Into the Mix

For three straight seasons, right around this time of year, Cavalier fans were getting geared up to hate on Antawn Jamison and his Wizard teammates. This year, he might be the missing piece to Cleveland’s Championship run.

On February 17, Jamison was the final member of the Wizards’ “Big Three” that faced off against the Cavaliers in three consecutive First Round playoff series. In those 16 games, the 6-9, 235-pounder averaged 21.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per game against Cleveland.

Over the course of his career, the 11-year veteran from North Carolina has been the model of consistency – averaging 19.8 points and 8.0 boards in 857 career games. Since the start of 2000-01, Jamison has played in at least 68 games per season.

Since joining the Cavaliers, Jamison has averaged 15.9 ppg and the Wine and Gold are 15-2 with him in the starting lineup. In just the last week, he became just the 12th active player to tally 17,000 points. This past Friday, he notched his 900th steal.

The 33-year-old Jamison is the proverbial “pro’s pro” and is known around the league as one the NBA’s good guys.

The two-time All-Star took a moment with to talk about his time in Washington, his unorthodox shots around the rim and how much he actually did hate the Cavaliers during those bitter First Round series back in the day …

How have you been able to fit in so seamlessly with the team since your arrival?
Jamison: I’m not one of those guys, offensively, that needs plays called for him. The most important thing for me is to win. And coach knew that was the one quality that really stood out.

I think there were some questions initially on whether I’d be able to get into the thick of things defensively. But I hold my own and that’s something I take pride in as well. So that’s been a smooth transition, too.

I just think you have an organization and a group of guys that are willing to take things to the next level. And, as an individual, they brought me in without having to dismantle the team, a person who’s willing to be on the same page, with no ego. I’m not trying to accomplish anything individually. It’s about going out, going deep into the playoffs and contending for a championship.

Once you have both parties trying to establish that goal, it’s always a smooth transition.

Did you realize what a cast of characters the Cavaliers were before you arrived?
Jamison: These guys have a great time; there’s never a dull moment. But when it’s time to work, they put all that behind them and we go to work.

I didn’t realize how funny these guys were and how much they like to have a good time. It never stops! After a loss, we’ll be mad. Guys will say what they have to say. We cool off. And it starts right back up!

But you know, you need that during the course of 82 games, preseason, deep into the playoffs. It energizes you to go out there and compete and still be able to have fun. I didn’t know the guys were characters like this.

So, exactly how much did you dislike the Cavaliers while you were with Washington?
Jamison: Oh, I couldn’t stand these guys. They say it was a rivalry, but it wasn’t much of one because we always lost. I mean, I couldn’t stand them. High-fiving, this and that, throwing up the goose-eye. I guess you envy it a little bit.

It wasn’t until me and LeBron played in the World Championship that I got the opportunity to know him a little bit and realize he’s a good guy. I knew Mo – he was with adidas and we did a couple shoes together. But me and Andy, me and Ilgauskas – we used to go at it.

There was one time where I think Brendan (Haywood) and LeBron got tied up and we said some stuff. But you realize the passion and respect (the Cavs) had for each other and they always had each other’s back. And that’s something that you always wish you could have as a team. Still, I couldn’t stand these guys – I’m not going to lie to you.

But from Day One, these guys made me feel like I was home. They welcomed me with open arms. And all that stuff that happened in the past was in the past.

How long can you hold out with adidas on a pro-Nike squad?
Antawn Jamison: Oh, man. (laughs) They’ve been giving me a lot of slack over them, but I’ve been with adidas my whole career. And I have a good relationship with them, haven’t had any problems with them at all. I think we have a nice deal. As long as I’m able to play the game, they’ll let me wear their shoes.

The guys let me hear about it every day, but I don’t think there’ll be any change.

Before coming to Cleveland, was this your most difficult year with the Wizards?
Jamison: It was tough. We had so many high expectations. Gilbert was finally healthy, we had a new coaching staff coming in with Flip Saunders. We thought this was the year that we could make some noise and take it to the next level.

But there were so many outside distractions, and we all know the biggest one. It was tough, because I was at a stage in my career where I want to contend, I want to win. I want to be playing for that hardware, not be at home with everybody else, watching it on TV. So it was definitely a difficult year for me, probably the toughest because of the high expectations.

It was tough, but once I got that phone call and knew I was coming here, the batteries definitely got re-energized and juiced up again. This is what it’s all about. This is what I’ve waited 12 years for. And it’s a blessing because I’m doing it with a great group of guys, an excellent coaching staff, two Hall of Famers and a great organization. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

With such a versatile and deep frontline, you’ve been able to play both the 3 and the 4. Have you been comfortable with that?
Jamison: With me, it depends on the matchup. If they have a quick, agile 4, you can put me at the 4, if they have a big 3, you can put me at the 3.

We have so many lineups that we can throw at a team and be successful with, and that it definitely works to our favor. And during the course of the playoffs, going through the first round, to the second round, into the Eastern Conference Finals, you’re going to need certain guys to step up and certain matchups to work to be successful.

So, playing the 3 or the 4 – they’ve been giving me work at both lately and I’m feeling comfortable. When they put me at the three, I know the plays, I know where to be. And I just want to get a little more comfortable.

But having as many different guys as we do is a good problem to have. And I hope we can take advantage of it.

Talk about your unorthodox shots – almost a shot-put – around the basket. Is that something you’ve always done?
Jamison: Yeah, they’ve been getting on me a little bit about that too. (laughs) But you know what? I didn’t have that until I got to college. In high school, I was always taller, more athletic, so I was dunking everything, laying everything up. Once I got to college and those guys started outweighing me by 40 or 50 pounds and were taller than me by six inches, I had to use my quickness and develop the unorthodox shots.

People ask me if I’m in the gym, 30 or 40 minutes after practice working on them. I’m not. It’s just kind of natural for me. And I’m glad I have it, because it’s been successful for me. It keeps my opponents off balance because you don’t know where or when it’s coming from. You can see guys thinking about it.

But it’s just something that I use for the benefit of, not just myself, but my teammates. I don’t know where I get it from. As a kid, I never worked on it. It just came natural to me, and in the pros I was able to tune it up and it’s worked to my advantage.