Webber's Deja Vu

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Chris Webber recalled opening up the arena nine-plus years ago, all the pomp and pageantry the night Abe Pollin's self-financed dream came to fruition. The Wizards then, Webber observed, were a lot like Gilbert Arenas's team now: young, athletic and cocksure enough to believe they would all be together for years to come.

"Cherish it," Webber said. "My advice to them is cherish the core they have. Being on a team like this, where you're all young and everybody gets along, it doesn't happen a lot. I know."

C-Webb came to town last night, playing for his fifth team in 14 seasons. He'll be 34 in March, which seems too old to keep referring to him as C-Webb. But then, youth is like chemistry and health in this league: You hold on to it any way you can.

On another night when Arenas became flammable, the Phone Booth on F Street roiled with noise and belief and Detroit went down, Webber's wisdom was prescient: Antawn Jamison left the court clutching his left knee in the first quarter.

They're saying it's a sprain, that Jamison will miss the game in Toronto tonight and have an MRI exam on the knee tomorrow.

It could be nothing. It could be everything. The injury at least reminded the Wizards of the fragility involved in building and keeping a contender together, how quickly the fortunes of a franchise can turn on a Rod Strickland dime.

Remember? No one distributed the basketball as pretty as Strickland 10 years ago. There were no forwards more versatile and promising than Webber and Juwan Howard on the same front line. Webber made his first all-star team in 1997, the team returned to the playoffs after an eight-year drought and put on a tremendous show before bowing to Michael Jordan's incredi-Bulls in three taut games.

Webber thought that was the beginning. Within a year, he was gone to Sacramento and the franchise was in utter free fall.

He was too in love with his perimeter game to commit to being a bona fide big man (funny, now he enjoys playing center) and, at the time, too much of a Gen-X knucklehead to admit his immaturity. He played in Washington between ages 21 and 25.

"I don't look at the time here as a failure, I look at the time here as a transition in the NBA," he said. "Because right when I got to Sacramento is when the NBA started getting younger. It became fashionable to have a young team and win. It wasn't cool then. I still think if Michael Jordan had stayed retired, we might have been all right. The Bulls had won 72 games and they were all 32-33 years old when we matched up against them."

"I thought it would last, that's what I thought," said Harvey Grant, Webber's teammate then and now a Wizards assistant coach. "Those guys were so young and good. When I see these guys, I think: 'Try to stay together and enjoy it. Don't let this moment pass because it may never come again.' "

The NBA has had a long list of would-be dynasties. Hard to believe, but Shaq and Penny were once supposed to be the next Magic and Kareem. And point guard-forward tandems Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett and Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton were once tabbed as Stockton and Malone's heirs. They never panned out, just like Webber's old Wizards. Youth and ego usually do them all in at some juncture.

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