As police searched fruitlessly for any clue to McGuirk's disappearance, Walker raised Martell. If there was a duty she couldn't perform because of her age, she'd find someone to fill in. A cousin would teach him to hit a curveball; a friend's family would take him on a vacation to Hawaii. "I had it very lonely with no mom or dad," says Webster. "You want your parents to cherish things with you. But I love my grandmother to death, and I always had family and friends and coaches helping me."
The ensuing years brought no answers about McGuirk's fate. No leads either. While a Seattle Police Department spokesman says that the case is still open, Webster has lost interest in solving the family mystery. A framed photo of McGuirk hangs in the kitchen of his new Portland house, but he believes she is gone, and he would just as soon leave it at that. "Something happened, she passed away," he says. "I look at her every day. I know she's watching me."
Walker, though, has no such peace of mind. "As long as they don't have a body, you can't say she's dead," she says in a whisper. Like others close to the family, Walker wonders if McGuirk wasn't a victim of Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer, who confessed to murdering 48 Seattle women, mostly in the 1980s. (According to Seattle police, Ridgway's name never came up in connection to McGuirk's disappearance.)
While the pall of his mother's sudden absence hung over Martell's childhood, he was, given the circumstances, remarkably happy, his time filled with Little League games, bike races and an education at one of the finest private high schools in Seattle. "He was a good kid," says Walker, "when he wasn't terrorizing the neighborhood." Terrorize? Martell? "Oh, yes! Pulling fruit out of the neighbor's trees, having plum fights and apple fights. And there was one time he messed with a beehive and got all stung up!"
Webster learned early on that for all of Grandma's benevolence, you crossed her at your peril, as some agents would discover. Buoyed by strong play in various all-star games, Webster spent last spring agonizing over whether to play at the University of Washington or enter the draft. When Walker believed that a prospective agent, Eric Goodwin, was recruiting Martell behind her back, she invited Goodwin--who with his twin brother, Aaron, represent NBA players on the order of Gary Payton, Jamal Crawford and, until recently, LeBron James--to her home. "Then I really let him have it," she says. Goodwin strongly denies being anything less than forthright, but Webster found different representation.
It wasn't his only exposure to some of the unfortunate aspects of being a star athlete. This summer Webster's father tried to end the 18-year estrangement from his son, showing up at a family reunion after the draft. Martell treated him with icy indifference. "The timing is a little suspicious," he says. "It's hard to respect someone like that. Imagine your father gets your mother pregnant and then leaves. How do you, as the son, look that man straight in the eye?"
But everything else has, as Webster puts it, "pretty much broken right" since he decided to turn pro. After fretting about whether he'd be a lottery pick, he was not only selected early but also ended up in the Pacific Northwest, sufficiently close to home so his uncle Cliff and cousin Stallone could move in with him and innumerable other family and friends (especially Walker) could attend home games. In July, Portland hired McMillan, whose son, Jamelle, was an AAU teammate of Webster's in Seattle. ("I trust Nate to look out for Martell," Walker says.) With the Blazers in full rebuilding mode, McMillan plans to give Webster significant playing time. What's more, he's quickly made connections with some of his new teammates, fourth-year guard Juan Dixon in particular. "We've talked about how he was raised," says Dixon, whose mother and father both died of AIDS when he was in high school. "How when you don't have parents around, you grow up fast."
On the morning of Nov. 1 Webster embarked on his first NBA road trip. As the Blazers' charter soared toward cruising altitude en route to Minnesota, the team's self-possessed rookie savored the occasion, but only for so long. "I was like, I made it," he says. "Then it was like everything was reset. I wasn't Martell Webster the high school star or the draft pick. I was just Martell Webster, NBA rookie. Here we go."