Los Angeles Lakers forward Antawn Jamison wants to play for a champion


Former Wizards standout Antawn Jamison, 36, received the blessing of his wife and children to go across the country to continue to pursue his dream of an NBA championship with the Lakers. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
March 21, 2013

Before his career is done, Antawn Jamison would like to go out with at least one championship and possibly leave the game like former NBA sharpshooter Dell Curry. Jamison remembers how Curry used to bring his young son, current NBA sharpshooter Stephen, to games and let him be a ballboy. He would like to do the same for his two boys, Antwan Jr., 6, and Rucker, 3, who have inherited their father’s love for the game.

But Jamison, 36, knows he doesn’t have much time, especially since he eliminated one option last summer. Jamison made the difficult choice of leaving behind all four of his children with their mother in Charlotte to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers and chase the championship that has eluded him through a 15-year career.

His hometown Bobcats offered more years and more money, but Jamison had always wanted to deal with the expectations that come with wearing purple and gold. Plus, Kobe Bryant is the favorite player of his oldest son. Jamison still sought permission from his boys and his daughters, Alexis, 12, and Kathryn, 7, before making the move.

“I talked to them and I talked to their mom and she was like, ‘I’ll be able to, for a year or so, deal with it. I know this is something that you want. You should try to achieve that,’ ” said Jamison, who got divorced two years ago. “And the kids was like, ‘You’re going to play with Kobe?’ So once I got that blessing, it wasn’t that big of a deal.”

Jamison thought he had finally landed in the best place to capture a ring, after failing to come close in previous stops in Golden State, Dallas, Washington and Cleveland. He joined a team that already had Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. Then Dwight Howard came aboard, giving the Lakers four potential Hall of Famers.

“I thought this would be the year that everything would be smooth sailing,” said Jamison, whose desires for success with the Wizards were derailed even before Gilbert Arenas brought guns to the locker room. His title window in Cleveland was closed the moment LeBron James chose to reside in South Beach.

Jamison’s time in Los Angeles started out much rockier than he anticipated, with the Lakers firing former coach Mike Brown after five games. The team sputtered initially under Coach Mike D’Antoni, with poor chemistry, injuries to Nash, Howard and Gasol. The Lakers were on the outside looking in on the playoff picture until recently.

Then, in late December, Jamison was confronted with a serious test of his professionalism and character when, without explanation, he was out of the playing rotation and had six healthy scratches.

“Fifteen years, unless I was injured, I did not have a DNP — maybe my rookie year,” Jamison said. “I didn’t know if I was doing something wrong. I had one game where I had like 30-something points and then it was DNP for six or seven straight games. I didn’t understand.”

Jamison eventually slipped up and expressed his displeasure publicly before actually speaking with D’Antoni, but the incident actually helped improve their relationship. And as the Lakers prepare to host the Wizards, the team with which he still has his fondest memories in the NBA, Jamison has emerged as a valued reserve who has helped Los Angeles move into the eighth playoff seed in the Western Conference — and well within range of the sixth seed.

“It never fails to have a little bit of drama,” Jamison said. “Even though it’s been up and down and a lot of head-scratching situations, now I’m figuring my role out a little bit and I’m playing a little bit and contributing and that’s the reason I was brought here.”

More than three years after Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld granted his request to join a championship contender and traded him to Cleveland in the aftermath of a horrendous season that included the death of Wizards owner Abe Pollin and the gun fiasco, Jamison admits that he wishes he had handled the situation in Washington differently.

“I regret it,” Jamison said. “Ernie came to me and said, ‘You deserve it. I want to do what’s best for you.’ I was frustrated. That was a tough year. But I wish I would’ve stuck it out the duration of my contract, because if it wasn’t for D.C., I don’t think I’d be where I am at professionally. They gave me that opportunity, from Ernie and Eddie Jordan and Mr. Pollin. They gave me that captain [title]. . . . That was my family.

“If one or two incidents would not have happened, that organization would be totally different. Which two incidents, I couldn’t tell you,” said Jamison, who has been reunited with Jordan, a Lakers assistant. “Our problem was outside distractions dictated the future of that organization. If we would’ve kept the reins a little tighter, if we would’ve done things the way it was supposed to be done, that organization would be one of the top organizations of having that consistency, eight or nine years still making the playoffs and contending. I truly believe that. One or two incidents started everything over.”

Jamison only had three months to get acclimated to Cleveland before the Cavaliers lost to Boston in the second round of the playoffs. He said he never “felt like I fit in” before James bolted.

“If LeBron would’ve stayed, I guarantee that next year we would’ve won,” said Jamison, who played out the last two years of his $50 million contract extension in Cleveland. “I left one situation. I went from that to worse than the situation I was in before.”

Jamison got a reminder of how he would like his career to conclude in December, when his sons visited and got to interact with Howard and Nash. He continues to play and endure the grind because of his passion for the game, and he wants to share that if he leaves for another stop next season.

“I don’t force it upon them; if they love it, love it. My boys are gravitating to it. I want to give them that experience. Those are the things I cherish. To be able to incorporate that in my life,” Jamison said. “After this year, I got two more years. Mentally, I’m set for two more years and that’s it.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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