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A Whole New RAP
S.L. Price
April 12, 1999
After fleeing Golden State and self-destructing in Washington, Chris Webber has been soaring so far in Sacramento, where he says he's ready to make good on his promise as a power forward and a person
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April 12, 1999

A Whole New Rap

After fleeing Golden State and self-destructing in Washington, Chris Webber has been soaring so far in Sacramento, where he says he's ready to make good on his promise as a power forward and a person

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Really it seems silly to deal me.
They blind? I'm braille, so feel me....
Hopping...giving me lip, I should flip
It's like I'm fightin' life with a gun but no clip....
—C. WEBB, 2 Much Drama

He hurt them all. His mom, his sister, his three brothers, his old friends at Country Day all heard the news and rumors riding through last season's second half. The tumult even put a strain on his friendship with Howard. It didn't end there. On Aug. 14—a few weeks after his father, Mayce, defended his son at a Detroit basketball camp when kids asked, "Why is Chris smoking dope?"—Chris was stopped by U.S. Customs inspectors while leaving Puerto Rico during a promotional tour for Fila sneakers. Eleven grams of marijuana were found packed in a sock in his athletic bag. Webber admitted possession and paid a $500 fine. Two weeks later Fila canceled its multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Webber.

Webber has no interest in making a detailed defense of the drug transgression, but it's worth noting that it's the only one of the 1998 run-ins with the law that should leave any stain. Still, Webber wants to make clear that he isn't shirking his share of blame for all three incidents—if only because he placed himself in harm's way. "I've analyzed night after night why this all happened: What could I have done different? This isn't my fault. That's my fault. They just don't understand. I'm stupid," Webber says. "I need to react like a champion and let that be the last word. I'm not blaming anyone. There were situations I definitely could've handled better. I just hope from now on I can handle them the way I should."

Whether words will translate into deeds is the question, of course, but Mayce's experience doesn't bode well. There's nobody Chris respects more than his father, and after the arrest in January 1998, Mayce flew to Washington and sat down with Chris for "a man-to-man" during which he stressed the need to be smart when confronted by police. Chris said he understood. When the assault complaint was filed in April, Mayce again supported Chris but also upbraided him for his irresponsibility. Chris said he understood.

During the late spring and early summer, while forgiving Chris and defending him, "I was really upset, really hurt...really angry," Mayce says. In the months leading up to the trip to San Juan, he kept harping on the same theme. "I always tell my son, 'The name Webber? I had it first,' " Mayce says. "You represent me. Make sure you carry my name right." And Chris said he understood.

You were the wind beneath my wings....
As I stare at your image in the picture frame
I know if I'm to fail, you ain't to blame.
My man...my Pops
—C. WEBB, My Pops

Mayce made sure Chris would have no excuses. He brought few things with him when he fled Tunica, Miss., for Detroit in 1966: a loathing of his own father's share-cropping existence, a childhood memory of seeing a family friend lynched and, perhaps most important, a country boy's appreciation for hard work and independence. "Earn respect, and Don't beg" were two of Mayce's cardinal rules, and to reinforce them he'd pack up his lunch and go to work on the assembly line at the General Motors plant at Clark and Michigan, building Cadillacs day after day for 30 years.

Doris Webber, a high school special education teacher, insisted—over Mayce's objection—that their son attend Country Day, a predominately white private school in exclusive Beverly Hills. At first Chris hated it. He was an athletic, 6'7" ninth-grader, praised and publicized, but he yearned to be ordinary. Showing up every day in the same suit, pulling up in an old van while the sons of auto executives stepped out of shiny cars, he stood out as never before. He was there on an academic scholarship, but as a freshmen he tried hard to flunk out. Doris wouldn't hear of it. She has never bought into her son's need to fit in, and warns him to this day, Don't dim your light.

But Chris's adjustments didn't come only in the halls of Country Day. While mixing daily with old friends like Jalen Rose, who would take the public school path to join Michigan, Webber found himself fending off jabs at his street bona fides when he would get home each night to his mostly black neighborhood in northwest Detroit. Some of the people yapping at him were joking. Others, like the man who stood and yelled, "Webber, you guys ain't nothing but house niggers," during an AAU game in which Chris played with many of his Country Day teammates, weren't. "There was a great deal of resentment [against Chris]," Keener says. "It made Chris ultrasensitive, and that caused him to bend over backward to appeal to that urban population.

"There's no doubt that Chris could have been, image-wise, a Grant Hill or Michael Jordan. He's articulate, he's got a Madison Avenue smile. But that would be a sellout. His thing is, I want to relate to these urban kids. These are the ones most at risk. If it means I have to relate to them through rap and the way I present myself, so be it."

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