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Jamison Comes Clean

"I heard them all: 'Couldn't make the big shot late in the game; can't lead a team to the playoffs; not hungry enough,' everything," Jamison said, shaking his head repeatedly. "I welcome pressure. I welcome being that guy. I love when people say it can't be done. 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."

Jamison sometimes lopes downcourt like a teen still harnessing his coordination. He is all limbs, his 6-foot-9, 225-pound frame gliding by in a rush of energy and muscle. He uses an economy of movement to score, elevating only slightly before he releases soft floaters and runners in the lane. His soft touch and timing result in many shot attempts bouncing once and twice before catching the lip of the rim and falling in.


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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Ernie Grunfeld, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, said Jamison is the rare NBA player who does not need the ball to be effective. He compares Jamison's unorthodox offensive game to that of Bernard King, Grunfeld's teammate at the University of Tennessee and with the Knicks.

Grunfeld traded Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the rights to Devin Harris to Dallas on draft day last June in order to acquire Jamison. Jamison had won the league's sixth man of the year award with the Mavericks, and Grunfeld figured if a career 20-point scorer could sacrifice his game and minutes during his prime then he was worth any perceived gamble.

Jamison instantly became more than a presence on the court, as well, becoming a leader in the locker room and in the franchise's efforts to connect with local fans. He has been asked to stay for hours after practice to sign balls, and on occasion has signed more than 300 for team employees and suite-level fans.

Jamison is often more keen to teammates' moods than his own. Before Brendan Haywood, the Wizards' starting center, signed a contract extension last month, he confided to Jamison that he was worried about the team compensating him. Jamison told Haywood: "Don't worry about that. We win, all that takes care of itself. Don't even think about your contract."

In early November, when Kwame Brown took on his critics -- mentioning race as a motive -- Jamison took the disenchanted 22-year-old teammate aside and spoke to him bluntly.

"I said, 'Leave that alone. What are you doing?' " Jamison said. He thought Brown was too obsessed with the media, telling him, "Man, whenever you're around me, I do not want to see you reading the paper."

Brown has said Jamison's examples are even more impressive than his words. Jamison has not missed a game in four-plus seasons. He has the NBA's longest active streak of consecutive games played (347).

"I love the game and I love everything about it," Jamison said, "but when I'm all said and done, I want guys like Jarvis Hayes and Jared Jeffries to be like, 'You know I had Antawn Jamison as my vet and I learned a lot from him. He taught me a lot about the game.' "

Music to His Ears

After practice one day last month, Jamison climbed into his Bentley GT, an oval-shaped, gleaming silver luxury vehicle that resembles something NASA donated to the National Air and Space Museum. He gunned the engine as the MCI Center garage opened, later took a right on Constitution Avenue and a left on Ninth Street, where the view of the Washington Monument disappeared.

Jamison negotiated his way to one of his favorite hangouts, the Best Buy store at Potomac Yards in Pentagon City. He thumbed through music, pausing when he came across an offering from dethroned boxing champion Roy Jones Jr. "That's probably why he got knocked out," he said, shrugging. "He came out with a CD."

He shopped with a hand-held basket, picking several CDs and a couple of romantic comedy DVDs, "The Wedding Planner" and "Under the Tuscan Sun," for his wife, Ione, whom he married in July 2003. "She likes those girlie movies," Jamison said, smiling, as he tucked two DVDs for himself into the basket, including DMX in . . . "Never Die Alone."

Jamison was clad in all black, from his baseball cap to his baggy jeans and an oversized Malcolm X T-shirt. He wore a diamond-encrusted watch and platinum-coated dog tags.


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