Jamison, Butler Soak Up All-Star Experience

Wizards forward Antawn Jamison helps build a playground at an early childhood center in New Orleans.
Wizards forward Antawn Jamison helps build a playground at an early childhood center in New Orleans. (By Ray Amati -- Nbae Via Getty Images)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

NEW ORLEANS, Feb. 15 -- Before every game this season, Washington Wizards all-star forward Antawn Jamison rubs the tattoo on his left arm and points to the ceiling. It's a new tradition that started after Jamison decided to get some ink last August that reflects his faith and his love for his late grandmother, Annie Lee Jamison.

During a 45-minute session with reporters on Friday, Jamison took off his shirt to reveal a cross and an angel, a tattoo that spans from his biceps to his shoulder. "Ever since she passed, she's been my angel," said Jamison, whose grandmother died when he was in high school. "As a kid, I thought she was the only person that actually believed I could be an NBA player. I think she watches over me every game."

Caron Butler, Jamison's teammate on the Wizards and on the Eastern Conference all-star team, also revealed something. Butler said that had Jamison not snapped the team's eight-game losing streak with a miraculous, game-winning tip-in against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, he would've felt compelled to come back too soon from his strained left hip flexor.

"If we had lost another game, I would have no choice but to come back after the all-star break and play through pain," said Butler, who will sit out Sunday's All-Star Game. "It's a big relief. I'm going to take my time and make sure I'm healthy. I don't want this to be something that lingers on through the rest of the season."

Jamison and Butler were two of the more unheralded all-stars, as large crowds of reporters flocked to LeBron James, Jason Kidd, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Garnett. Both had surprisingly different takes on making the all-star team for the second time.

When Butler made the team last season, he heard comments that it was a fluke. Boston's Paul Pierce claimed that his injuries helped Butler make the team. The two have talked about it since and remain "cool," Butler said.

But as the players received their all-star rings on Friday, Butler spotted Pierce. "I was like, 'Yeah, I'm here again,' " he said. "To get back was special. I've been the comeback kid throughout my whole life. Just going out there proving doubters wrong. That's exactly what we've been doing when people said we wasn't going to be in the playoff picture. The same thing that's happening right now in my career. I'm going to work hard in the summer and make sure I'm going to Arizona" for the 2009 All-Star Game.

Jamison soaked up his first all-star appearance in 2005 in Denver, and couldn't be seen without a smile on his face. He said he didn't think he'd ever come back. "Not really," Jamison said. "I've seen so many opportunities where I thought it was going to happen for sure. I had better numbers as an individual, it didn't happen. I was kind of satisfied being a one-time all-star. That's an honor that a lot of people can't be a part of. I was having a midlife crisis in my 30s, thinking, 'I don't think too many 30-year-olds are getting voted in.' "

This time around was special for Jamison, he said, because he was able to have his kids with him. It also was a bit of homecoming for him, because Jamison spent the first 13 years of his life in Shreveport, La., and has a lot of family in the state. On Friday, Jamison and the other all-stars helped the city rebuild from Hurricane Katrina with a day of service. Ironically, the reason his family moved to Charlotte was because Hurricane Hugo created more job opportunities for his father, Albert, then a construction worker.

"It's really good to give back," said Jamison, who helped build a playground at Mahalia Jackson Early Childhood and Family Learning Center with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Chauncey Billups and Jason Kapono.

Butler helped refurbish Laurel Elementary School with Wade, Carlos Boozer, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony.

"You witness everything the city went through. It's great that the league brought this game here to be part of the recovery process," Butler said. "It's amazing what basketball can do to bring excitement to people's lives."

Butler brought about 30 family members and friends with him last year to Las Vegas. He said he's a "shade or three off" this year, but "it's still a lot of Butlers in New Orleans." Although he won't be able to play, Butler said he will continue to rehab with a member of the Wizards' training staff this weekend. He was even able to laugh some about his misfortune. After explaining that the injury occurred while he was scoring a career-high 40 points in Milwaukee, Butler was reminded that his season ended there last year when he broke his hand. "I had bad luck the last couple of years," Butler said, chuckling. "I'm just happy it wasn't something more severe."

I'm truly enjoying it," Butler said of All-Star Weekend. "I'm living through Antawn right now. I'm going to be the biggest fan, the biggest supporter of Antawn. I really wanted to [play], but I did what was best for myself and the team, by resting my body, healing and getting 100 percent."

Jamison hopes that's soon for Butler and Gilbert Arenas. "I'm like, 'Hurry up,' " Jamison said. "This is the most important stretch for us as a team. It's tough to have one missing, but to have both missing is really tough. I'm ready for both those guys to come back. I really believe we have a team that can make it tough on the Eastern Conference."

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