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C-Webb, Nellie get second chance at golden opportunity

Chris Webber's reunion with Don Nelson in Oakland proves once and for all that the word "irreconcilable" doesn't exist in sports.

We should know better than to say "never." I wouldn't even say "wouldn't." Sports have fireproof bridges. So we shouldn't be surprised to see Webber crossing the Bay Bridge and rejoining the Warriors, 14 seasons after he reached an impasse in his relationship with Nelson.

Keep in mind that we're dealing in a world of limited time and limited resources. Sports careers are too fleeting to hold grudges. And the pool of talent that can play at a high level is too small to let personality conflicts always hold sway over personnel decisions. There are games to be won for people making large salaries. At some point, egos and feelings have to take a back seat.

It's a little hard for the rest of us to comprehend. This is just something they do that we don't. We probably couldn't make a free throw with network TV cameras trained on us, thousands of fans screaming, waving squiggly balloons and taking flash photos. They do it routinely. Same rules apply here.

If you think about it, the second take almost always goes off without a hitch.
The greatest example is just a few hours south of Oakland, where the Lakers are one big, happy oasis of reconciliation. There's Kobe Bryant playing for the coach who wrote about two attempts to trade the player after he decided he couldn't get through to Bryant. That's the same coach, Phil Jackson, who came right back to the owner who fired him a year before. And Bryant spent most of the first half of this season giving the ball and offering praise to the same Andrew Bynum he disparaged over the summer. They all are getting along so well you keep waiting for them to start singing the "Smurfs" song.

If they could do it -- when Jackson's book was still sitting on the shelves, when that parking lot video was still floating around the Internet -- then anyone can.

Who has a bigger ego than the Big Tuna? But can you recall any problems in Dallas after Bill Parcells brought in Terry Glenn, the same Glenn whom Parcells mockingly referred to as "she" while they were with the New England Patriots?

Speaking of Dallas, Nick Van Exel fit smoothly with the Mavericks, even though one of their legions of assistant coaches was Del Harris. Their time together with the Lakers did not end well.

The best baseball example was Billy Martin going back to work for George Steinbrenner, again and again.

And with all the player movement and career longevity in the NHL, it's almost inevitable for players to wind up in the same dressing room as someone whose teeth they once knocked out. C'est la guerre.

You see it after every boxing match. Two fighters, who spent weeks talking mega-trash to each other, then spent 12 rounds beating each other up, hug it out after the final bell and get all chummy. These days, the next step usually involves working with each other on promoting the rematch.

At some point, they realize they are in the same fraternity. There might be disputes within the family, but ultimately, no outsider can truly appreciate what they do. There's no one to turn to but each other.

In Webber's case, his beef with Nelson was so long ago most people have forgotten what started it.

While Webber was in the process of becoming the rookie of the year in 1993-94, Nelson was talking bad about Webber in front of other players. There were benchings and on-court shouting matches. Webber wanted to be "treated like a man."

Webber took advantage of the old loophole that allowed rookies to opt out of their contracts after a year in the league and become restricted free agents (a loophole since closed with the advent of the multi-year rookie scale contracts). It was designed to give top rookies a quick shot at using their "Larry Bird" rights to re-sign with their team at a higher salary.

But Webber decided to use his opt-out for leverage, refusing to come back to the Warriors unless they traded him or dumped Nelson. When Nelson offered to resign so Webber could rejoin the Warriors, Webber even took offense to that, calling it a stunt to get on the fans' good side.

It was hard to reconcile that depiction of Nelson with the one that emerged from the Warriors' locker room in 2007, when the players kept praising Nelson during their surprise playoff run. The only similar display of affection for a coach I have ever seen came after the 2000 NCAA championship, when Duke's Jay Williams planted a kiss on Mike Krzyzewski's head during the postgame news conference.

Nelson must have been humbled by what happened to him after he and Webber split ways with Webber's trade to the Washington Bullets. Nelson was gone midway through the season, when the Warriors had a 14-31 record. Then he went to the Knicks, where he had more personality clashes and didn't last a full year, even though the team had a winning record.

Just the fact that Nelson is in Golden State with a chance to coach Webber again is a sign that people forgive and forget -- Warriors owner Chris Cohan tried unsuccessfully to get $1.6 million back from Nelson when he went to the Knicks.

Webber's NBA odyssey took him to four teams after he left the Warriors: Washington, Sacramento, Philadelphia and Detroit. The peak of his career came with the Kings, where Webber made the All-Star team five times and once got within a seventh-game overtime period of the NBA Finals. He was so successful there, part of an unusually close-knit team, that it's easy to forget he didn't want to play for the Kings initially -- his father had to talk him into getting on the flight to Sacramento.

Webber learned then that sometimes, you go where you have to and it all works out. This time it's optional, with Webber and the Warriors choosing each other, their wants outweighing their history. Results are all that matter in this business, which has a way of turning enemies into allies.

J.A. Adande is the author of "The Best Los Angeles Sports Arguments." He joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.