The Two Chris’s

A month before Chris Bosh was drafted by the Toronto Raptors in 2003, another Chris had just finished his tenth NBA season. Chris Webber was a talented power forward but not a dominant one, not Kevin Garnett and not Tim Duncan. Throughout his career, the Webber opponent was perception. Because Kevin Garnett was drafted two years after Webber and was such a powerful force on both ends, Webber’s game often looked passive in comparison. Garnett was fire 24-7. Webber was smoke.

Like Lucy moving the football, Webber was used to something always going wrong. In 2003, Chris Webber was dominant in the playoffs. He had five straight games of 24 points, 26 points, 26 points, 24 points, and 31 points. Then in the 3rd quarter against the Mavericks, he said, “I heard something pop”. A Mike Bibby lob had him crashing to the floor. Chris Webber tore his meniscus and had to have arthroscopic surgery.

It wasn’t his worst moment. In 2002, Webber suffered a career heartbreak and on a national stage. With a chance to advance to the NBA Finals by dethroning the two-time champ combo of Kobe and Shaq, and with a chance to make a statement in front of his hometown crowd of Sacramento, and with a chance to silence all the critics who said Webber always disappeared in the biggest moment and was soft, Chris Webber had a game 7 that was familiar. He missed more shots than he made. His 11 assists were necessary but his offensive rating of 103 and his usage rate of 20.3%, the fourth-highest on the team, seemed to recirculate what Chris Webber’s career was about: good but not great, unable to come through in the clutch, more fame than game. Not a superstar.

A year later, in the 2004 playoffs, Webber had a chance at redemption in another Game 7, facing a power forward that was more athletic, more willful, more passionate, and more skilled. Kevin Garnett and Chris Webber duked it out for the opportunity to lose to Kobe and Shaq in the WCF.

KG was the MVP of the league that year and Game 7 was also his birthday. KG never needed an excuse to ramp up, he was high-strung by nature and maniacal. From the outset, even among Sac Kings fans, there wasn’t much optimism. The feeling that Webber always falls short in games like this kept Sac fans grounded. Whether it was his erroneous timeout in the national championship game or Game 7 at Arco against the Lakers in 2002, Webber was small under pressure. And now on KG’s 28th birthday, here he was.

KG delivered. He had 32 points and 21 rebounds. He added 5 blocks, 4 steals, 2 assists, just in case you needed to be reminded what a superstar looked like. KG and Chris Webber weren’t the same kind of player but Webber had a chance to put his collective nightmares behind him and he got a good look but missed the shot to tie the whole thing and send it to overtime.

Webber had 16 points, wasn’t the team’s leading scorer, that was Doug Christie. It would be Webber’s last great playoff series. He had one more shot at it with the Pistons in 2007. Detroit advanced to the ECF but Webber was a 14-year vet with knee issues. He barely utilized his greatest skill, passing the ball, and his offense was reminiscent of an aging vet. He retired the next year.

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The Hall of Fame phone call comes during the same time of year, creating anxiety for the hopeful. Kevin Garnett didn’t have to wait long. Kobe Bryant didn’t have to wait long. Allen Iverson didn’t have to wait long. Tracey McGrady didn’t have to wait long. Tim Duncan didn’t have to wait long. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t have to wait long. Chris Webber’s has been waiting 8 years. Why did it take an eternity?

The obvious reason: elite superstars go first; they earned the right. Everyone else had to wait their turn. Then there was Webber’s career, the width of it that was so polarizing. Timing has always been a Chris Webber issue. He came into the league a little bit too soon. If he had born later and entered during the decade that brought Chris Bosh into the league when stretch 4’s weren’t ridiculed, he would have been glamorized in a way he wasn’t because of KG and Tim Duncan’s toughness and ferocity in the paint.

Chris Webber was an outlier in a lot of ways, game, temperament, his definition of success. He was different when so much of the NBA game is about conformity.

If you squinted, Chris Bosh and his 6-11 frame was a version of Webber only because they played the same position. After 2000, the league changed. Bosh had a face-up game and was active and explosive in the paint. He loved dominating opponents and breaking hearts. Bosh was an All-Star 11-times and made the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He was part of the iconic 2003 NBA Draft with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwyane Wade. He was the first player drafted from Georgia Tech since Kenny Anderson and at 6-11 he was fierce. Bosh was a thinker who had a good feel of what he could do in multiple positions and actions and although he didn’t need the limelight when it came to him, like on that crazy night in Miami, it was well deserved.

Players who are high lottery picks are only asked to do one thing: meet the expectations on draft night. Bosh did that and more. If he left his fans wanting it’s because he was forced to end his career because of blood clots, not because he was ready to call it quits, just the opposite.

Chris Bosh wanted to stay in Miami for another ten years.

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The first time I heard Chris Bosh’s name being used as a verb I was at a party and it had nothing to do with sports but a relationship thing, a dude left a wife for a side piece, and as a reaction, an inebriated man at this house party yelled out “she’s been Bosh’d.” Meaning devalued. Meaning made invisible. Meaning forgot about.  Not to be technical but to be Bosh’d has two meanings. To be set aside. And to save the whole damn thing.

If Game 6 had never happened to Chris Bosh he’d still be in the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. But Game 6 made him legendary. The tables turned for Chris Bosh the way they never turned for Chris Webber, which I suppose is an example of fate or luck or timing. Bosh saved LeBron James’ legacy because he tipped the ball to Ray Allen. On the other side of the country, Chris Webber was unable to rescue anyone’s legacy, not even his own.

What Bosh did wasn’t a particularly difficult thing, just a skilled moment under pressure that ended up making a Game 7 in the NBA Finals possible. Rebound a miss. Then tip it out to the three-point line. Survey the floor in a split second, know your teammates, read and react.

For much of his career in Miami, Bosh was well-liked and appreciated but undervalued in the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade orbit. Three is an odd number in many ways, someone is left out of the group. But Chris who loves math and coding understood there was power in the one no one pays much attention to, the person who has to do the little things, like save Game 6.

Before that electric, ethereal, savior of a moment in Miami, Chris Bosh was dynamic.

He played in Toronto for 7 seasons and rarely complained. He averaged 20 points and 9 rebounds. He played 509 games, averaging 37 minutes. He had an offensive rating of 113 and a defensive rating of 107. His PER in Toronto was 21.3.

In Chris Bosh’s third year in the league, he was the 11th best power forward (Real Plus-Minus). Two years later, he was the second-best power forward. His last year in Toronto, he was once again ranked as the second-best power forward, trailing Tim Duncan. His PER that year was a career-high 25.0.

Everyone sacrificed when in Miami, but Bosh had to give up the most and did so willingly. His last year in Toronto, he averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds. The closest he came to that in Miami was when LeBron was gone, 21 points and 7 rebounds in 2014-15.

Like Webber, bad luck rolled down a mighty Bosh hill, picked up steam, crushed the two-time champion, and made some of us think: what if Chris Bosh had stayed in Toronto and gotten some help? Would he have had the misfortune of blood clots twice? Would everything about Chris Bosh’s NBA life be different? Did he run out of nine basketball lives?

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The name Christopher is derived from the Greek Christóforos. It conjugates as “Christ” or “anointed”, and “bear”, and the “Christ-bearer.” It has been a name since the 10th century.

Mayce Edward Christopher Webber III, and Christopher Wesson Bosh, were anointed in that singular way of athletes who possess incredible talent, skill, and commitment. Webber was in the league for 15 years and Bosh left reluctantly after 13 years. Both players had injuries that changed things. Clearly, Chris Bosh played with better players, was a more skilled player himself and had the advantageous opportunity to have LeBron James as a teammate for 4 years. Chris Webber never had the luxury of a superstar, and if he had, perhaps he would not have had to wait to get into the Hall of Fame.

During the Hall of Fame press conference, the night before he was to be inducted, Kevin Garnett talked about wanting to be different. He didn’t want to be a back-to-the-basket player, the standard prototype. He wanted a face-up game. Go out 15 feet. Then 17 feet. Then 19 feet. With that as an ambition Garnett was admired and fetishized; he was a trailblazer. When Chris Webber didn’t want to play in the post for the Warriors, Don Nelson traded him and he was ridiculed his entire career for not wanting to be physical, for enjoying the finesse face-up game.

It matters who the messenger is. And timing.

Because Garnett entered the league from Chicago and wore his passion everywhere he went, he brought in a horde of followers. In the early part of his career one of his best friends/teammates died, a tough-nosed guard named Malik Sealey who was driving home from KG’s birthday party. In sorrow, Garnett reminded the rest of us that the often-repeated cliche about men playing a game is a little bit anachronistic. It’s way more than that. Much more.

Just as Garnett couldn’t help the emotion that leaked out his pores, the two Chris’s couldn’t alter their reserve. But we thought of them differently. Chris Bosh was known to scream at the end of a dunk or a play or a game-winning shot. Chris Webber did the mean face thing but that was about it.

Webber entered American’s collective consciousness when he was rated the number one player out of high school the year he was a senior, the same way LeBron James was the number one player out of high school the year he was a senior. But LeBron exceeded expectations and Webber…well he wasn’t going to change his game to fit what some thought it should be. In that regard, he was stubborn and willful.

Webber was supposed to be an elite player because he was a number one pick. He did a lot of things well, and some things not so well. In his career, he went to the WCF and ECF but never made it to the NBA Finals, never carried a team on his back with a ‘let’s go’,  and was often belittled for it. He had injuries. He never played with a second superstar. He loved his Sac-town years.

We wanted Webber to be KG, we wanted that so bad, for Webber to have KG’s will, his fire, his desire, his passion, his desperation. But Chris Webber was a professional basketball player unwilling to change who he was because people he didn’t know had their own ideas of how a power forward should play. The messiness about Ed Martin that followed him, plus his suspension, and the beef with Jalen Rose didn’t help his image but none of that was basketball.

Chris Webber’s Hall of Fame induction was going to happen one way or the other. He meant too much to the college game and he had a long pro career with a bunch of All-Star selections- five if you’re counting.  831 NBA games, 17,182 points, All-NBA five times, Top-10 MVP voting five times.

A decade younger, Chris Bosh was part of a new era.. Athletic at the forward position, empowered to determine career choices, brand-specific, judged by titles. Bosh saved a championship for a city and will never be forgotten. That one play was everything.

Chris Bosh played in 893 games, averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds. He scored 17,189 points, had an offensive rating of 113, and a killer defensive rating of 105 and, a killer instinct. He was in the NBA Finals 4 times, a 2-time champion, a repository of bad luck and blood clots. Bosh appeared in nearly a dozen All-Star games but only made an All-NBA team once. With Bosh, it was the eye test. A 6-11 power forward/center, he dominated his position, he scored, he defended, he thought the game. He retired because he was forced to retire and in that he and Chris Webber had the same circumstance, gone before they wanted to be gone.

That Chris Bosh played with LeBron James didn’t make him irrelevant. Basketball is about reacting and details, and if you’re patient, the moment is coming.

On the national stage, for once, it was about him. Chris Bosh had the podium and he was the superstar. It was his one shining moment as if his more quiet moments were taken for granted or forgotten. The aesthetics told the story: LeBron James didn’t save Chris Bosh in 2010 by bringing him along for the ride. In 2013, Chris Bosh saved a team, a city, a legacy, a man. It’s not why Chris Bosh will be in the Hall of Fame in 2021. It is why Chris Bosh matters.