KICKS 5: Chris Webber’s quest to fulfill his destiny.
From KICKS 5, here’s a feature on CWebb, who was—even at age 29—filled with untapped potential. KICKS 13 will be out next week, so hopefully this can help hold you over until then.—Ed.
by Nima Zarrabi
The tape rests now in a moth-ball scented closet, surrounded by countless others, lifeless and rarely touched. They are captives amid a technological takeover. DVD has sent them here. Soon, some of them will disappear when letterboxed replacements are purchased, but others’ fates remain uncertain. Several of the tapes here have yet to be mirrored digitally. You know the ones: NBA Superstars, Inside the NBA, NBA James, Final Four videos from CBS. Then there’s the tape that maintains an eternal pass. It reads simply: Kentucky V. Michigan, Final Four. The VHS marks the Fab Five’s final victory lap together in the Superdome during the spring of ’93. Every so often—usually during the summer when we anxiously await the return of our hoop gods—I pull that tape and blow the dust of its analog frame. Then I go back.
I was 15 when the Fab Five entered my universe. Poetry. Chaos. Revolution. Love at first sight. I’d come upon a treasure, and Chris Webber was the heaviest piece of gold. He had an inviting smile that reminded me of Magic. Silver screen looks that made me wonder if it hurt being so handsome. A symmetric frame spawned from Greek mythology, fusing grace and ferociousness. One highlight is all it took. Webber filled the lane on a break, caught the ball near the block and shifted the rock behind the back before dunking, all in one breathtaking motion. I was hooked. A few years later, he reintroduced the play during his rookie season with the Warriors. It was filthier at the NBA level, with Webber proudly raising his hands to the sky after using the move to bang hard on Barkley’s head. A swoosh commercial dramatizing the event followed. Since then, the offensive scope of the power forward position has evolved even further, But back then, seeing a man of Chris Webber’s size and grace was ground-breaking.
Fast forward to Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals. Lakers vs. Kings, the game by which we most recently judge Chris Webber. Lakers win 112-106 in overtime. Chris goes 3 for 10 in the second half and OT combined, putting up six points in the span. Plays solid second half defense on Shaq, but that will hardly be remembered. The same is to be said for the Kings’ 16 of 31 performance from the free throw line (Webber was 2 for 4 from the stripe) and their 2 for 20 showing from three. We’ll remember Mike Bibby putting up 29, hitting big shots to keep the Kings in it. Webber had a typically great all-around line (20, 11 and 8), but in the end the Kings lost and as their best player, he must step forward and take responsibility. Either way, the whispers will grow louder than ever: He’s not clutch. Why didn’t he post up more? When’s he going to step up?
It was a tough year from the start, beginning with a preseason ankle injury that sidelined Webber for the first 20 games of the season. The Kings went 15-5 during the stretch, ad some wondered if Sacto was better without him. Then came the Tyra episode. The supermodel had been spotted at several Kings games, and a February story in the Sacramento Bee suggested the pair were an item. Webber saw this as an intrusion of privacy and got extremely upset—and the world saw just how upset shortly thereafter, when it was brought up in the locker room. Shirtless and annoyed, he gave a loud and raw testament to why he was going to boycott the local press-and we saw CWebb “lose it” on SportsCenter. His actions upset his family, but true to form, he didn’t regret the incident, and it’s safe to say many scribes frame questions a bit differently to him these days. Following the Kings’ series-ending loss to L.A., an article in Bee referred to Banks as Webber’s “supermodel friend.”
Next came the saga of Ed Martin, the man accused of running numbers around Ford plants in the Detroit area and flipping profits to Michigan ballers. Although he denies the claim, it’s alleged that Webber received $280,000 from Martin between ’88 and ’93, dates that range from his freshman year in high school to his final year at Michigan. News of the scandal remained comparatively low-profile until earlier this year, when Martin was finally arrested and charged with eight federal counts related to money laundering. The 68-year-old former Wolverine booster eventually gave in to prosecutors, copping a plea in return for full cooperation. The story went national, with Webber’s name attached to nearly every headline.
Webber admits accepting pocket money and other small gifts from Martin, but describes the six-figure claim as “crazy.” Regardless, the floodgates opened. When Webber returned to Detroit late in the season for a tilt against the Pistons, a local radio station handed out fake dollar bills with his face on them. Mitch Alborn, author of Fab Five, called out Webber, saying it was time for Chris to tell all he knew about Martin. It was a sad and conflicting moment. After all, Alborn had written a book that brought me closer to the Fab Five. Martin was to be sentenced in August, and the final chapter to this story remains unwritten. Evidently, Webber’s rep-and maybe the future of Michigan basketball-are at stake.
Which brings me back to the tape. A time of promise before the clouds turned gray. The VHS begins with the starting lineups, and I get good bumps as CWebb struts through high-fives looking near insane. Seconds later I smile when Jalen Rose-announced last-goes straight to the Michigan huddle rather than give UK guard Travis Ford the customary handshake at halfcourt. Ford takes a step forward before he realizes the slight.
The game tips and Webber etches his body in the lane, terrorizing Kentucky for 16 in the first half. Jamal Mashburn gets 13 in the first 20, but he gets no help from Ford—rattled by Jalen’s gesture, maybe—who bricks his way to zero points, and the Wolves go up 40-35 at the half. The second half is even more fast-paced with the teams exchanging baskets and leads. Webber continues to pounce away with his ballerina-like footwork in the paint, getting easy buckets on every one thrown his way.
The game goes to OT after Jalen misses a J at the buzzer. Mash fouls out, and CWebb and the crew take advantage. Kentucky has one last chance with four seconds left, but Webber steals the inbounds and the game is sealed, 81-78. Webber is the player of the game, finishing with a game-high 27 along with 13 boards. His vibrancy is on full display when he puts his arms around Mash, smiling bright, to give love. He looks ready to rule the world. But we all know what happens two days later on a Monday night in The Big Easy. That’s why I love this tape. It marks a frozen moment before the haters could boast, “Those guys will never win anything.”
Nearly a decade has passed. Today, Jimmy King (a Nugget?) and Ray Jackson (um…) are hard to find. Juwan Howard is best known for making David Falk look even craftier than we thought he was. Jalen is in the midst of a rebuilding process. Then there’s Chris. I hope a future reprint of Alborn’s book has room for a new epilogue. He’s 29. There’s still time.