DENVER, Feb. 17 -- Before Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison left the visitors' locker room in Houston on Tuesday night, Washington Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan held up his hands to stop his all-stars and made one request regarding the All-Star Game on Sunday.
"Just don't turn it into a street ball game," Jordan said with the look of a concerned father.
Wizards teammates Gilbert Arenas, above, and Antawn Jamison have taken different roads on the way to their first NBA All-Star Game appearances.
(Tony Dejak - AP)
"Okay, Coach," Jamison said before laughing.
"Don't worry, Coach, we're not going to embarrass you," Arenas said. "I'm going to try to come back with that trophy."
Arenas and Jamison have given the Wizards two all-stars in the same season for the first time in 18 years, and they have helped the team record 30 wins at the all-star break for the first time in 26 years; so it isn't necessary for either player to come back with the All-Star Game's most valuable player trophy. Considering the difficult and differing roads that Arenas and Jamison took to reach this point in their careers, the recognition they will receive this weekend should be reward enough.
"I'm sure it's rewarding," Jordan said. "I think the best part for them was that they wanted to win, and they are winning."
The former Golden State Warriors teammates have used snubs, slights and setbacks to become first-time all-stars. "This league is all about opportunity and timing," said guard Larry Hughes, who had hoped to earn his first all-star appearance before breaking his right thumb on Jan. 15. "That's it. You never know when it's going to come around."
Arenas still doesn't understand how he slipped out of the lottery and into the second round (No. 31) in 2001.
"I heard a rumor that I was immature, that I wasn't committed. I don't know," said Arenas, who cried on draft night that year. Yet, the 23-year-old point guard is eighth in the NBA in scoring average at 24.8 points per game and has become the first player from his draft class -- which includes teammate Kwame Brown, Memphis's Pau Gasol and Chicago's Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler -- to make the all-star team.
Jamison, the college national player of the year in 1998, went from a seldom-used rookie to being an overlooked offensive machine to going back to being a reserve last season in Dallas, where he won the sixth man award. Yet, the 28-year-old forward is averaging 20.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in his first season in Washington, where he finally is being recognized as a leader for a successful team with a history of little to no success.
"It's crazy," Jamison said. "To be on the path that I've been through and the obstacles that I've overcome and to be put in a situation where most people think it's going to be another, pretty much dead-end situation. I believed this was a good situation, and I'm happy that it's coming through."
During Jamison's lockout-shortened rookie season, he sat behind Terry Cummings, Donyell Marshall and Chris Mills and began to question his place in the league. "That was the first time I actually thought I wasn't as good as I thought I was," Jamison said. The next year, knee surgery sidelined him for 39 games and he was forced to watch the 2000 All-Star Game in Oakland, Calif., which became the Vince Carter Weekend, with his friend and former North Carolina teammate emerging as the between-the-legs, forearm-in-the-rim slam-dunk king. The rest of the nation wondered exactly why the Warriors traded Carter to Toronto for Jamison in a draft day deal in 1998.
Jamison proved himself as a scorer in the league and earned a lofty maximum contract extension. He had at least two seasons that could've qualified him for the all-star game -- statistically -- but he couldn't break through the Great Wall of Western Conference Power Forwards that included Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Dirk Nowitzki and Rasheed Wallace.
"Those years on the West Coast, he played like an all-star," Carter said. "He was always odd man out."