The year was 2001. After an impressive 3-year-run, the Sacramento Kings parted ways with Jason Williams in a trade that sent him to the newly relocated Memphis Grizzlies for another third year guard named Mike Bibby. While the trade was not immediately popular, Mike Bibby quickly became a fan favorite in his own right, and the better part of the Kings' glory years was born. What made the Kings go to the next level after the trade? Was Mike Bibby the reason, or just along for a ride that was moving forward anyway? What was it that made Chris Webber and Mike Bibby such a highly lauded duo? Finally, where do they rank among all-time Kings duos?
If Twitter was around in 2001, I would have loved to see the reaction to the Jason Williams-Mike Bibby deal. While Mike Bibby was the better all-around basketball player, few players in NBA history, let alone Kings history, have come with the excitement level that Jason Williams came with. I, like every other 12-year-old Kings fan on the planet, sported the #55 jersey and the buzzed, not quite bald, haircut that Jason Williams sported his 2nd and 3rd seasons in the league. We had fallen in love with his flashy dribbling and passing, his fearless attitude, and his fast paced (sometimes reckless) play. Mike Bibby was more of an all-around player. Jason Williams was the better point guard, but Mike Bibby was the better basketball player. He was going to need to do something special to make people accept him, and he did just that.
Chris Webber had great chemistry with Jason Williams. Despite Jason Williams sometimes unexpected passes, Webber, along with the other Kings, learned to stay on their toes and often finish these passes with highlight-reel dunks and layups. With Mike Bibby, they were getting a player with a little more of a scorer's mentality, though he could also make the plays when he needed. Gone was the flash, in was a more balanced game. In my opinion, this was the perfect match for the style that the Kings became known for.
The ability to think on their toes carried over to the next group, and brought an approach where anyone on the floor may initiate play. While Bibby wouldn't ever be at the top of the league in assists, there were times where the Kings would have 3 guys hovering around 5 assists a game, including our Power Forward and Center. Instead of one guy keeping the other team on edge, we had five. While this style is more common now, it was not very common back then. We still got the highlight plays, and we still were the talk of the league, but it was more due to our overall game rather than Jason Williams initiating a lot of it.
Note: This is in no way an indictment of anything Jason Williams did. He was huge for our growth. Just saying the more balanced approach was the next step. We may have had just as much success with Jason Williams.
If Vlade Divac was Webber's co-MVP, Mike Bibby was the Robin to his Batman. Vlade had the mentality and the leadership to help lead the team from the floor and the bench, but Bibby was the main beneficiary of playing with Chris Webber, along with Peja. Bibby was the ideal point guard for this situation, and it really was because he had the ability to play more like a shooting guard when needed. While Peja Stojakovc was our greatest talent outside of Webber, Bibby's game was more joint at the hip with Webber's game.
In the end, it is hard to focus on just two guys from a team that had so many pieces that were dependent on each other, but to me when I think of the top duo on those teams, it is Chris Webber and Mike Bibby. Many of my favorite memories, from the game winner in game 5, to appearances on Jay Leno, to countless other memories from my teenage years, these two had such great chemistry, that it is hard to separate the two from their time together here in Sacramento. If you ask me, they are the two greatest players at their positions in Sacramento Kings history. If Webber had a reputation for lacking clutch prowess (a reputation that frankly was mostly unfounded), Bibby had a knack for always arriving when it mattered. In my opinion, Bibby is the greatest clutch performer I have seen as a Kings fan. Brad Miller is the only other player I may put in the discussion. While other talents came and went, and other duos formed and disbanded, I don't know if any of them had the same chemistry that these two did.
Both of these guys moved on and ended their careers on less than stellar notes, but we need to appreciate what we had. With Webber, we took a young punk that didn't want to be here, and made him one of the biggest names in the NBA. With Mike Bibby, we took an unpopular trade, and turned it into one of the best moves we have made. Where some would criticize Webber for some on and off the court issues, what he did here was special. While Bibby may not be remembered in the same light as Webber, Divac, Peja, or even J-Will at this point, he was still a huge piece of the "Glory Years", and deserves to be recognized for it.
What about you guys? What do you think of when you think of these two? Favorite memories?