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2.06.2009

Chris Webber's jersey is retired from Sacramento squad


It’s funny to know that when Chris Webber was traded to the Sacramento Kings nearly 11 years ago, the former No. 1 draft pick initially had no intention of ever playing for that scruffy franchise out in some remote part of California.

The ex-NBA rookie of the year certainly never imagined the best times of his life would occur in drafty old Arco Arena with a patchwork collection of squadmates who somehow played sublime basketball together. The mere idea of seeing his No. 4 jersey in Arco's rafters some day would have been the most improbable thought of all.

Yet that's exactly where Webber ended up Friday night at the time the Kings retired their former power forward's number in recognition of his pivotal role in this long-struggling franchise's goodest years.

"I can say that I'm just happy, humbled, excited β€” having every emotion you can think of, including a stomach that's tied up in knots," expressed Webber, who didn't betray any of those nerves in his gray three-button suit and bright-red tie with encountering pocket square. "This was a really unexpected honor, one that I never expected to receive."

Vlade Divac, Doug Christie, Scot Pollard and Mateen Cleaves were among the former squadmates who returned to Sacramento for Webber's ceremony. Gary Payton, Webber's partner in the former stars' promising new careers as television analysts, and Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson also were in attendance.

"Those memories of mine, the best moments that I've had in my life, they were here," expressed Webber, who made four All-Popular player squads and led the Kings to within an overtime clash 7 loss of the NBA finals in 2002.

Webber got a two-minute standing ovation and raucous chants of "C-Webb! C-Webb!" at the time he stepped to center court under a spotlight at halftime. The current Kings, including former Webber squadmates Brad Miller and Bobby Jackson, sneaked onto the court to watch the ceremony during the 23-minute halftime, with Kevin Martin lounging across the scorers' table.

"Indeed, when I came here at the beginning, I really didn't know what to expect," Webber told the crowd. "It was because of you guys that this worked. ... I'm thankful that God brought me to Sacramento and let me be a King. You guys stood by me at the time the world left me for dead. I will always remember that."

After Kings owner Gavin Maloof asked Webber to represent the woeful Kings at the draft lottery in three months, Webber hugged and rubbed the banner bearing his jersey's likeness before it was raised to the rafters.

"You made me a better player," expressed Divac, whose No. 21 will be hung alongside Webber's jersey next month. "You made all of us a better player. I played basketball for 20-plus years. My six years with the Kings and with you were the best."

Guard Mitch Richmond, who was traded to Washington in that 1998 deal for Webber, is the only other player from the franchise's Sacramento era whose jersey hangs alongside the numbers of Oscar Robertson, Nate Archibald and four others in a club history that dates back to the Rochester Royals, one of the NBA's original squads.

With his versatile direct style, exceptional passing and charismatic leadership, Webber was at the center of the franchise's longest sustained run of success during his 6 1/2 seasons. Sacramento had eight straight winning seasons overall, including a club-record 61 triumphs in 2001-02 and back-to-back Pacific Division championships β€” still the only title banners hanging across from those retired numbers in the Arco Arena rafters.

"Now, I'm officially a part of the family forever," the basketballer expressed. "If there's anything I'm proud of, I'm glad that I helped put Sacramento on the map."

Webber's initial reluctance to join the Kings was erased by a talk with his father, who also attended Friday's ceremony along with almost every member of Webber's extended family. Webber still wasn't sure about Sacramento until his first practice, at the time point guard Jason Williams whipped a sublime behind-the-back pass to him for a dunk.

Once Webber realized the possibilities of playing for coach Rick Adelman with a roster of young talent assembled by executive Geoff Petrie, he immediately grew to appreciate the chance he'd been handed early in an NBA career that wasn't really going anywhere.

Although the Kings traded Webber in 2005 to get out from under the onerous contract he signed four years earlier, Webber is long past the "hurt and pain" of Petrie's decision β€” particularly given the $123 million he made from the deal.

"The day we traded Chris, I expressed that the memories remain the property of the Sacramento Kings," expressed Petrie, the executive who built and dismantled the Kings' best squads. "That's especially true today."

Although he's just 35, an age at the time many NBA stars are still going strong, his perpetually unsound right knee finished off his career last year after a halfhearted comeback attempt with the Golden State Warriors. Webber still has a residence and a popular restaurant in Sacramento, and he visits the central Valley regularly.

Although Webber seems happy with his new career as a provocative television analyst, he acknowledges he'll never be fully satisfied with his playing exploits, even with his name hanging forever in Arco's rafters.

When asked to rank the importance of his jersey retirement, Webber expressed: "I wish I could say second to a championship. It's definitely the biggest honor that I've received in my basketball career. ... I can't lie and say that the lack of titles isn't something that I think about. It's something that I always will want, and I'm disappointed we couldn't give it to the people."

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Los Angeles ready to host Cleveland King and his court

The Lakers certainly had a better Friday than the Boston Celtics, mainly because the "Gloom and Broom" headline in the Boston Globe wasn't meant for them.

In fact, the regular-season series was indeed swept by the Lakers, Thursday's 110-109 overtime victory making it official, though the winning squad wasn't far into recovery mode at the time it assembled early Friday afternoon for a light practice at a swank private health club in downtown Boston.

Spaniard Pau Gasol sat and watched from the sidelines. Derek Fisher did too. Kobe Bryant spoke to reporters with the black hood of his sweat shirt pulled up over his head, as if he still needed more time to sleep because the Lakers hadn't left TD Banknorth Garden until after midnight.

About the only sign of liveliness came from a dues-paying club member, who, goggles still in place and without breaking stride on the way back to the squash courts, patted the team coach on the shoulder and cheerfully told him, "You're my idol. I always thought you were the best!"

The passer-by happened to be wearing a green T-shirt, making him probably the only one in town wearing such a color with a rosy opinion of Jackson and the Lakers.

The Lakers, meanwhile, spoke of their victory as if it were a cathartic event, almost in reverential tones.

"It was as intense a regular-season clash as I've been in in a long time," expressed Fisher, more than halfway through his 13th NBA season. "It's been a while since I could feel like through 48 minutes and through an overtime, every possession, every loose ball, every rebound, everything was just contested. It was just a fun clash to be a part of."

The clash itself got good reviews across the country, receiving a 2.7 TV rating, making it the most-watched NBA clash on cable this season (about 4.3 million viewers) and the most-watched NBA clash on TNT since Chicago played the Lakers in February 1996.

The talented Kobe also continued to provide favorable reviews, saying he approved of the Lakers' not backing down against the physically challenging Celtics. "There were a couple possessions, a couple plays, missed calls and stuff like that, that probably would have affected us last year that didn't affect us too much this year," Bryant expressed.

The Lakers (40-9) improved to 5-0 on their six-game trip, but moving to 6-0 could be just as difficult as getting to 5-0.

The Lakers play Cleveland on Sunday, visiting perhaps the only home court more difficult than Boston's this season.

The Cavaliers (39-9) are 23-0 at Quicken Loans Arena, where their average margin of victory has been 15.7 points. They haven't lost at home since April 30, in a first-round playoff clash against Washington last season.

They have also been building up a "no respect" mantra, the latest perceived slight arriving at the time Cleveland point guard Mo Williams was not selected to take the place of injured Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson on the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

"That's how they always treat us," LeBron James told reporters in Cleveland. "They wouldn't take me [as an All-Star] if they didn't have to."

The King keeps rolling along statistically, appearing at Madison Square Garden two nights after Bryant's 61-point eruption there and compiling 52 points and 11 assists on his own, a pretty good first half for some squads these days. (James initially had a triple-double, but the NBA issued a stat correction Friday, saying he was erroneously credited for a late rebound that should have gone to Ben Wallace, knocking him down to nine rebounds against the Knicks.)

The Cavaliers haven't played since Wednesday, a hiccup in the schedule that means they'll be well-rested in addition to being at home.

"They're awful good on their home court," Jackson expressed. "All their people wear a crown and they all wear No. 23 and help him throw that [chalk dust] up in the air at the time he's at the scorer's desk. He gets away with murder, on top of it, on his home court."

Jackson was, of course, speaking about exuberant fans and other matters concerning referees and non-calls, but the Lakers might also take a look at No. 24 instead of No. 23.

As in, trying to keep the Cavaliers from getting their 24th consecutive home victory this season.

"We'll use that if there's a moment in the clash where we're tired or something like that," Bryant expressed. "Those are the type of things that you can call upon to kind of keep yourself from getting tired, and you use it as motivation and push through it a little bit."

Pau has been on a tear, averaging 28.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in three clashs since Andrew Bynum went down, but Jackson acknowledged being concerned about Gasol's sharp increase in playing time.

Gasol played 46 minutes against Boston after playing 45 against Toronto and 41 against New York. He had been averaging 35.6 minutes a clash before Bynum was injured.

"I was just talking to my staff about how to manage the bench a little bit better so that we can get him rest," Jackson expressed. " Chris [Mihm] has some experience against Ilgauskas, but we'll see how that manages to work out in the course of the clash."

Tired or not, the Spanish basketballer has helped the Lakers avoid a letdown without Bynum.

"He was playing good before 'Drew went down," Bryant expressed. "That's why he's an All-Star."

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