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Jamison Comes Clean

New Wizards Forward Improves Image of His Team and His League

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2004; Page D01

Poor Antawn Jamison. No rap sheet to explain, no court date to keep, no CD to promote. How can the bright young forward for the Washington Wizards expect to be an all-star when he is so lacking in today's behaviorally challenged NBA? Retro jerseys, yes. But a retro player?

"You got a lot of superstars in this league who don't get in any trouble and it seems like people don't want to hear that story," Jamison said. "If somebody does something negative, they're a bigger story than the positive guy."

Antawn Jamison, acquired last summer from Dallas, has been a shining star for the much-improved Washington Wizards, averaging 21.8 points and 9 rebounds. "I love when people say it can't be done," he said. "When people ask me about trying to turn things around with the Wizards, I don't feel pressure at all. I actually feel like I've been let out of the cage." (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Jamison performs, speaks and carries himself as if he walked out of an NBA marketing seminar, the one in which league officials implore their law-abiding, image-conscious veterans to sell their product during turbulent times. Along the way, he has helped the Wizards captivate the District's beleaguered basketball fans. He is averaging 21.8 points, 9 rebounds and almost 3 assists, scoring from every imaginable angle for one of the most promising young teams in the Eastern Conference.

Eddie Jordan, Jamison's seventh coach in seven seasons, says the numbers belie an even larger contribution: leadership in a once-rudderless locker room. In less than three months, Jamsion, 28, has become an extension of the team's coach. "People don't see what he does in practice, in the locker room, on the road," Jordan said.

Washington (12-8) last began a similar winning season 30 years ago, the year the Bullets won 60 games and advanced to the NBA Finals. Led by Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, this team is an amalgam of mostly young guns who like to run. Only the Phoenix Suns score more points a night in the league this season. Last week, the Wizards were tied for the best record in the East and have shown signs of ending the franchise's seven-year playoff drought.

Jamison's presence has become an instant balm, healing the wounds caused by years of malcontent players, fed-up fans and demoralizing losses. Washington's woefulness as a franchise has spanned three decades; the Wizards have not won a playoff series since 1982 and have not finished with a winning record since 1997.

Jamison is playing well enough to be named to the all-star team for the first time in his career. But he won't dwell on it, having been snubbed before. Midway through the 2001-2002 season, in which he was lighting up the Western Conference and failed to be selected, Jamison began to believe the league was more interested in promoting quick-tempered players who accrued technical fouls like free throws, who had more edge than he could deliver.

"After the brawl in Detroit, there's not a kid who thinks you don't have to be tough when you're out there on the basketball court to be successful. 'I ain't takin' no junk. You not goin' push me.' They look at it and see a lot of these successful guys and they say, 'Well, he did it.' It becomes acceptable," Jamison said. "We need more people to tell them it's not acceptable. There is nothing wrong with being talented and good and also a good guy."

When Jamison left North Carolina in 1998 after his junior season and entered the NBA draft, many teams were leaning toward more athletic players, such as Jamison's University of North Carolina teammate, Vince Carter. Jamison's agent, Arn Tellem, met with Garry St. Jean, then the general manager for the Golden State Warriors. "Don't measure Antawn by style," he told St. Jean. "Antawn is not the flashiest player in the draft but he has a lot more to him that would be valuable to a team. This is the kind of guy that could be a cornerstone of a franchise."

Working-Class Roots

Jamison was born in Shreveport, La., on June 12, 1976, within a mile of where Robert Parish, the Boston Celtics' Hall of Fame center, grew up. His first jump shots were more like heaves, thrown at a makeshift goal his father constructed on a telegraph pole in back of the family home. Jamison and his mother, Kathy, thought that basket was 12 feet tall, two feet higher than a regulation rim.

"That's probably why I developed such a high-arching shot," Jamison said. By the eighth or ninth grade, Jamison said he rose high enough to grab the rim. "I used to try to tear it down, but it wouldn't fall for nothing in the world."

That was because his father, Albert Sr., who worked construction among other jobs, built it. Nothing Albert Jamison built fell apart -- especially his family. The Jamisons moved from Shreveport to Charlotte when Antawn was about 13 and his father found another construction job. The Shreveport convenience store his mother worked at had recently been held up at gunpoint. The neighborhood they lived in was better than the area where his mother worked, but "the gangs were getting bad," she said. "They were aiming at kids that were Twan's age at that time. I didn't want him to be a target." Antawn said the move was one of the defining moments for his family.

"When we moved to North Carolina, it was a different world, really hard to adapt to," Jamison said. "It was just us five. No grandmothers, no uncles, no aunts, no cousins. We relied on each other. I think that's the main reason we're really tight now."

Jamison has a brother, Albert Jr., 18, and a sister, LaTosha, 24. Albert is a freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta and LaTosha graduated from Western Carolina two years ago. She's now a social worker in Atlanta. Within two years of moving to Charlotte, basketball became his focus. Jamison began playing on Amateur Athletic Union teams and dunking on players much older and more experienced. He did not receive the acclaim of many of the top high school players until the end of his senior year. He chose North Carolina soon after then coach Dean Smith entered the family home.

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