- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Chris Webber talked his way out of the Bay Area and Tony Cheng's neighborhood before he tried to talk his way out of a federal investigation regarding the Ed Martin scandal at the University of Michigan.

Webber was required to tell his side of the story to a grand jury, which has higher standards than the coalition of NBA sportswriters.

You can understand how he might try to sweet-talk a grand jury. It is hard to break old habits.

Webber is accustomed to smiling just right and winning support to his version of events, even if his version often failed the smell test.

If you recall, Webber left the Warriors because of coach Don Nelson, a so-called dinosaur who could not relate to the hip-hop believer from Detroit Country Day. Nelson was so yesteryear that he rebuilt the Mavericks and won an unimaginable 57 games last season.

Webber also was an equal opportunity critic while he was in Washington, whether the shortcoming in his social life or basketball life was the fault of his employers, local law-enforcement officials or the woman from Connecticut. He had a million of them, some better than others, at least one of vintage quality.

Once, when marijuana was found in his luggage by a customs official in Puerto Rico, he said the illegal substance was the property of a woman traveling in his party. He was, in effect, holding it for a friend. Honest.

It seems friends don't let friends drive drunk, and friends apparently don't let friends go through customs with 11 grams of marijuana in their possession. That is just the way it is, Rule No.1, in fact, when traveling outside the United States. You stick your friend's marijuana in one of your socks. End of problem.

And so it was with Webber.

He could be good, even smooth, by the so-so rhetorical standards of the NBA. He could be expansive when necessary, flash the appropriate amount of sincerity on cue, and make the faculty at Country Day proud.

It didn't hurt that Webber could score 20 points a game. If he were a single-digit scorer, a greater number of observers probably would have been skeptical of his interpretation of events. But that's the NBA. That's all professional sports. The benefit of the doubt goes to the talented, and Webber is as talented as anyone in the NBA in the first three quarters of a game and has utilized the benefit more than most.

Unfortunately for Webber, the feds are unimpressed with his 20 points a game, as well as his testimony before a grand jury in August 2000. He has been charged with obstruction of justice and making a false declaration before a grand jury, the same charges facing Webber's father, Mayce, and aunt, Charlene Johnson.

Webber maintains that he told the truth, at least for now, although he is liable to come to a different conclusion after he consults his lawyers and family and ponders the penalties, if convicted: up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

One of the problems with Webber's trip down memory lane is that it demands to be distinct from all the other testimony, some of it provided by Robert Traylor and Lewis Bullock, former Michigan players who testified that they accepted the dirty booster's funny money. The booster, in pleading guilty to a money laundering charge in exchange for leniency in May, claimed he made various loans to Webber totaling $280,000 while Webber was at Michigan.

The big business branch of the NCAA needs to be overhauled, no doubt. A case could be made that reputable loans made to an NCAA athlete on the basis of his potential future earnings in the professional ranks is an overdue piece of legislation. That argument, however worthy, is a small matter next to the indictment testing Webber's equilibrium.

You don't lie to a grand jury, if Webber did. You don't spin, play with the facts or come down with a bad case of amnesia. You tell all the sordid details, to the best of your knowledge, and slowly try to dig yourself out of the compromising position inspired by the NCAA's archaic system.

Otherwise, by the time federal prosecutors finish examining the paper trail in your life, they will know everything there is to know, including when you came down with the sniffles while at Michigan.

Webber's nine-season career in the NBA has been filled with too many instances of immaturity, on and off the court, followed by attempts to plausibly deny and obfuscate.

This is one time Webber better have it right.

It is doubtful his bad man scowl is apt to sway federal prosecutors. Worse, they could be fans of the Lakers.

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