Webber Gives Bullets a Positive Sign
By Richard Justice
SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. VA., OCT. 9 In a day that was a mixture of excitement and emotion for Chris Webber and the Washington Bullets, the two formally signed a contract that makes him the franchise's cornerstone player for at least the next six years.
Webber signed the deal, believed to be worth around $58.5 million, and immediately flew by helicopter to join his teammates on the next-to-last day of training camp. He was the first player in the gym by about 90 minutes and promptly closed the door to the locker room for a quick nap.
He awoke in time to participate in this evening's intrasquad scrimmage and begin a long road that the Bullets hope will put them back in the NBA playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.
His start was nothing short of spectacular as a summer of weight-lifting and playing had him in midseason form as he led fast breaks, threw down a couple of rim-rattling dunks and jawed loudly with rookie Rasheed Wallace. "We did to each other what we're going to be doing to others this season," said Webber, who had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
"It felt great to be back out there. It was great to see the guys. I'm glad to have the first day out of the way. The first day of anything is usually the worst. It has been a roller-coaster day, but I'd worked hard to be in shape once the contract was done."
Earlier in the day Webber was moved by several emotions. One came from the fact that after a controversy-filled year in which his integrity was questioned regularly after he forced a trade from the Golden State Warriors, he signed the contract that fulfills the commitment he made to Bullets owner Abe Pollin when the two first met last fall.
"The last two years were the worst two years of my life," Webber said at USAir Arena. "This is my chance to start over again. I have something to prove. I think people forgot about me individually, people disrespected the Bullets as a team. . . . This is a blessing. I feel I worked hard for it, but this comes from God. . . ."
Webber broke down as he attempted to thank his father and mother, who at times worked five different jobs to support their family. He said his father "worked in an auto plant for 30 years. This is for them; it's not because of me that I'm happy about it."
As Webber struggled with those words, Pollin stepped to the podium and embraced him. "That response you just heard from Chris Webber shows that he is a terrific young man, and I'm happy to have him represent me and the Bullets," Pollin said.
"This is an emotional time for me," Webber said. "I wanted to attach myself to a family situation. It wasn't like that where I played my first year, and coming in last year, I didn't know what to expect, not knowing if you should make ties because you don't know how quick you have to break them. Now I'm in a situation where we need each other. Everywhere I've gone, we haven't had the most talented teams, but we always won. Whether it's been Golden State or Michigan, all those ingredients come from up top, and we have those ingredients here. Our organization wants to win."
Pollin hopes Webber's commitment represents the start of a new era, one in which the Bullets again will start to win and one that will include the anticipated move to MCI Arena downtown in 1997.
"This has to be one of the most exciting and important days of my career of owning the Bullets," Pollin said. "Thirty-one years now I've owned the Bullets, and this is one of the really true highlights. Last year when I met Chris for the first time and signed a one-year deal, I looked in Chris's eyes and Chris looked in my eyes and we said to each other without a word, I said to him, You're going to be my man, you're going to be the leader, you're going to bring us the championship.' And his eyes said to me, Mr. Pollin, I'm your man and I'm going to bring you the championship.' This kind of rapport that we already have is very special. I expect him to be the leader of the team that brings us the championship."
The Bullets, who've never gotten lucky in the NBA's draft lottery, believe Webber is their luck. He wanted to join the Bullets, in part, because they'd just drafted his Michigan teammate Juwan Howard. General Manager John Nash surrendered three first-round draft choices and forward Tom Gugliotta for Webber in a blockbuster deal early last season.
Now the Bullets envision him as the centerpiece of a fine young team that also has Howard and Wallace, the 1995 No. 1 pick, on one of the NBA's youngest and deepest front lines. In 54 games, Webber led the Bullets in scoring (20.1 points per game), rebounding (9.6) and steals (1.54).
He brings something else the Bullets haven't had in a long while: the charisma and star quality that sells tickets. "He's one of the special people in this league," said Coach Jim Lynam, "and he's still young. He has only scratched the surface of what he's going to be." Special correspondent Chad Capellman contributed to this report from Washington.
© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company