In five seasons, former first overall pick Chris Webber won a Rookie of the Year award, made an All-Star team, and averaged 20 or more points four times. He also had zero playoff victories to show for it.
When Webber was traded from the Washington Wizards to the Sacramento Kings, the third team in his short career, he was eventually able to turn them, and himself, into a winner. But it took C-Webb leading an organizational overhaul to break through the cycle of losing in Sacramento.
Before Chris Webber arrived, the Sacramento Kings were a mess
Following the move from Kansas City, Missouri in 1985, not a lot had gone right for the Kings. The team made the playoffs in their first season in Sacramento, ending in a quick first-round exit. 10 years later, they failed to make it past the first round again. Those two playoff series were the only times Sacramento sniffed the postseason before Chris Webber arrived.
Not only were the Kings a losing team, but they were also one of the least desirable franchises to play for. When Webber arrived in 1998, he felt like it was the Wizards’ way of punishing him.
“They wanted to banish me to Sacramento,” Webber said to The Athletic. “That’s what that was.”
Even with Webber there, Sacramento was still a place not to see the Kings. Rather, it was to see whoever the Kings were playing. The Hall of Famer knew that needed to change before anything else (h/t The Athletic).
“Like many struggling franchises, the Kings would use the allure of the visiting team to help sell tickets. It was less about seeing the home team and more about marketing a glimpse at the Jazz, Spurs and Lakers. Still, there were some things Webber couldn’t accept, like the time he saw a team employee wearing a David Robinson jersey when the Spurs were in town to play the Kings. ‘It was bad, man,’ Webber said. ‘I had to give a talk to the organization.’Jason Jones, The Athletic
Following that moment, Webber made a point to improve the franchise both on and off the court.
Webber brought about sweeping change to the Sacramento Kings
Following the David Robinson jersey incident, Webber knew he had his work cut out for him. But the message was clear: everyone, from the players to the team employees, had to do their part.
The Kings went 27-23 in 1998-99, Webber’s first season with the team. It was their first winning record in Sacramento and first as a franchise since 1982-83. The success was due in part to little things off the court, like C-Webb interacting with team employees on a regular basis to the point it was a daily routine.
Webber would also create interactions with fans. One example came during Sacramento’s first-round matchup in the 1998-99 playoffs against the Utah Jazz. Webber, as well as point guard Jason Williams, brought pizza to fans who were waiting to buy playoff tickets outside of Arco Arena. It was Webber’s decision, not a team employee’s, in an effort to convince fans to see the Kings, not their opponents.
Ultimately, a winning product is always going to be the biggest catalyst for generating fan interest. Webber did his part, putting up five straight seasons of 20 or more points and 10 or more rebounds per game. Fortunately, the rest of the team followed suit, as the Kings went from 15 straight losing seasons to eight straight winning seasons, starting with Webber’s first year in purple and black.
The Kings are hoping to find their next Chris Webber
While the Webber years in Sacramento never resulted in a title, it brought playoff appearances and, more importantly, legitimacy to a struggling franchise. The Kings are hoping to get some of that back after a 15-year run of missing the playoffs, tied for the longest drought in NBA history.
“Though it may not seem like it right now because the tradition hasn’t been carried on, even though the tree was torn down, some of those other seeds got into the ground,” Webber said. “We started something there. You can’t kill the spirit we left in that locker room.”
Some of those seeds include lottery picks De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley III, and Tyrese Haliburton, as well as veterans Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes. It’s a core the Kings are excited about moving forward, as they aim to bring postseason basketball back to Sacramento. However, there might not be a true franchise-changing player on the team, like Webber, for a long time.
“He was a franchise changer,” said Jerry Reynolds, a former coach and GM of the Kings as well as television color analyst. “We had a couple of playoff teams but not a winning team. When Webb arrived — and certainly others as well — but he was the best player and brought the Kings a legitimate, top-10, All-Star type player for the first time, really. Mitch [Richmond] was a top-15 player in the league, but Webb probably brought a guy that was a top-10 guy, if not higher. Simply changed the dynamic and the culture.”
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.