- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2004

For Antawn Jamison, yesterday’s two-hour practice didn’t constitute the end of his workday. In fact, it was just the start.

The 6-foot-9 Jamison, who leads the 7-5 Wizards in scoring (23.6) and rebounding (9.4) heading into tonight’s game against New Jersey at MCI Center, did not spend the rest of his afternoon in front of a wide-screen television engrossed in the banality of a PlayStation 2.

Instead, he met with local media before taking part in a mandatory team meeting. Then he agreed to sit down 1-on-1 with another reporter — the sort of request most professional athletes scoff at.

After that, he did a filming of the team’s weekly show, “Wizards Magazine,” and then went off to do his weekly sit-down with “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert to record a predictions segment for WTOP-AM.

“Sometimes, I think we’re going to burn the guy out,” a member of the team’s front office said.

That is unlikely, considering Jamison’s streak of 340 consecutive games leads all active NBA players.

The Wizards have seen numerous front-office moves backfire, from throwing in Ben Wallace to make a trade for Ike Austin to trading away Chris Webber for past-his-prime Mitch Richmond.

But the early results show they picked a winner June 24 when they acquired Jamison from Dallas for Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner and the draft rights to No.5 overall pick Devin Harris. The trade appears to be working out fine for the Wizards, who finished November with a winning record for the first time since 1984.

“I liked the trade from Day One. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have made it,” Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. “I knew he was a character guy when I was in Milwaukee — I wanted him there. I’m very happy with Antawn.”

Everyone knew Jamison could play. What people didn’t know is he also is an excellent teammate.

He has taken rookie center Peter John Ramos to lunch following practice.

He told teammate Brendan Haywood to stop sulking and start playing.

He promised the injured Kwame Brown he would carry a load the No.1 overall pick from 2001 still is not ready to shoulder.

“There was a lot of pressure on him to change the image of an organization that hasn’t won a playoff series in years,” said Jamison, who appears headed to the first All-Star Game of his career in his seventh season. “I told him that everything is not going to be on his shoulders. I told him to let me handle the media — you just focus on having fun and playing basketball. From the outside, you could see that he wasn’t having fun.”

Jamison didn’t have that kind of security blanket during his first five years in the league with Golden State. Although he, Arenas and Larry Hughes — reunited as teammates with the Wizards — played major roles in the Warriors’ 17-win improvement in 2002-03, Jamison says he wasn’t always the best teammate, mostly because he was trying to live up to too many things.

“There was always the talk in Golden State that I wasn’t a leader, that I was making too much money,” said Jamison, who will earn more than $12.5million this season. “I found out early in life that you have to be mature about those situations, that you have to make them positive experiences.

“We have to remember we’re athletes getting paid to do what we love. I would play for free if I had to. But more important, you realize there are people who can’t afford to feed their families. We’re blessed.”

Learning to stay positive about a situation that might not be ideal paid off for Jamison last season, which he spent coming off the bench for Dallas.

“I never came off the bench before, and it was hard,” said Jamison, who has averaged 19.1 points a game in his career. “I figured I would just do whatever was asked of me, make it a positive and see what happened.”

What he learned in Dallas, where he was honored as the league’s top sixth man, was what it took to be a part of a playoff team.

“I learned a lot from being around those guys,” Jamison said of Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Michael Finley. “They all made sacrifices for the team. They were very close, and they did a lot together. Good teams do those things.”

But Jamison also knew he didn’t want to be a bit player. He always has had confidence in his abilities — he believes he already should have been an All-Star twice — so when he was traded to Washington, he knew this was his chance.

“My first reaction was that this was great. Washington was a young team — still is — and I wanted to show that I can lead a team,” said Jamison, who is 28. “I know the season is still young, and we’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’ve got the right ingredients here.”

And it all starts with Antawn Jamison.

“I don’t know where we’d be without him,” assistant coach Mike O’Koren said. “He does everything.”

And then some.

Note — Coach Eddie Jordan, who has been in Sibley Memorial Hospital recovering from a blood clot in his left leg since Thursday, is expected to be released this morning and on the bench tonight, according to a team spokesman.

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