Through a fluke of ill-timed injuries, Antawn Jamison had to wait more than two years before he would play another game at Verizon Center. Jamison received a decent ovation from the fans on Saturday as the Cleveland Cavaliers were announced during pre-game introductions, but it didn’t take long for those same fans to turn on Jamison as he personally outscored the Wizards, 10-9, in the first five minutes.
Jamison finished with a team-high 29 points in the Wizards’ 101-98 victory, making ridiculous runners, floaters and long jumpers, but he also missed a potential tying three-pointer with 35 seconds remaining. Afterward, Jamison said his long-delayed return didn’t make the night any more special.
“It just seemed like the second trip that I had when I played against Golden State or Dallas,” said Jamison, who traveled with the team but missed two Cavaliers games in Washington last season with injuries to his knee and pinky finger. “It just wasn’t that emotional. I wasn’t as emotional as I thought I would be. I did a great job of just treating this like any other game and just going out there and having fun. That’s what I did.”
Jamison did a good bit of his damage on Trevor Booker, who was chosen with the draft pick the Wizards acquired from Cleveland in February 2010. Booker had guarded Jamison once last year, but still didn’t always know which way he was going on his releases. Coach Randy Wittman joked that on one shot, Jamison “threw one from his heel.”
“He had a hot hand,” Booker said of Jamison. “I think he wanted to come back and show the crowd that he still had it. He might’ve been mad that they traded him away or something. But he came out hot. It was tough to slow him down.”
Jamison remains effective, but he’s also trapped in basketball purgatory.
When it became apparent that the Wizards were going to rebuild two years ago, Jamison wanted to relocate. He had invested too many years into his craft, suffered through several lottery seasons with the Golden State Warriors, and didn’t want to spend his final years on a team headed nowhere.
Jamison quietly asked out. Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld acquiesced, repaying Jamison for his contributions to the organization by sending him to join LeBron James in Cleveland. But in the past two years, Jamison has surely had moments in which he second-guessed the decision or sacrificing a place that had become a second home for what amounted to a fruitless two-month championship chase.
Two years later, Jamison is still on a team headed nowhere. And since James bolted for Miami, the Cavaliers have gone 32-85. The Wizards have gone 31-87. Don’t call it an upgrade.
“This is a situation since I’ve been in Cleveland, except for the first month or two, it’s a rebuilding stage,” Jamison said. “A lot of young guys here and just trying to turn things back around.”
In the final year of a contract that will pay him $14 million, Jamison, 35, is handling his situation in a professional manner, as he is averaging 17.7 points and 6.6 rebounds. The 14-year veteran is also helping the progression of talented rookies Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, but it surely wasn’t the situation he envisioned when he followed Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson out the door.
That trio has gone on get their championship rings from the Dallas Mavericks, the same team Jamison played with before getting dealt to the Wizards in the summer of 2004.
“No, it’s not weird,” Jamison said when asked about how his former teammates reached the pinnacle. “I’m actually happy and excited for them. It’s something that we all wanted for each other. Definitely when they went to Dallas and they got into the playoffs and they made their run, it just seemed like it was destined for it to happen. You really are ecstatic and happy for those guys because like I said, we all shared the same goal when we was here, and they went somewhere else and accomplished that. I joke with them all the time, and that’s what it’s all about. To see those guys have the ultimate success and win a championship, you almost feel like you’re a piece of that as well, because we’re such great friends and the things that we dealt with while we was here. We still keep in contact.”
Jamison still keeps tabs of the former team that provided him with best individual success, as he made two all-star appearances with the Wizards. Andray Blatche, Nick Young and JaVale McGee are all that remains from his time in Washington.
“Oh, I watch them. Young talent. It’s just a notion of learning how to be professionals on and off the court, but you can’t question the talent that they have here at all,” Jamison said. “You have to learn from your mistakes and you have to want to get better. Knowing those guys when I was here, they all want to be great, and they all can play. They’re some of the most talented guys I ever played with. The next step is getting better, doing it as a team and just taking the next level on an individual basis and a team level as well.”