- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Chris Webber has received an eight-game suspension from the NBA after eluding the full brunt of the legal system last summer.

Webber is the convicted liar slated to perform penance this summer and next in a classroom of middle-school students.

His is the Read to Repent sentence, as opposed to the NBA’s Read to Achieve program, after his tale before a federal grand jury turned out to be taller than his 6-foot-10 frame.

The tale involved a dead booster, the Michigan basketball program and payments totaling $280,000. The athletic department was left to express the mea culpa before the NCAA and remove the Final Four banners from the premises.

Webber, with an omnipresent smile glued to his face and a recurring claim to be misunderstood coming out of his mouth, is expected to be able to walk away from another one of his legal messes after completing his community service in the 2005 summer.

His is not bad work if you can land it, considering the slap on the wrist left in the wake of the payments.

David Stern, ever conscious of good public relations, was not inclined to be as mushy-headed as the judge who thought it nice to send a compromised role model in the direction of America’s youth.

The youngsters can make their own calculations: So this is what happens if you cheat and lie.

The NBA penalty was stronger than anything previously dumped on Webber’s lap, counting all his foolishness, which is considerable.

Beyond the loss of games, the loss of pay is at least a measure of seriousness that has been lacking in Webber’s career since he burst onto the national scene as the lead member of the Fab Five in 1991. Webber always has had an amazing capacity to obfuscate his role in the vicinity of nonsense.

It could be the lack of quality of a team or the lack of a plausible legal defense.

None of it ever was his fault, not with Golden State or in Washington, not with his various brushes with the law. It always was somebody else’s fault: Don Nelson, Abe Pollin, overzealous police officers, the woman from Connecticut and the woman in his company who packed marijuana in his shoes, to name a few.

Even his inability to carry a team in the waning minutes of a tight playoff game somehow has been the result of circumstances beyond his control. He wants to be the essential piece of a team. How many times does he have to say that? He wants to take the potential game-winning shot, no matter how it appears otherwise.

If he repeats this assertion enough, it is bound to take with a certain segment of the basketball population.

Yet it is clear, if you bother to look, that Webber is one of the best power forwards ever in the first 43 minutes of a game. By then, he has earned his 20-10 stat line and demonstrated enough conviction to be immune from the outcome.

It should be noted that the biggest shot by a member of the Kings in recent seasons was made by Mike Bibby in the team’s 2002 playoff series against the Lakers. His shot, called in the preceding timeout, won the game, and curiously, it was Webber who set the pick that gave Bibby the room to shoot the ball.

Webber’s stint as the incomplete superstar has become harder to ignore around the excellence of the Kings this season. Webber has not appeared in a game all season, his absence mitigated by the production of Brad Miller.

Thanks to the NBA, Webber has another eight games to sit on his seeming irrelevance. He remains a viable piece of the operation, no doubt, but returns with a suggestion to go easy and not disrupt what the Kings have established in his absence.

As it turns out, Webber is the incredibly rare superstar, perhaps the only one ever whose eventual return, though not unwelcome, comes with a sense of temperance.

It is not his team, not this deep into the season, and to force a change in dynamics is to risk undoing what has been achieved.

If somehow the team falters, rest assured, it will not be Webber’s burden. It never is.

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