C-Webb needs to be in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
My Turner colleague Chris Webber has always brought out polarizing opinions -- first as a player, and now as a broadcaster. And I’m not objective when it comes to him, either. I love the guy. He’s a true student of the game, not afraid to speak his mind on and off the court, and is someone whose love for the game knows no equal. It’s just a matter of time before he gets his chance to run a team, either in the front office or as a part-owner. But it will and should happen. And, after his impactful career as a player, he should be enshrined in Springfield.
Everyone’s criteria for the Hall is different. To me, getting in the Hall as a player requires a yes answer to two questions: 1) were you among the very best at your position for a substantial period of time during your career, and 2) did your presence and/or play change the game in a meaningful way while you played? (This is why a guy like Sixers guard Andrew Toney, in my view, is HOF-worthy, even though “The Boston Strangler” played from 1980-88 and was limited significantly by injury in two of those seasons.) Webber is a “yes” to both of those questions.
In the NBA, Webber was a five-time All-Star, four times with the Kings, and was Rookie of the Year in 1993. He was first- or second-team All NBA four times. His career PER of 20.9 is the highest of any non-retired and Hall of Fame eligible player that isn’t currently in the Hall. (Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett each have higher PERs than Webber, and each is an obvious HOF lock, but they aren’t Hall of Fame eligible until 2020.) Webber’s career PER is better than those of Hall of Famers including Allen Iverson, Bob McAdoo, Ed McCauley, George McGinnis, Billy Cunningham, Steve Nash, David Thompson, Connie Hawkins, Alex English, Walt Bellamy, Cliff Hagan and many others.
Yet in his fifth year of eligibility, Webber was again passed over by the Hall of Fame voters this year. That needs to change. His impact on the game, from high school to being a member of the “Fab Five” at Michigan in college and during his 15 NBA seasons, is undeniable.
The Hall encompasses all of a person’s basketball achievements, and Webber’s career is Hall-worthy. At Country Day High School in Michigan, he led his team to three state championships, averaging 29 points and 13 rebounds per game his senior season, when he was a consensus national player of the year. He then decided to cap an incredible recruiting class, which had three of the top 10 players in the country, among a group of freshmen that came to be known as “The Fab Five.” (Also on that Michigan team was a junior guard who averaged 2.9 points per game, who had no future as pro player, but who carved out a place for himself nonetheless in the NBA -- Rob Pelinka, who became a high-powered agent representing the likes of Kobe Bryant before becoming the Lakers’ General Manager in 2017.)
“The Fab Five”, like it or not -- and, I liked it very much -- changed basketball forever. And Webber was the lynchpin of those Michigan teams that reached consecutive NCAA championship games in 1992 and ‘93.
Across the board, the Fab Five had long-lasting impact. Aesthetically, they were vanguards, wearing long, loooong shorts that became all the rage throughout basketball. And while trash talking has been at the heart of hoops for generations, Michigan raised it to a team-wide art form. It drove traditionalists crazy, while kids watching at home loved it.
They were the accelerant to the “one-and-done” era, even though none of them left Michigan after their freshman season. But seeing five freshmen start games and play the lion’s share of minutes rippled throughout the college game. Going forward, teams didn’t just recruit blue-chippers, they put them on the floor immediately. What John Calipari does annually at Kentucky now is but the logical conclusion to what Michigan started, and every Power 5 team in college basketball has had to follow suit or get left behind.
Of course, “The Fab Five” era wound up being star-crossed. I’m well aware of the penalties assessed to the Michigan program because of the money that Ed Martin gave to players, including Webber. The university vacated the ‘92-93 season, including all of its NCAA Tournament games that year, and took down the banners commemorating “The Fab Five” and their two Final Four runs. (Michigan also vacated all of its games from 1995-96 because of Martin’s associations with other players on teams during those seasons, and its ‘93, ‘96 and ‘98 NCAA Tournament appearances, as well as its ‘97 NIT title and ‘98 Big 10 Tournament championship.) It’s obvious to me that if not for his involvement with Martin, Webber would have been on the 2000 U.S. Olympic team, which won the gold medal in Australia, as well -- another potential feather in his cap that would bolster his Hall of Fame credentials.
I will say, as delicately as I can, that there are coaches and players in the Hall that have been accused of doing some of the very things that got Michigan and Webber in so much trouble. That, in and of itself, should not be disqualifying.
Webber’s NBA career also did not include a championship. But he was just as impactful on the pro game. Beginning in Golden State and Washington, C-Webb was a category all his own -- a big man with catcher’s mitts for hands who could pulverize in transition, yet was also an incredibly deft passer, both from the post or out front.
As a rookie, Webber elevated Golden State from a 34-48 record in 1992-93 to 50-32 the next season. Traded to Washington after that one season with the Warriors, having conflicted mightily with Coach Don Nelson, Webber helped get the then-Bullets to the postseason for the first time in nine years. Once there, the Bullets went toe-to-toe with the defending-champion Bulls in a tough, three-game first-round series in ’97.
But it wasn’t until Webber was sent to what was then the equivalent of Siberia in the NBA -- Sacramento -- that his game reached full flower. Playing with another excellent passing big man in Vlade Divac, and a flashy savant of a point guard in Jason Williams, Webber and the Kings were the vanguard of the modern NBA game, coming to fruition years before the Suns’ Seven Seconds or Less attack led by one of last week’s Hall of Fame inductees, Steve Nash.
The Kings moved the ball with flair and purpose. The Warriors have changed the game forever by stretching the floor to the breaking point for opposing defenses with their 3-point proficiency, but even they didn’t have what Sacramento possessed -- two bigs who could initiate and finish from anywhere inside the 3-point line. No one could do what the Kings could do, and with Webber, Sacramento changed almost overnight from perennial joke to perennial championship contender. The Kings made the playoffs six straight seasons, reaching the Western Conference finals in 2002 before losing in controversial fashion to the Lakers in seven games.
Webber’s knee injury during the Kings’ semifinal playoff series with Dallas in 2003 marked the beginning of the end for him and the Kings. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, Sacramento probably would have beaten the Mavericks and played San Antonio in the West finals. And while San Antonio would have been favored in that series, the Kings would have had a chance, with the winner facing the Nets in The Finals that year. And a championship would also have made C-Webb’s pro career look much different. But, that didn’t happen.
It doesn’t matter, though. Webb’s career stands on its own merits. At all levels, he has had impact and changed the game, and he deserves to have his moment in the sun in Springfield. Sometimes it takes players of merit a little longer, for various reasons -- think Spencer Haywood, or, this year, Mo Cheeks. Chris Webber is a Hall of Famer, and it isn’t a close call.
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