By Mike Wise
Sunday, February 13, 2011; 12:27 AM
Antawn Jamison is not cursed. Bad karma, he maintains, has nothing to do with why he keeps ending up on bad basketball teams that used to be good.
But some kind of cruel fate must be at work, if only because he is the lone common denominator in perhaps the worst back-to-back franchise collapses in NBA annals.
"I remember Ernie [Grunfeld] telling me last year about this time, 'You deserve an opportunity to go get a ring,' " Jamison said, referring to the Wizards team president sending him to Cleveland via a trade. "The team was on pace to win 60 games. I was going to play with LeBron [James]. At the moment, you're happy to be in that situation.
"D. C. was a second home to me, so there were mixed feelings. But dealing with the disappointments of what was going on in D.C. then, losing Mr. Pollin, the gun situation with Gilbert [Arenas], I mean, I finally had a chance to play for a championship. I was excited."
Mercifully freed from Arenas cleanup duty before last February's trade deadline, his hopes of winning it all in Washington long gone, Jamison incredibly went from the lottery-bound Wizards to the team with the best record in pro basketball, the Cavaliers, in mere minutes.
Worst to first, just like that.
But within months, another cruel tease. Another star left Jamison high and dry - this one went to Miami instead of a Montgomery County halfway house. Suddenly he found himself on a historically awful squad. Like, 26-losses-in-a-row awful.
The Cavs, 61-21 a season ago, are now so dreadful that their win over the Clippers on Friday night, their first since Dec. 18, saved them from breaking a record for futility in pro sports, set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976 and 1977.
"I didn't think he was leaving," Jamison said of LeBron. "They loved him in Cleveland. Michael Jordan stayed with the Bulls. Isiah [Thomas] stayed with the Pistons. That was the type of situation I thought we were dealing with. Once I found out, there was maybe a little disappointment for a day or two. But I didn't think we'd have the season we're having."
Post LBJ, it's all about managing the pain in Cleveland, or, for Jamison, prolonging your former team's misery.
In this installment of Cavs-Wiz at Quicken Loans Arena, Washington hopes to end a 25-game careen off an embankment, the third worst road skid to open a season in NBA history. It's the underwhelming force vs. the resistible opponent, and something's got to give. The Q on Sunday night is essentially the octagon - for mice. Two rodents enter, one leaves.
"I don't know how it all happened, but the things that could have gone wrong on the teams I played for went wrong," Jamison said.
After the Wizards meltdown came the incision, LeBron cutting out everything meaningful about the Cavs and taking it with him to Miami. He left a Carolina guy to fend for himself. Again.
Damn you, Gilbert.
Damn you, LeBron.
Have you no concern for a 34-year-old veteran just trying to compete for a title before he retires?
"I don't look at it like that, no, not at all," Jamison said. "We all make bad choices. I don't have any regret or animosity whatsoever for those guys. Gilbert made me an all-star. LeBron gave me a legitimate chance at a ring. Those guys actually helped me; they didn't ruin my chances of having any success. I don't blame them."
With a year left on a contract that will pay him about $14 million next season, it will be hard for the Cavaliers to move Jamison before this February's trade deadline.
Even if they did, at this rate of unkind happenstance Jamison would be half-expecting Boston to acquire him just in time for Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to retire.
"The thing that gets me is, I've got a loving family, four kids - they're all great," Jamison said. "But the one thing I have passion for, the one thing I've wanted in basketball forever, I keep comin' up on the short end of the stick. The only thing left is to win a championship. That still pushes me."
Indeed, the good news for Jamison is the sports world is not the real world. He still gets to keep his millions and live the well-heeled life of a two-time NBA all-star.
And if this is some weird vortex he's caught in, some hoops purgatory in which every team he plays for either gets rid of him or stops winning and mattering, Jamison can take solace in the fact that he has never stopped being calm amid the chaos.
He's never stopped believing the way out of the black hole is to keep showing up and keep shooting, like that three-pointer with 22 seconds left in overtime Friday night against the Clippers, the shot that ended the streak and gave Jamison a game-high 35 points to go with his thank-the-game's-gods-we-finally-won smile.
In any conversation about Jamison, the word "professional" is always attached to his name. But I'd say he's more of an NBA survivor, someone who doesn't run when things go wrong.
So maybe karma is at play here after all; maybe the Wizards and Cavaliers did something right to have such a stand-up guy to help them through the worst of times.
"Yeah, that sounds better than, 'I'm cursed,' " he said. "If these are my only problems in the world, I'll take them."