Chris Webber Has Company

Once again, the NBA Hall of Fame will prepare for their lavish gala at the end of summer. This year will be special. Three players who made dramatic impact on the sport will go into the Hall together. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan won titles. They were league MVP’s. All were iconic talents but only one, Tim Duncan, went to college.  Garnett, Bryant, and Duncan were drafted within three years of each other; they played 4,200 NBA games and 146,423 minutes. They were voted into the All-Star game 48 times collectively. They took home 5 NBA Finals MVP’s and one Defensive Player of the Year award. They were All-NBA 39 times and All-Defensive NBA 39 times.

To honor their contributions to the sport, they were going to share the stage alone. The women’s committee, the veteran’s committee and the international committee will have their players represented. But the NBA will be a league of three on Hall of Fame night. Kevin Garnett. Kobe Bryant. Tim Duncan.

Regardless of the reason why, despite Garnett, Bryant and Duncan’s elitism in the sport, Chris Webber relives the same story over and over, like a bad scene from the movie Groundhog Day. He won’t be on the stage with Garnett, Bryant and Duncan.  Nor should he be. But for seven years, Chris Webber has been persona non gratis in Hall of Fame circles.  Why this is depends on how you look at Webber’s career.

He wasn’t the leader Kevin Garnett was. He wasn’t the one-on-one, versatile and dynamic athlete like Kobe Bryant. He wasn’t the rebounder, defensive player and scorer lilke Tim Duncan.  He wasn’t inside outside gets his team buckets when the game was on the line.

Garnett, Bryant, and Duncan have rings. Webber does not.  He lacks a NBA title to lord over his critics. His Hall of Fame rejection is a constant thing, like Sisyphus and the rock. Despite Webber being the transcendent member of the iconic Fab Five basketball team, and despite it being the Basketball Hall of Fame, not the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame, Chris Webber still finds himself on the outside.

That Webber keeps being denied is a curious case. The poster child for a University of Michigan freshman cult, a cultural phenomenon that was unique as a collective unit of extraordinary talent, Webber finds himself, so many years later, excluded. It’s peculiar that the Fab Five has zero members in the Hall of Fame.

It’s the function of innocence to think talent presumes greatness. Or that greatness automatically means titles. Or, that titles are the holy grail.

Chris Webber was first eligible for the Hall in 2013. Seven years later, he is still waiting.  Gary Payton, Alonzo Mourning, Mitch Richmond, Dikembe Mutombo have been inducted. When Allen Iverson and Shaquille O’Neal were inducted, you understood why. No one quibbles about Ray Allen, Steve Nash or Grant Hill.

Webber wasn’t a superstar but neither were Mourning, Richmond, Mutombo or Ray Allen. Webber was never a league MVP. His highest showing was fourth in 2000-01 when Iverson was the MVP. He finished in the top ten of MVP voting four times. He was All-NBA only once but he was Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star five times but his playoff numbers were less than his regular season numbers. Unlike a host of others, Webber was saddled with the label of underachiever. All that talent and nothing to show for it was the reflective thinking.  It is one thing to be the best player on every team you were a member of, as was the Webber profile. It is another thing to only reach the conference finals once in your career when you are 6-10, have an offensive repertoire, can rebound, score, defend and are a nightmare matchup.

Webber, throughout his professional career, was recognized for his talent but he was ostracized for his inability to carry a team and dominate when the game was on the line. His career narrative is similar to Tracy McGrady in that he never cracked the 20,000 points club. But from 1994-2003 he averaged 22.7 points. He had five years (1998-2003) averaging 11.0 rebounds. He has a career defensive rating of 101, with five years, from 1998-2003 of 97.4. He had 10 seasons with a PER above 20.0 with his high 24.7 in 2000-01.

But his career offensive rating was 104 with only two seasons above 110, his rookie year and his third year, which was confusing for a 6-10 player of his talent. Webber was a stretch four before that name was even coined which saddled him with the label of not being tough, not wanting to punish players inside. A third of the shots he took were long twos which depressed his overall productivity, a 6-10 forward shooting 47%, similar numbers to a guard four inches shorter. Webber, at times, could be exasperating in terms of shot selection. He wasn’t a post up player.

His best years were with the Sacramento Kings and the moment that will be remembered was the 2002 playoffs, the Western Conference Finals which was Webber’s to dominate. He did in the first six games and then came game 7.

He shot 42%. The previous four games (3-6) he shot 55%. He had 8 rebounds but 11 assists. He had the fourth highest usage rate on the team, their best player. Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic had the ball in their hands more which reaffirmed the Chris Webber story. He disappears in big moments.

In the last five minutes of regulation, Webber took one shot. He had 0 rebounds. In overtime, he took the first shot, a 20 footer and made it. He then missed two shots because of Shaq blocks. He missed a 20-footer and a three. And his best chance to get to the NBA Finals withered in the hot Arco Arena air.

Webber followed that (2002) season with a 23.0 and 10.5 season but in the playoffs against Dallas tragedy struck, a devastating knee injury. He would need microfracture surgery. He had some good moments when he returned. In the playoffs against the Wolves, in game 4, he had 28 points and 8 rebounds, a win. But in game 7 in Minnesota he was no match for Kevin Garnett who poured in 32 points and 21 rebounds and 5 blocks. The series ended the way it usually ended for Webber, who if nothing else, was always unlucky. His series winning shot went in and out and Webber was defeated again. He was traded and spent time in Philly, Detroit and a second stint in Golden State before retiring.

Chris Webber was drafted by the Orlando Magic and traded to the Golden State Warriors in 1993. The Warriors drafted Penny Hardaway and sent him to Florida. Webber was Rookie of the Year for the Warriors, 17.5 points, 9.1 rebounds. He played in the playoffs his first year in the league but lost in the first round to the Suns. It went awry in Oakland because coach Don Nelson had a vision for Webber that Webber wasn’t comfortable with. Suprisingly, the offensive guru Nelson, wanted Webber to be a traditional post player and Webber balked. He left Oakland for Washington who traded him to Sacramento. Webber protested at first. And then he settled in.

Are we to settle in to this Chris Webber retirement narrative, never making it into the Hall of Fame? Is Webber being punished for his brain freeze as a 20 year old when he called a timeout and his team didn’t have one? Or, for his friction with Don Nelson who is universally revered? Or, is he continually remembered as the disappearing Chris Webber when the season was on the line? Or is it something else, something about the scandal at the University of Michigan of which Webber was partly accountable?

Accused of taking money from booster Ed Martin, Webber was investigated for lying to a grand jury about Ed Martin, a local fixture on the Detroit youth basketball scene who died before he could make it to trial. Webber pleaded guilty to one count of criminal contempt. Michigan forfeited its Final Four win in 1992, the entire season in 1992-93 and deleted Webber’s records from the history books. Webber could have nothing to do with Michigan until 2013.

The NBA suspended Webber eight games, three for lying to the grand jury. Webber refused to particpate in the ESPN documentary of which his former teammate Jalen Rose produced, The Fab Five. Webber was the only one of the Fab Five that wouldn’t participate and rightly or wrongly it gave the impression that Webber refused to be accountable.

Did Chris Webber dominate his position in his era? He wasn’t the best power forward, Karl Malone, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan were. But a 20.7 career average means you did some special things. ESPN’s 2016 ranking of top power forwards in NBA history omitted Chris Webber from the top 10. Fox Sports omitted Chris Webber from the top 10 as well.

He was a versatile player. He was a big man who could move the ball, who could score from the perimeter, who embraced the team game and the optics say he is being penalized for what many felt should have been a Chris Webber league domination. Is his Hall of Fame diss because Chris Webber was a good player but not great?

2.

Chris Bosh was disappointed he didn’t get the call putting him in the Hall. This is his first year of eligibility. It stands to reason that in any other year Bosh would be in the Hall of Fame. It feels predictable that Bosh has to wait while the greatest of all stars are enshrined. Isn’t that’s Bosh’s career in Miami, overlooked and underappreciated, an afterthought?

The Hall of Fame is about achievement. Bosh has a strong case. 11 times an All-Star. 2 titles. All NBA 2006-07. For 5 straight seasons he averaged 23 and 10 with an offensive rating of 116. He scored 17,189 points  and would have scored more if he hadn’t been the third option for four years during the LeBron years.

Bosh understands disappointment. After LeBron James left, he signed a max deal. It was derailed by blood clots in successive years and just like that his career was over. But Bosh will forever be remembered for saving the legacy of LeBron James.

In Game 6 of the NBA Finals when it appeared as if the game was over and the Heat were beaten, Bosh’s tip out to Ray Allen saved the series for Miami. Allen made a three that tied the game and sent it into overtime. The Heat eventually won the game. In game 7 Bosh was in foul trouble most of the game and he didn’t score a point. He missed all his 4th quarter shots. But he was on the court when Tim Duncan missed a layup with 48 seconds left that would have tied the game.

Duncan gathered the rebound and missed a second layup, this one even easier.  Like in Game 6, Bosh swallowed up the miss. After a LeBron James 20 footer, it was a game of free throws before Bosh had his second title. This title belonged to him. He wouldn’t get the credit he deserved, but he made it possible.

Incredibly talented, Bosh had the perfect NBA ego. He was willing to sacrifice his own stats in order to win. A computer nerd, he understood the binary advantage of having championship rings over piling up numbers. Champions are revered.

The Texas native and Mr. Basketball in high school, Bosh went to Georgia Tech for one year before entering the star studded 2003 NBA Draft. 4 of the first 5 draftees in the 2003 NBA Draft (LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade) will be Hall of Famers.

Bosh was the 4th pick, drafted by Toronto. During his 7 years in Toronto, he was a 4-time All Star. He averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds with a PER of 21.3. Joining LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was about winning. In Toronto, he only made two playoff appearances, playing 11 total games. His first year with Miami (that didn’t net a title), Bosh played in twice as many playoff games, 21.

Like Chris Webber, Chris Bosh wasn’t a superstar. But the Hall of Fame isn’t a repository for superstars. It is for players who defined their position, made an impact, and were generationally significant. Bosh should have been on the finalist list for the Hall of Fame.

Bosh is in incredible company. His career 19 and 12 averages puts him in a fraternity of 13. All are Hall of Famers including Shaq, Barkley, Kareem, Hakeem, Bird.

He is the only retired player with 17,189 points, 7,595 assists and 7,592 rebounds who is not in the Hall of Fame or on the finalist list. His frustration is deserved. He’s being told wait until next year but the Hall of Fame will have an enshrinee this year who will be inducted posthumously. Bosh asked, “But what if there’s not a tomorrow? What does that even mean [wait until next year]?”

Bosh was always one of those lucky/unlucky players. He had lottery pick talent but played in Toronto where very few could see his games. Once he became a member of the Heat, he was reduced to a cast member until he pulled down that epic rebound in Game 6 to give the Heat life. He was given his full appreciation but frankly he should have been applauded from the very beginning. But that’s the Chris Bosh story.

Better late than never.

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