Pride Pushes Jamison in Tough Season

Forward Antawn Jamison, on pace to play all 82 games, has been the one Wizard to get up every time he's been knocked down this season.
Forward Antawn Jamison, on pace to play all 82 games, has been the one Wizard to get up every time he's been knocked down this season. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
Buy Photo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009; Page D05

There was the right knee strain in October, the strained left thumb in December, the sore knee and right elbow tendinitis in January, and finally the jammed right ankle and cut above the left eye last week. The Washington Wizards have had more than their share of injuries this season, but the previous ailments all belong to forward Antawn Jamison, who has suited up for all 18 wins and all 60 excruciating losses this season.

Jamison is four games from playing all 82 for the sixth time in his 11-year career and the second time in five seasons with the Wizards. But what would make him endure every tortuous game, play the third-most minutes of any player in the NBA (3,001) and absorb the physical punishment, even as he saw teammate after teammate drop?

"I guess I'm a different breed. I'm old school," said Jamison, 32. "It's just about pride. This is something that I enjoy doing, brings me back to being a kid. Knowing that this is what I get paid a lot of money to do and there are a lot of people that I have to entertain. For me, I just try to make fun out of this situation."

The Wizards will face former playoff rival Cleveland at Quicken Loans Arena tonight. The Cavaliers (62-15) are trying to hold off the Los Angeles Lakers for the league's best record and continue their run toward matching the 1985-86 Boston Celtics for the best home record in NBA history (40-1).

The Wizards need to win at least two of their final four games to avoid matching the worst 82-game record in franchise history. But whether the Wizards win 19, 20 or even 22 games, Jamison's opinion about this campaign won't change. "In my eyes, this is my worst season," Jamison said. "If I'm on the tag as far as the franchise's worst season, it is what it is."

Jamison has played on less successful teams, recording seasons of 17, 19 and 21 wins in Golden State, where he spent five seasons playing for lottery picks and planning for white sands and blue water at the end of the regular season.

"My first couple of years in the league, we knew before the all-star break where the first vacation spot was for us to go," Jamison said. "I'm not there yet. I just want to finish the season off strong, rest my body up, go into hibernation for a couple of weeks and when the weather is a little bit better, I can get my tan on."

Ever since he escaped from the Warriors, Jamison has grown accustomed to playing in the postseason, first with Dallas, then the past four seasons in Washington, where he felt so comfortable and confident about the future that he signed a four-year, $50 million contract without testing the free agent market. His reward for that loyalty has been a frustrating season in which the Wizards have led the league in games lost to injury with 289 -- with the absences of three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas (76 games, left knee) and center Brendan Haywood (75 games, right wrist) the most damaging. Former coach Eddie Jordan, for whom Jamison made his only two all-star appearances, was fired after the team started the season 1-10.

"Anything that could have went wrong, went wrong this year," Jamison said.

Jamison is averaging 22.4 points, his best since joining the Wizards in 2004, with 37 double-doubles, which ranks ninth in the league, and his efforts have not gone unnoticed. "He's a true professional," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. "I've worked with some really good players along the years and I've never respected anyone more than I respect him."

Jamison's spirits have been lifted this week, after the North Carolina alumnus caught a private jet to Detroit on Monday to watch his beloved Tar Heels win the school's fifth national championship. And last Thursday, Arenas and Haywood started with him and Caron Butler for the first time this season, resulting in a 109-101 victory over the Cavaliers. The electricity at Verizon Center was palpable, but Jamison said he couldn't compare the win to the postseason.

"I'm not going to go there. It will be good as far as the atmosphere and having the guys healthy, but it isn't anything like the atmosphere we're accustomed to having in April and May," said Jamison, adding that this final game against the Cavaliers will have to suffice. "We're playing a [Cleveland] team that has a lot to play for, so it'd be good to be spoilers in that situation. They're going to try to embarrass us, after what we did to them."

After facing the Cavaliers in the postseason the past three seasons, Jamison expressed some disappointment that this will be final time he comes to Cleveland this season.

"We're going to miss it because they're going to be the favorites, so you would like to see them," Jamison said. "It would've been nice just to be in [the playoffs] period, no matter who we would've fought."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company