It took longer than some might have expected for Chris Webber to reach the Basketball Hall of Fame. He retired in 2008 after a final cameo as an NBA player with the Golden State Warriors and waited almost a decade to get the call after reaching eligibility. Webber had an outstanding two-year stint at the University of Michigan before being wiped out of the record books.
His NBA career combined injury problems, contract disputes, and personality clashes with periods of dominance, particularly while with the Sacramento Kings. In his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Webber leaned heavily on his Detroit upbringing and named an unlikely mentor who helped him in two different careers.
Chris Webber overcame a nationally televised moment of humiliation
Even though it never officially happened (one must marvel at the NCAA’s ability to rewrite its history), Chris Webber’s two-year stint at Michigan included back-to-back appearances in the national championship game.
The first time around, Webber led a precocious all-freshman starting lineup through the tournament before defending champion Duke blew the Wolverines out in the 1992 final. The following year, Michigan was to tie or take the lead against North Carolina late in the game before Webber committed a blunder for the ages.
Webber rebounded a missed free throw by UNC’s Pat Sullivan with 19 seconds left and Michigan trailing by two. After getting away with a traveling violation, the sophomore star dribbled upcourt and called timeout. However, the Wolverines were out of timeouts. North Carolina sealed the game with the free throws following the technical foul.
His pro career was star-crossed as well. Webber never played in the NBA Finals. The closest he came was the controversial 2002 Western Conference Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers while with the Kings. In Springfield, Webber made sure to thank a former opponent who helped along the way.
Webber’s close bond with Charles Barkley in the spotlight
While speaking at the Hall of Fame, Chris Webber was quick to thank fellow Hall of Famer Charles Barkley for his support:
“To my man Charles Barkley, I’m honored to have you welcome me to the Hall of Fame. You changed the way the game was played from a power-forward position. Personally, you’ve shown me the way in life, more than once.”
Webber’s first encounter with Barkley came while still at Detroit Country Day School.
“The first time was high school. … I got a chance to meet you, I studied your game; I knew your truth, I knew you had an attitude,” Webber said. “You complimented me, and you encouraged me. The first time after seeing you, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I can do what my favorite player says I can.’”
Barkley later mentored Webber as a broadcaster at TNT.
Chris Webber’s complicated legacy
A scandal marred Chris Webber’s career at Michigan. He was one of four players from the program in the 1990s ruled by the NCAA as taking money from booster Ed Martin. The others were Maurice Taylor, Robert Traylor, and Louis Bullock, per USA TODAY. That led to a 10-year disassociation from the university.
Meanwhile, a long-running feud between childhood friends Webber and Jalen Rose kept the group separated for years. One of the highlights of Webber’s induction was the attendance of the other members of the celebrated group. Besides Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, and Ray Jackson saw their former college teammate enshrined.
Over 15 NBA seasons, Webber averaged 20.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. A severe knee injury in 2003 took away from his effectiveness for the rest of his career. But Webber also gained a reputation as a player who shied away from taking big shots in the clutch. He talked about that in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press.
One must wonder how the scars from the timeout disaster at the Louisiana Superdome in 1993 contributed to that hesitation. To Chris Webber’s credit, he owned the moment from the start and put together a career belatedly recognized for its greatness.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.