It's weird watching Chris Webber wear a Detroit Pistons jersey.
Webber is 27 months removed from the Kings, so we should be past the heebie-jeebies of our post-Webber existence. We are. This team is not a shred of the same cloth of Webber's teams, not just in terms of quality. Everything is different -- consistency becomes volatility, expectations become prayers, entertainment becomes four-times-weekly dread. For better or worse -- and both, in some cases -- Chris Webber was the identity, the star, the Sacramento Kings.
When he went to Philly to star alongside orbital Allen Iverson, it was not overwhelmingly tragic for me. I was hardly exhilarated with Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner, and Corliss Williamson, and I actually hated to see Matt Barnes leave Sacramento. But I had accepted post-Webber life at that point. After seven years and no rings, things start to feel stale. Internal hope played a role, surely: Peja Stojakovic was a year removed from a dark-horse MVP candidacy, Mike Bibby was still exceptional off screens, Brad Miller was a supernatural Vlade Divac, and Geoff Petrie was still pulling strings. The end of the Webber era was not the end of the team, we thought. It was simply a passing of the torch to the new nucleus, who would surely keep us afloat as they did in 2004. The feeling wasn't one of longing or sadness for Webber, it was more like "Thanks, but good riddance. We're ready to move on."
That feeling stuck, and I felt vindicated when Philadelphia sucked. I felt vindicated to see Webber shooting 38 percent from the floor but still taking 18 shots a game. I felt all kinds of ridiculous righteousness that Webber was sent free and fell flat on his face, like it was some sort of proof that THE KINGS were the reason that the Kings were championship contenders -- it wasn't just because of Webber. Things weren't going as planned in Sacramento, of course not. But it was a form of post-dated vindication to the whole of the franchise in lieu of the oft-crowed reliance on the singular superstar in Webber.
But now that I see Webber corralling rebounds and hitting elbow jumpers and tossing behind-the-back passes for a championship contender again, now I miss him. He's doing things he never would have done here -- take a back seat. He's been forced to, of course, by the belligerently egalitarian system in place under Joe Dumars' iron fist of collectivism. Webber took 14.6 shots (FGA+0.44xFTA) per 40 minutes for Detroit this year; his lowest shot-rate in Sacramento was 19.9 his first season in town. Webber did not belong in the back seat during his reign, of course. But in HIS town, on HIS team -- he would not have stepped down even when circumstances forced him to. Were he still in Sacramento last season, we would be angry not at Mike Bibby and Ron Artest for holding Kevin Martin down; we'd be pissed at Webber.
But he's not in our town, so we can't worry about that. The question that has perplexed me the past two weeks, though -- as Detroit moshes right through the East, with only LeBron left standing -- is whether I want to see Webber win his ring. Of course, there's the anger surrounding the end of the magical 2002 run and the disastrous finish to 2004. "IF HE COULDN'T WIN IT FOR US WHEN HE HAD THAT TEAM, HE SHOULDN'T WIN ONE ANYWHERE!" The sentiment is only fortified by the weird circumstances around Mitch Richmond's posthumous championship with the Lakers. We don't hate the guys for getting the job done elsewhere; seeing it happen just regurgitates our worst memories of impotence at the highest stage.
Every time I watch Detroit, this sentiment -- wanting Webber to fail -- fades away. The factors include how happy Webber looks when he's playing with those guys. I remember when he looked like that in ARCO Arena. I wish it happened here and there's still some lingering resentment (especially about 2004), but I won't let that cloud my memory of the greatest player Sacramento ever had.
Go get 'em, Chris.