Antawn Jamison - The Rising Star
Antawn Jamison looked at though he was destined to become another fading college star in a long line of NBA busts. Jamison, the fourth overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, was on his way to hearing his name mentioned with the likes of Sam Bowie, Pervis Ellison, Harold Miner, Ed O'Bannon, Joe Barry Carroll, Bo Kimble and Bobby Hurley. All players who dominated in college but never lived up to their potential in the NBA.
People's perceptions of Jamison changed almost instantaneously, like a click in the brain, during a two-game span when out of the gray throbbing mess that has been the Golden State Warriors, an ecstasy arose.
A solid month of basketball by Jamison in November of 2000 went unnoticed as another Warriors season began with rehashed tales of injuries and inconsistent play. But suddenly, as Jamison later put it, the angels decided to look over him. After scoring a modest 20 points one night earlier against the Mavericks, Jamison went for 51 points in a loss at Seattle on December 3, his first career 50-point game and the NBA's first of the season.
Connecting on 23 of his 36 field goal attempts with two 3-pointers and three free throws in just four attempts, Jamison and the Warriors caught a slight glare of the NBA's spotlight for the first time in years for doing something positive. One game and three nights later, Jamison grabbed the spotlight and forced its focus upon the Warriors and The Arena in Oakland.
With the mighty Lakers in town, the 24-year-old Jamison began a duel with Kobe Bryant that ended with Jamison as the last man standing. Jamison's array of slashing drives, rapidly delivered offensive put-backs and clutch outside shots shattered the air into quaking pieces as he once again finished with 51 points. This time he led his Warriors to victory, hitting shot after shot in the fourth quarter and overtime as the Warriors defeated the Lakers 125-122, the highest scoring game of the season.
Jamison's offensive outbreak placed him in the record books as he became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain over 26 years ago to score 51-plus points in two consecutive games. No Warrior had reached the 50-point plateau in back-to-back games since Rick Barry went for 50 and 52 in successive games in 1967. Jamison and Bryant, who also scored a career-high 51 points that night, became just the third duo in NBA history to each score 50 points in the same game. The last time it happened was in 1962, with the same two clubs clashing as Chamberlain (63 points) and the Warriors lost to Elgin Baylor (51 points) and the Lakers 120-118.
Though Jamison's two-game eruption garnered him the limelight from the national media for the first time in his three years, it was no surprise or fluke that he went off as he did. Jamison began his career appearing as though he would never feel comfortable in the NBA game, too small for power forward and lacking the floor game to play small forward. But an unsurpassed work ethic combined with Carl Brashear-like will and determination has turned Jamison into one of the league's top forwards in three short years.
As a rookie, Jamison often looked lost on the court. He was playing the small forward position after playing power forward in college, where he was a destructive machine that chopped down anything standing in his way. After his junior season at North Carolina, Jamison was named Player of the Year by virtually every media outlet and was selected fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors. After the Raptors drafted Jamison, they traded him to the Warriors for Vince Carter, who the Warriors drafted with the fifth overall pick. Carter quickly rose to stardom, winning Rookie of the Year honors, while Jamison struggled to find court time with a coach who preferred to play veterans Chris Mills and Donyell Marshall.
The media knocked the Warriors for trading Carter, but what they failed to research was that the trade was a preconceived one. Toronto had originally planned to pick Carter with the fourth pick, but with Dallas threatening to move up in hopes of getting Jamison, the Warriors struck a deal with Toronto to ensure they wouldn't miss out on picking the 6-foot-9 North Carolina native. The Raptors dealt with Golden State so they could receive cash, along with Carter, who Toronto planned on drafting anyway.
"The whole controversy dealing with the trade between me and Vince wasn't what bothered me so much," says Jamison. "What bothered me was I never was able to feel comfortable on the court. I was struggling to get out on the floor and find consistent playing time."
The Warriors were in the playoff hunt for most of Jamison's rookie year during the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Barely getting 20 minutes of playing time per game behind the two veterans, Jamison admitted to being on the verge of crying out on the court because of his struggles.
"I just didn't feel right out there when I was playing," Jamison says. "There were times I would sit out the entire first half, and by the time I got in the game I felt like I didn't have the authority to tell my hands and feet what to do. I felt awkward and could never get in a rhythm. On the court it was like I was walking slowly, lurking around as though I was afraid I would fall."
Many in the media labeled Jamison a bust after he averaged just 9.6 points and 6.4 rebounds during his first year. Jamison sensed this and it gave him the instrument to knock down the wall that was holding him back.
"The media knew exactly what was going on, but they weren't writing about it," Jamison says. "They just tried to say I was a wasted draft pick or whatever. I read the stuff people were writing about me and I still keep those clips to this day as a reminder. I get a lot of satisfaction in proving people wrong, because I know what I can do. My rookie year was just one of those situations, where no matter what happens, you're gonna always come out on the bottom.
"From step one, I never got the opportunity to prove myself. That's something that hurts. I wasn't worried about what Vince was doing or any other rookies. Half of the situations, it was put in my hands, and the other half, it wasn't put in my hands. I didn't have any say-so."
Entering his second season as a full-time starter, Jamison took his destiny into his own hands. In the first 23 games prior to the firing of P.J. Carlesimo as coach, Jamison played solid basketball (16.7 points and 7.6 rebounds), but still felt like he could contribute more. When Garry St. Jean came down from his General Manager's office to perform double-duty in replacing Carlesimo, Jamison flourished as St. Jean made him the Warriors' main option.
"Saint made me feel confident and comfortable again on the court," Jamison says. "He basically said I was the main guy and wanted me to lead the team night in and night out. I never said I had to be the main man, but just by him giving me that confidence, I think that really improved my game."
He was averaging 23.6 points and 9.3 rebounds over 17 games with St. Jean as coach when his season came to an abrupt end when he strained his left knee versus Denver on February 4, 1999. He toughed it through three more games before he and the club realized major damage had been done to the knee. He underwent surgery on February 22 and missed the final 35 games of the season.
"For him to go down like that was tough," St. Jean says. "He was on a roll and playing well for us. But with his character, I knew it wouldn't get him down."
In fact, the injury made Jamison focus even more on himself and his career. His second season in the NBA was over and his career had yet to go the way he had planned. His injury gave him time to sit and think about what he needed to do to take his game to the next level. He went over many things in his head and had many discussions about his game with others, mainly his father, Albert.
"The first thing that went though my mind was that if I was in better condition I would have never gotten hurt," Jamison says. "I've always stayed in good shape, but I felt I needed to take it up a notch higher."
From the moment his strength returned following his surgery, Jamison was in the gym. Walking into the Warriors practice facility on crutches while his teammates were on the court, Jamison stationed himself in the weight room and worked on his upper body. He began to work out all day, every day, as if something drew him beyond his power to resist.
"The time off made me realize that if I wanted to become the type of player I had always dreamed of becoming, I needed to work harder," Jamison says. "My father was instrumental in improving my work ethic. He motivated me a lot and basically just let me know that I had been through a two-year NBA experience that did not go my way, and that a man who can't learn from experience is a fool. That helped change my attitude. I had one thought and one thought only; and that was to dedicate myself to becoming a better basketball player."
And as is usually true of a man of one idea, he became obsessed. Players usually spend anywhere between two to four hours in the gym each day playing basketball or working out during the season. Jamison bucked this trend. He was working out so often, Warriors front office employees, who were working no less than 40-hour work weeks, would see Jamison's Range Rover positioned in its usual spot in the parking lot of the practice facility each day when they would arrive. On most days, his car would still be in the same spot when they left at the end of the day.
Without the ability to run, Jamison worked solely on his upper body in the weight room and his outside shot on the court. A major weakness of Jamison's game had always been his ability to hit the outside shot on a consistent basis. In this regard, the knee injury turned into a blessing, as the only thing Jamison could do while his knee heeled was shoot jumper after jumper.
"All summer he was in the gym all the time," says Warriors coach Dave Cowens. "He was here early in the morning taking hundreds and hundreds of shots every day. Not every other day, every day. All that work has paid off, and that's what it takes. I found out by watching him this summer that he was very dedicated to his task."
By the time he was ready to begin leg exercises, Jamison's handicap had turned one of his weaknesses into a new weapon. Jamison used his injury to make him a more proficient jump shooter.
All of his offseason work has paid dividends for Jamison, who currently finds himself side by side with the best forwards in the game. Though the Warriors are struggling through their second consecutive injury plagued season, Jamison's game is on the rise. While his back-to-back 51-point games brought him instant attention from around the league, it has been his consistent all-around play that should garner him attention for years to come.
Hovering around 25 points and 10 rebounds all season, Jamison's accuracy from 15 to 20 feet has been used to complement his quickness around the basket and his nose for the ball. Entering the NBA as a tweener, Jamison has adjusted his game and made defenders the ones who are forced into a matchup nightmare. Now if the player is too big for him to take inside, Jamison simply brings the defender outside with his jumper and has the choice to drive or shoot over the top. If a small, quick player is on him, Jamison pounds it inside and uses his patented quick, pogo-stick jump hook in the lane.
"Antawn Jamison is a special player," says St. Jean, who is now back to his singular role of Warriors GM. "He brings an attitude with him that makes him want to get better. He wants to become a star in this league. He has the talent to do it. All of the offseason work he put in at our practice facility shows he has the heart to do it. Now it's just a matter of sitting back and watching it happen."
His work has not gone unnoticed around the league. Those who have been around the game for years and respect it too much to see a young talent wasted are impressed with what Jamison has become.
"It's nice to see a young man like Antawn trying to make himself a better player," says Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "We need more of that in this league."
Despite the success he has experienced this season, Jamison's attitude has not changed. He still has a long way to go to accomplish his goals, whether they be individual or team orientated. Forever inventing ways to do old and new things better and quicker, Jamison's Range Rover will once again gather plenty of dust outside the Warriors practice facility this offseason.
"Oh yeah, I don't plan on bringing the workload down one bit," Jamison says. "That's my mindset right now and I don't see it going anywhere. I want to be a major factor in turning this Warriors team around and bringing some success to the organization and the fans. People never believed in me. But the organization did, and they stuck by me 100 percent. So I feel I owe it to them to get better. I have a lot of work ahead of me because I still have a long ways to go to become the player I want to be."
In Antawn Jamison, Warriors fans have something to look forward to for the first time in quite a while. His back-to-back 51-point games have moved on, the way a cloudburst passes into a distant echoing thunder roll. However, in Jamison, the Warriors have a rain left behind from the cloudburst determined to go on for a long time.