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Webber playing waiting game
by Marc Narducci / June 27, 2007

Chris Webber is a renaissance man, an entrepreneur, and a humanitarian, but will he remain being a basketball player?

That is the big question for the 34-year-old Webber, who just completed his 14th NBA season.

For now, Webber can tell you his summer schedule, which includes hosting a major fundraiser in Las Vegas for his charitable foundation but he doesn’t know if he will return to the court next season.

Webber, who experienced a rebirth after signing with his hometown Detroit Pistons following an unhappy brief tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers, is an unrestricted free agent. He can sign with any team of his choosing, but Webber isn’t ready to make a commitment toward continuing his basketball career.

“Right now I’m just resting and don’t want to rush my decision” he said following a press conference in which he announced that the Chris Webber collection of African American Artifacts and Documents will be displayed at Detroit’s Charles H. Wright Museum from June 28 to Sept. 28. “Physically it’s possible for me to come back to play, but I have to see if I am mentally ready to continue.”

Webber is always asked how he feels because he has come back from microfracture surgery to his knee. He doesn’t move nearly as well on the court as he used to, but his basketball IQ remains at a high level.

Webber has become the thinking man’s player, still capable of producing routine double-doubles. He has been a five-time all-star, but has been chasing an elusive championship his entire career.

This season appeared to be his best shot. After seeing his playing time and his enthusiasm for the game wane in Philadelphia, Webber finally convinced the 76ers to buy out his contract and hand him his release. At that point, he signed with the Pistons, returning to his native Detroit, where he averaged 11.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 43 games.

Webber saw his playing time decrease later in the season and in 16 playoff games for the Pistons he averaged 25.3 minutes, 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds. That was in stark contrast to his most recent playoff appearance with Philadelphia in 2004-2005 (against ironically Detroit) when Webber averaged 19 points and 5.8 rebounds in 37.2 minutes.

Even with a reduced role in Detroit, Webber had no regrets signing with the Pistons.

“I loved it here being around this team and it was one of the closest knit teams I’ve been on,” Webber said. “I couldn’t have made a better decision.”

Webber felt this was his best chance to win an NBA title. It was his second time that he appeared in the conference championship. In 2001-2002 he was a member of the Sacramento Kings who lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

This year Detroit fell in six games to upstart Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals. What made this year’s series so difficult for Webber was the fact that the Pistons won the first two games of the series, only to see Cleveland win the next four, advancing to its first ever NBA Finals.

“Whether you are up 2-0 or down 2-0, you still remain confident, but they had a great player who happened to play great.”

Webber was referring to LeBron James, who single-handily took over the series. Included was one of the best performances in playoff history when James scored 48 points during a 109-107 double-overtime win in Game 5. In that game, James scored his team’s final 25 points and 29 of the last 30.

Lost in that effort was the fact that Webber had 20 points and seven rebounds in 30 effective minutes that game.

While Webber acknowledges the greatness of James, he said he has witnessed first-hand better playoff performances.

“I played against Michael Jordan when he had 54 in a playoff game,” Webber said, showing his age and experience. “Mike was the best.”

Again, that wasn’t meant as a slight toward James. Webber said in his opinion Kobe Bryant remains the best clutch player in basketball, but James is creeping up on the immortals.

“Kobe will not only hit the big shot, but he will check you defensively,” Webber said. “But what LeBron did was so impressive because to win a championship or even to get there, you need at least two superstars. Kobe had Shaq, Dwyane Wade had Shaq, but LeBron didn’t have a superstar with him.”

Earlier in his career Webber was considered a superstar. As recently as the 2005-2006 season with Philadelphia he averaged 20.2 points and 9.9 rebounds. For his career, he is almost averaging a double-double, 20.9 points and 9.8 rebounds. Webber has also appeared in 80 career playoff games, averaging 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Whether he wants to go through the grind of an 82-game schedule still has to be decided, especially as his interests outside of basketball continue to grow. Webber owns a chain of restaurants, an investment company and has real estate ventures.

“I’m a competitor in the area of business as well,” he said.

His Chris Webber Foundation remains a major source of pride. The main objective of the foundation is to increase literacy among disadvantaged youth. Webber doesn’t just sign the checks. He is very active in the projects.

“My parents always stressed the importance of education and giving back,” Webber said.

He will headline a major fund-raiser July 20-22 in Las Vegas as part of the Second-Annual C-Webb’s Bada Bling Celebrity Weekend.

Among the events are a celebrity poker tournament, a golf challenge, a party hosted by Webber that includes guests such as Hall of Famer Charles Barkley and much more. (For more information, visit www.cwebbsbadabling.com).

“We’re just hoping to raise a lot of money and have fun for a great cause,” Webber said.

And maybe by the end of the event, Webber will have a clearer vision of his basketball future.

“I still think I have a lot to offer a team and I still love the game,” he said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride the last few years and while I don’t want to put people on hold, I also want to make the best decision.”

So for now, all he will decide to do is raise funds for his foundation, allow his body and mind to rest and then make an informed decision.

Webber has so many other interests that he will be able to make a smoother adjustment than many from the athletic field to the real world. It’s just that letting go of basketball isn’t easy, even for somebody with such strong post-game plans.

Marc Narducci covers the NBA for the Philadelphia Inquirer and is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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