- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Chris Webber was 12 the first time he was laughed at on a basketball court. It was opening day of practice for an AAU team in his Detroit neighborhood, and young Chris showed up in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts because he hadn't played much basketball and had nothing more appropriate to wear. The other players took one look at him and teased him mercilessly, especially because he was also a bit awkward and tentative. One of his tormentors, a bean pole of a kid named Jalen Rose, went up to him and said, "You've got the sorriest game I've ever seen."
Chris went home crying, and for days afterward he would tell his parents he was on his way to practice and then go somewhere, anywhere, else. Finally he summoned the nerve to tell his father, Mayce, that he wanted to quit the team. Mayce Webber had grown up in Mississippi with four younger siblings to whom he had been as much parent as brother, particularly after their mother died. He had later worked double shifts at the General Motors plant in Detroit for several years to keep his rapidly growing five children in clothes and shoes that fit. He didn't take kindly to the notion of his son's turning tail and running away from hardship.
"He told me I was going back," said Chris. "There wasn't a lot of discussion about it. He said a man doesn't run away from difficult situations; he stands firm and conquers them."
Webber told that story last October, before the start of a season he had no idea would end with such a stern test of his ability to stand firm and conquer. In the days since he called the fateful timeout that Michigan didn't have, a mistake that assured the Wolverines' loss to North Carolina in the NCAA championship game in New Orleans, Webber has stood firm, handling the aftermath of his gaffe with uncommon grace and good cheer. There were tears that night, plenty of them, but not a drop since.
"The first couple of days were tough, but it's not like I think about it every minute anymore," he said late last week. "Sometimes it still hits me, and I think, I cost us the national championship, but then it goes away. Ninety-nine percent of the time I'm fine."
Mayce Webber's son has not run away. In fact, Chris walked out into the world with his chin thrust out, almost inviting people to take their best shot. Hours after the game he was strolling down Bourbon Street. Two days later he flew from Detroit to Los Angeles for the presentation of the John R. Wooden player-of-the-year trophy, even though he knew that Indiana's Calbert Cheaney was certain to win it. He appeared on ESPN's Up Close interview show while in L.A. and then flew to San Francisco, where he attended a pair of Golden State Warrior games with friends, including Cal guard Jason Kidd, an old buddy from the high school summer-league circuit. After watching the Warriors play the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night, Webber, Kidd and some other friends headed to an Oakland recording studio where rapper Money-B was cutting a record.
Webber has found that instead of taking shots, the world has for the most part responded with kind words and a pat on the back. At the Wooden Award ceremonies he was greeted with a standing ovation. Detroit Piston guard Isiah Thomas called to tell him to keep his chin up, and Magic Johnson suggested they work out together this summer. There was also a letter from the author of another famous miscue, former Georgetown guard Fred Brown, whose inadvertent pass to James Worthy scaled a title for North Carolina 11 years ago. "You not only find out who your friends are when something like this happens," Webber says, "you find out you have friends you didn't even know about."
Granted, a few fans in the North Carolina section of the Superdome chanted, "Webber, Webber," while tapping their temples with their index fingers, and a guy called down to him, "Hey, Chris, got the time?" from the safety of a balcony on Bourbon Street. "I hear some of those things," Webber says. "I'm not going to tell you it doesn't bother me at all, but I don't get mad, because I know that they would all have given anything to play in a national championship game, and because anyone who takes that much pleasure in someone else's misfortune has a much bigger problem than I do."
Occasionally there has even been a dig Webber could laugh at. The night after the game, David Letterman's Top 10 List was "Things Overheard at the Summit." Number 6 was "What? We have no timeouts left?"
Because of the error, Webber and, by extension, the rest of Michigan's Fab Five sophomores have become much more sympathetic figures than they would have been had Webber made the winning shot. Not everyone knows what it's like to hang from the rim after a dunk, but everyone knows what it's like to screw up. That is small consolation to Webber, though. "I'd rather have the ring than the image," he says.