Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More
Posted Feb 5 2007 2:08PM
With the help of God and true friends
Yes, it seems like only yesterday I was a thirteen year old boy bashfully approaching then-high school senior Mayce Edward Christopher Webber III hoping for an autograph.
Webber was just beginning his final year at Detroit Country Day, where he was a hands-down choice for Michigan's Mr. Basketball award and the National High School Player of the Year honors after averaging 28.0 points, 13.0 boards, four blocks and four steals per game, leading the Yellow Jackets to a third state championship. On this night, he was merely a spectator in the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills, sizing up his future squad, the University of Michigan Wolverines, as they squared off with Athletes in Action.
There, on the score sheet from Nov. 21, 1990, alongside the penmanship of Steve Fisher, is a barely legible "Chris Webber #44" scrawled, superimposing names like Lorenzo Romar, Ronnie Grandison and Michael Porter. While he was still honing his craft on the hardwood, he had already zeroed in on how to thrill a youngster without wasting any time to put down a pretty signature.
Flash forward to yesterday, when Webber was all smiles, seated between Joe Dumars and Flip Saunders, at his introductory press conference back inside the Palace. It wasn’t always that way, however, for arguably the best-passing big man to ever play the game.
Looking back the better part of two decades later, Webber's career was as up and down as his stroke of the pen on my score sheet.
Rising up, as if to form the "C", was his lead of the Fab Five, partnering with Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson to comprise the highly-heralded freshman class the likes of which college coaches still dream of recruiting. One had to wonder, seriously, how this team could not take an NCAA title or two during its time together?
But, just as the ink line drops to start the "H", Webber's most infamous moment would prevent the Wolverines from cutting down the nets, after falling short in the championship game a season earlier.
Two short months later, Webber rose to dot the "I" as the Orlando Magic made him the top overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, held at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Magic dealt him later that same evening to Golden State, where, en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors, things went downhill. After one season by the bay, Webber was moved to Washington, where he reunited with college teammate Juwan Howard in the nation’s capital.
Accolades came. Injuries took their toll. C-Webb made four straight All-Star squads (2000-03) and finished fourth in MVP voting in 2001. His Kings were perennial playoff powerhouses, but Webber could never lead them to the Finals.
The closest he would come to an NBA title was Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals when his team fell 112-106 in overtime to Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers. And the series should never have gone the distance, where it not for Big Shot Rob and one of the greatest playoff moments in NBA history.
Now, back in Detroit, Webber has a legitimate shot at a championship. And this isn’t the kind of hype that surrounded his signing in Philadelphia, when it was believed he would form the top inside-outside tandem in the game with Allen Iverson. We now know how that turned out for both players and the team.
In the Pistons, Webber is joining a team that already has the pieces in place to make a title run.
“I'm excited to be home in Detroit,” Webber said at Tuesday’s press conference, “but I'm more excited about being on this team. If this was not a good team, it would not be much fun to be at home in the city that you play in and not win. This team was already great before I got here. In no way am I acting like I'm coming here and doing this team a big service. I'm part of a great machine already.”
While there’s excitement today that Webber is home, the pressure is on for that “great machine” to perform as legendarily as the muscle cars in the Motor City once did. If, in performance tests, it fails to keep pace with the competition, expect the reviewers to sound off.
Home town fans don't like failure, even from one of their own. On the other hand, they immortalize those – see: Yzerman, Steve – who spend their entire careers chasing and capturing the Holy Grail, all the while racking up individual accolades.
They also harbor a soft spot for those brilliant performers – see: Sanders, Barry – but never truly forget they failed to deliver the goods.
But that’s just to mention the expectations of the fans. Nightly, Webber will also have to face the working press, who lobbed softballs in his direction Tuesday before sometimes-novelist, full-time Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom brought the heat.
“Do you want to take this opportunity – I’ll deal with the elephant in the room – to talk about the Michigan situation, Ed Martin, everything that happened,” Albom asked. “I know you've talked a lot of times about, ‘Well, when it's all said and done I'll tell everybody what really went on.’ You have a great forum here and a chance to address that. What do you want to say about that and to the people of Michigan.”
At this point, by my watch, Webber had been a Piston all of about 10 minutes. Welcome home, Chris.
That kind of pressure will only mount for Webber before it’s “all said and done.”
But, as the time slips by, as Allman sang, Webber appears to have taken stock in himself and realized he has enough for one last go before it’s too late. Sure, Allman may have had his legs. Webber doesn't. Wings to fly? Forget about it; Webber might throw one down every now and then but he's most certainly a below-the-rim player these days.
More so than for what he adds to the boxscore, Webber will be scrutinized for how he blends in with a team where chemistry is the all-important quality. If he casts aside any notions of being the man – just as Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace all did – the Pistons might be considered the favorite to rise out of the East this season.
As Joe Dumars explained Tuesday, that just may be the case. “’Look, I understand your system,’” Dumars quoted Webber as saying about coming to Detroit. “He said, ‘You don’t have a one-star system. I am at a point in my career where I want to be surrounded by (a winning) environment. I don’t want to be a savior. I know I will be one of five on the floor.’”
Webber’s best days may be behind him. Then again, if he and the Pistons are serious contenders for the title, they may just lie ahead.