving me the opportunity. In the beginning, all I wanted to do is get drafted…be a draft pick. Came close to winning a championship. I’m definitely happy with my playing days.
MT: How difficult was the knee?
CW: Mike I played above the rim so much. I would laugh with other players…there were a couple of GM’s I’d played against that I would talk to and when I went to Philadelphia I averaged 20 and 10 or something. People thought it was going to be tough with Allen. No matter what happens after the knee injury, it doesn’t look as good as after because of how it makes you look…how you run up the court.
The knee injury hurt. It’s definitely something I didn’t want to have. I still would have came back early to try and win a championship. That’s all I wanted. I could care less about the all star appearances, the averages, the triple doubles and whatever. I wanted that ring and I would have done anything to make it happen. It was always about the team. When you are a player used to doing certain things on the floor and you no longer can do those things, it’s difficult. I’d rather look back on it and say I couldn’t do it instead of how others take the money, let it go and wonder about it later on. It’s part of the game. I played so long that I can accept that with longevity.
MT: This is something that just came to mind. I was at that first Sixers game and this is something I’ve always wanted to ask you if I ever got the chance. At the end of that game when you somehow got your hands on the ball for an offensive rebound tip attempt that didn’t go in at the buzzer…the crowd booed. Did that affect you at all?
CW: You know what bruh…I don’t even remember that. It’s funny…as soon as you said you were at that game, I was going to be like “I wasn’t even there”. (We laugh) It was crazy. I got traded and I stayed in the same hotel with the Kings. So it was like I was still playing with them. My first game with the Sixers was against them? If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t have done that. That was straight exploitation. I understand the business side of it, but I wouldn’t have done it. Tell you the truth…I loved my time in Philly and when they look back, if they care what I did in time, I would have been upset too. You have Webb and AI together? You think you are gonna have a chance to do some things. I’m a fan first so I definitely…man I have friends and family in Philly. I know how it is. I’m from Detroit. I know what you are expected to do. It never really bothered me. The thing that bothered me is that if we would have had a third piece…a little bit of help…we would have been OK. I needed that and I know AI needed that and at that time we didn’t have that but that’s supposed to fall on my shoulders. I was so shocked at the deal that the boos didn’t bother me.
MT: Which teammates will you remember for their courage and which for their friendship?
CW: Courage: Doug Christie. There are a lot of dudes who bring it in practice and then don’t bring it in a game. I never saw a game where he didn’t bring it. I don’t care about air balls or missed shots or wins and losses. I will go to war with him any day of my life.
The whole Pistons team. They had the most heart out of anybody. Vernon Maxwell, Mike Bibby, Juwan Howard in DC, Latrell Spreewell, Billy Owens, and Chris Mullin.
Friendship: Spree, Billy Owens, Glen Robinson, Doug Christie, Vlade, Scott Pollard, Jalen Rose, Baron Davis, Sheed, Lamar Odom…those are pretty much my relationships in the league. I respect a whole lot of people but those were my boys.
It’s crazy because thinking about Sac, the Pistons were the realest team. The realest anything I’ve ever been around.
MT: I covered them a lot the past couple of years and that last year I would see Chauncey on and off the court all over the country and I would always ask him “Webb coming back?” and he and the rest of the Pistons always had the greatest things to say about you brotha. They really did. I could see there was a different type of atmosphere when that team was together both before, during and after you were there.
There are two teams where the locker room is just a different experience…Boston and Detroit. Workmanlike, professional and you get a sense of straight brotherhood.
CW: After GS, I was trying to gain weight and get fat as I can because I didn’t want to get that call from Sheed. I don’t know if I could have taken that call and not went back.
MT: I want to get into the Fab Five later on, but since it’s on my mind…was there a certain respect you received in the league because of what you accomplished at Michigan…the youth of it all? I’m speaking of players your same age and younger.
CW: Truthfully, when I came into the league there was definitely a respect, but it wasn’t an admiration or a butt kissing. It was more of players knowing how hard it was for us to get to that point twice being so young. They knew what we had to go through. It was an appreciation for how hard it was for us. Those were the same dudes who loved how we played and had to defend us in restaurants and with the media. They were in the struggle with us. Every time I see Lamar Odom he’s talkin’ Fab Five. I would say “Dog you still remember that?” and he would tell me he was hoping we won the championship.
KG (Kevin Garnett) and I talk all the time…he and Sheed were my favorites…about how he was gonna go to Michigan and he hated how they did this and that when it came to us.
KG and I were basically the same person…our emotions…they way we scream when we talk on the floor. I know that Barkley had that influence on me. I know Larry Johnson had that influence on the Fab Five. I know UNLV had that influence on us. We couldn’t front like we were the first ones to do it. It was UNLV. I remember when UNLV lost the second year and Duke won, I didn’t go to school. I remember crying after the game because that’s how much I was part of them. That respect we got from everybody was mad appreciated because I knew where it was coming from.
I interviewed Clark Kellogg a while back…
CW: Oh oh.
MT: Nah, nothing crazy. Clark was just a point of reference. We did speak about the Fab Five in the interview though, but this is more about Billy Packer. Did you have a different type of relationship with him?
CW: I wasn’t saying oh oh about Clark. I just don’t know what they say of us. I’m beginning to understand how history rewrites itself. The kids younger than us are gonna have a totally different opinion of those older. I never watch a NCAA game unless it’s on ESPN and I flip though it but Jim Nance was the nicest man in the world to me. After the time out, Billy Packer was very understanding. It was great. It wasn’t until later on in my NBA career that I felt he didn’t speak so highly of me. I felt he was fair.
As far as my brothers, other people who watched the game, friends, people of all ages, races…they have a different opinion of that. I can only go by how I was treated by them.
MT: What do you say to critics about your play in the clutch?
CW: I’ve heard so many things I’ve been criticized for. In the beginning it was shooting too much and taking the shot at the end of the game. Then came the Mike Bibby pass. Earlier that year, we played in Boston down two. Mike missed the shot. Coach called the play up. I told Mike forget that play. Me and you are gonna run a pick and roll, I’m gonna shoot a three and win it. That’s exactly what I did. Did it ten games earlier. This game coach called a play, Mike said “No, hand me the ball” and that’s what I did. I would do it a million times. I see KG getting dissed about that now and he has a ring. I really can’t answer that Mike T. If you ask me…if you ask any player…I think you should ask the players I played with. All of them would tell you if I didn’t take the last shot, I was mad. Probably the only time I wouldn’t get mad was when Mike took that last shot. I really don’t know the criticisms. I really don’t care. Truthfully, it is what it is. I know who I am and what type of game I had.
In Philly, I wasn’t supposed to take the last shot. I was the second. If AI didn’t take the shot, wasn’t nobody gonna take the shot.
MT: I wanna ask you about a couple of firsts Webb. What splashed through your mind that first Michigan game?
CW: I couldn’t sleep. Jalen and I were up playing Playstation all night. It was crazy because it was in our hometown of Detroit. It was at Joe Louis Arena. Before games, I get so hyped up…nervous energy. I gotta move. I’m uncontrollably hype. I’m glad they didn’t have Red Bull back then. I remember coming out and hitting the first three. My first shot and make in college was a three.
I remember looking at my Father and he gave me that wink. That’s all I can remember…being hype and him giving me the wink. After that it was blank out. You just try to destroy.
MT: Little off track for a bit, but how close was that ’97 Chicago Bulls/Washington Bullets first round best of three?
CW: We lost by a total of what six or seven points in the three losses? This is a team that won 72 games? That was one of the best series I played in. We were talking junk to Mike the whole time. We knew him, looked up to him and admired him.
In the back of our mind I guess we knew we were gonna lose.
Juwan and I said if we are gonna lose we are gonna go out and make sure they don’t forget us. We had to take it back to college because they were gonna kill us. I remember how loud Landover Arena was and them barely beating us the last game on a Pippen shot at the buzzer.
We had a good young team. It’s cool to be young now because you have a chance to win, but then when Mike was in his thirties, you didn’t have a chance. You had to wait around six to eight years.
MT: Take it to Golden State. What was that feeling the first time you played in an NBA game?
CW: I usually get that mixed up with the exhibition, so I don’t know if it was against the Kings or Shawn Kemp. I wanna say Shawn Kemp was the exhibition. I remember telling Spree both games I ain’t doing nothing the first play. I ain’t playing defense…you know what? It was against the Kings. I remember going down the lane, spinnin’…and throwing up a nasty layup…trying to make it look smooth and I hit it. I just remember thinking we made it Detroit! We made it.
MT: Man, doing research for this interview and talking to so many players across the league, I was struck. Struck by how many players had so many favorable things to say about you. It must have been about 20 players. I have to figure out who I’m gonna put in the interview. From Coach Fish to Lindsey Hunter. I thought it was a testament to you as a person that when I would say your name, everybody would smile. It validated my feeling and I know I’m supposed to be objective here, but everyone knows I’m all about Michigan.
Being a reporter, I personally haven’t experienced something like that. You have a whole lot of admirers out there bruh. I whole lot.
There is one guy who I didn’t get good stuff from and it was understandably Shaquille O’Neal. It was just his demeanor not what he actually said. I asked him if the Kings were the best team he faced and he looked at me sideways and said Portland…
CW: On that note, I agree. If Portland would have won that series, we probably would have had two championships but the Lakers came back down by a lot in that Game 7. Portland was arguably one of the most talented teams not to win a championship. I’m speaking of while I’ve been around…excluding the sixties and seventies obviously. Brian Grant was in great shape. Sheed? Their front line was those two and Scottie Pippen and depending who was in there also Sabonis? They had Steve Smith. Steve Kerr or Ainge. One of them. Detlef Shrempf! They shouldn’t have lost that series. They had a great team. I agree with him on that and you have to factor in our rivalry. That rivalry went deep. I’m sure it’s other things, but I don’t take that personal at all. I would expect everyone on that team to hate us until they die. You know how you get sick of the 17-0 Dolphins poppin’ champagne bottles every year when the last team loses, that’s how they must feel when asked about us.
MT: I’ll add his stuff to the next part, but I ask you…how ridiculous would that Orlando team have been if they kept your rights? What did either franchise give you about that trade?
CW: I never asked for an explanation. My agent at the time may know. Mike T. I didn’t care. Maybe it was smart, maybe it wasn’t, but I was not basketball business savvy my first five years. It definitely changed later in that aspect, but I was just happy to be in the league.
Once they said no Shaq I was disappointed but I didn’t have time to be disappointed. I was at home in Detroit. I was blessed to be the number one pick and on my way to a draft party. I had to keep reminding myself how stupid I would have been to be mad on draft day.
I made it. I could have gotten into a car accident. I just kept thinking that I made it!
I knew we would have been sick because you know how dogs are den animals? They sleep under things. That’s how I was in Michigan. I had to be with the players all the time. Golden State was a really good team. You had Chris Mullin who would lead the team in scoring. Spree was going to be second. I might be third. Billy Owens…you know what I’m saying? I was on a team and that’s all I wanted to be on was a great team so I can have more confidence. Of course I wanted to play with Shaq but I would get Magic and Kareem together. I wouldn’t do Dream and Ralph Sampson. Penny Hardaway…I played with him since I was 16 in AAU. I knew he was a great player, so if I was the GM I would have done it too.
Shaq was too big. He was too much of a man. He didn’t need another big fish with him clogging the paint. He could have a guard so he wouldn’t have to compete with…it just made sense to me.
We would have been crazy though.
MT: I think you would have had a couple of rebounding titles under your belt.
CW: You know what’s funny and I told my Father this: I told him that if I went to Orlando, I might average a triple double. My whole thing was I wanted to fake jump hook a shot and oop it to Shaq. That’s all I had to do. You would have to double me, so if I hit three jump hooks in a row it’s over. Soon as the double came, I was passing to Shaq. I was hoping for that, but it never came through.
MT: It would have been like that Michigan hi/low with you and Juwan.
CW: Exactly. I do think God does everything for a reason because the good thing about Golden State is that I had jump shooters. Playing with Shaq at that point in my career I couldn’t shoot a jumper. I def would have clogged up the lane for him. After I developed a jumper, it would have been impossible to stop us.