In ESPN The Magazine's February 19 cover story, Chris Webber critiques the Kings and ponders his next move. Here's an excerpt, along with CWebb's preliminary shopping list of possible new teams. Click here for Part 2.
The cocoon Chris Webber is about to shed sits in a remote corner of a gated community well outside Sacramento. It's not visible from the road, and the house number at the top of the drive is painted over. Some would call it a modest four-bedroom mansion, what with the vaulted ceilings and circular drive and split-level Jacuzzi/pool, but that would suggest it is a home.
Not to Webber -- never has been, never will be. It simply is where he has stored his belongings, collected his thoughts and rested his head between performances that have lifted the Kings from an NBA joke to the league's most entertaining attraction. It's the cocoon from which he hopes to spring anew, spread his wings and have the career he expected upon arriving in the NBA as the No. 1 pick back in 1993.
"It's like I've been reborn," says Webber, who will turn 28 in March. "I'm ready to be that kid back at Michigan again. I'm just waiting to come out."
The popular public opinion is that Sacramento has everything he needs, but CWebb, a world-class worrier, considers that presumptuous. He has not won a championship here, he has not been recognized as the game's best power forward, he has not come close to making up for all those years when his game fell short of his expectations in Golden State and Washington. So how could it have everything?
Sure, he hasn't had any more scrapes with the law for marijuana possession. He's an All-Star and an MVP candidate for the second straight season. And he's being mentioned in the same breath as Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett among elite power forwards. But that's hardly enough for someone whose career started as storybook as CWebb's did, with two NCAA finals appearances in two tries. For someone who longs to return to storybook status before it's all over.
So he winces at the notion that he needed a boring place like Sacramento to get his act together, because the accompanying notion is that he needs a boring place like Sacramento to keep his act together. For CWebb, who will be a free agent after this season, that's like telling a great musician to keep his steady gig in Peoria instead of moving on to the Village Vanguard. And if you want to get CWebb barreling off in a particular direction, just tell him he shouldn't go there.
"Before, I wasn't ready to go to New York or L.A.," he says. "Now it's like I've paid my dues and had my quiet time. I've played with friends, and I know it hasn't worked out. That makes me more anxious to prove I can do it. At the same time, I can just hear people saying, 'Hey, you're not going to make the same mistake again, are you?'
"All I want is for all this to be worth something. Above all, I want to be with a group that I can help, and can help me win a championship. I just don't know how to go about finding that."
Fact is, he already has told his real estate agent to spread the word that the house will be available this summer. Packing won't take much time. Webber opens a door at the top of the stairs, revealing a room littered with moving boxes, a dozen dress shoes and workout apparel, a treadmill half-buried in the midst of it all. "All the rooms used to be like this," he says, pulling the door shut again.
Generally, he's kept to his bedroom and the room directly across the hall, which he converted into a soundproofed music studio complete with sound and mixing boards and two keyboards. (He has started a fledgling label, Humility Records, and lays down beats for various rap groups. He has also taken up bass guitar, traveling with a teach-yourself video.) The rest of the house was practically unfurnished until last December, when a visit from his parents forced him to outfit a guest bedroom and buy dining room and living room furniture.
But it still looks as if he's a squatter rather than an owner. He parks his silver 600S Mercedes-Benz coupe and black Suburban (with Sprewell Racing license-plate frames) in the driveway, never in the garage, as if he's just visiting. Next to the pool, a patio table without a top lies on its side. The real estate lockbox used to hide a key still sits just to the left of the front door.
No one has lived with him since he moved here three years ago, and Chris says he hasn't dated in the last six months. His spot for The Magazine with Ray Allen is the first major commercial he's done in years, in part because his brushes with the law on suspicion of marijuana possession didn't recommend him as a spokesman, in part because he decided to focus on basketball. A few months ago, he fired both his longtime agent, Fallasha Erwin, and his longtime personal assistant, Yvette Watson. He spends far less time off the court with his closest teammate, point guard Jason Williams, than he did last season. He has let his hair grow out and is reading The Celestine Prophecy, a spiritual book about learning from your mistakes and trusting your instincts -- and about finding the environment that fits you best.
The Maloof family, which bought the Kings 21 months ago, has courted Webber like a guy who proposes to his girlfriend on a scoreboard -- at the World Series. Joe and Gavin Maloof made their money largely off the development and sale of a Las Vegas casino/hotel, so they know something about playing over the top. They started with a banner on top of Arco Arena proclaiming, "CWebb's House." There's also a billboard on the stretch of I-80 CWebb takes to his house that shows Joe on a riding mower and Gavin saying, "Joe will mow your lawn if you stay. (Gavin)."
Webber would prefer a quieter, face-to-face approach. "All that stuff makes me feel like they're not trying to keep me as much as cover their backs if I leave," he says. "They haven't talked to me once since the season started."
The Maloofs say they simply didn't want to be a distraction, and they plan to talk to Webber after the All-Star break. They'll remind him then about the $9.1 million practice facility they've built, and that they've doubled the payroll. They'll promise to give him a voice in personnel decisions. If they don't know how much convincing it will take, they do know how important it is to succeed. "With all that's happened," Joe Maloof says, biting his lip, "I don't know how he couldn't stay here."
But it's more than the Maloofs' commitment that makes Webber wonder about staying. Despite the Kings' recent success, most players still aren't wild about Sac-town, just about the least cosmopolitan stop in the league. Portland owner Paul Allen and Orlando chairman Rich DeVos have overcome similar problems with big payrolls and by spending tons of money on things like practice facilities and private planes. But the Maloofs' money won't help Webber find a restaurant open after a game. Things like that don't bother family men or small-town kids like JWill. But Webber's a Detroit native who has played in the Bay Area and D.C. The taste for urban life is in his blood.
"I'm bored to death here every day," he says.
This article appears in the February 19 issue of ESPN The Magazine, along with CWebb's preliminary shopping list of potential new teams. Click here for Part 2, in which Webber says the Kings are soft, and that he wants a Jordanesque legacy.
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