- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 9, 2005

The Washington Wizards had their successful season publicly ratified yesterday when Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison were announced as Eastern Conference reserves for the NBA All-Star Game in Denver on Feb. 20.

“Obviously, they are very deserving of this honor, but it really comes with team success,” said Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld, the man responsible for acquiring both players. “I’m happy for them, and I’m happy that they have both played a big role in our team’s success.”

Arenas and Jamison were voted onto the team Monday by Eastern Conference coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players. This will be the first All-Star Game appearance for both.

Their selection marks the first time Washington (28-19) will have a pair of players in the game since Moses Malone and Jeff Malone represented the Bullets in 1987. Arenas and Jamison become the first Washington All-Stars since Michael Jordan in 2003.

Before Jordan’s selection, Washington was most recently represented by Chris Webber (1997), Juwan Howard (1996) and Michael Adams (1991).

Arenas, 23, is having a spectacular season. He is averaging a team-leading 24.7 points, highest of any Washington player since Bernard King’s 28.4 in 1990-91. Already he has recorded at least 12 games of 30 points or more, and twice he has reached his career high of 43.

Jamison, 28, is averaging 20.5 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds. The 6-foot-9 forward leads the team with 18 double-doubles.

Last summer the Wizards orchestrated a draft-day deal with Dallas, sending Christian Laettner, Jerry Stackhouse and the draft rights to Devin Harris, the No. 5 overall selection, to the Mavericks for Jamison.

The summer before that, Grunfeld and coach Eddie Jordan twice flew back and forth to Los Angeles in an effort to sign Arenas, who also was being courted by his hometown Clippers.

The Wizards caught a bit of luck when the salary cap was bumped up and provided them with approximately $8 million in cap space, enough to sign Arenas to a six-year, $65 million contract.

Arenas, who thought he might be a lottery pick in the 2001 draft, instead was taken by the Warriors early in the second round. Arenas used what he has perceived as a snub as motivation.

“I was heartbroken, and I cried that day, probably for the first time since I was about 5,” said Arenas, who left the University of Arizona following his sophomore season. “I was not expecting [the All-Star selection]. Everybody says if you love something, it will love you back, and I’ve loved the game since I got here, and it’s finally paying off.”

The Wizards’ surprising success — they needed just 41 games to surpass last season’s 25 victories — and their potential for reaching the playoffs has Arenas looking forward.

“My success is directly related to the team’s success more than anything,” Arenas said. “We want to keep winning games. To us, that’s the most important thing.”

Jamison, a seven-year veteran who was selected with the fourth pick in the 1998 draft following his junior season at North Carolina, has put up All-Star numbers before — he averaged 24.9 points and 8.7 rebounds for Golden State in the 2000-01 season — but never had made the All-Star Game.

“I think when you are young, you think about [individual] stats,” Jamison said. “[Later] you realize what [an All-Star selection] is about: It’s about making a difference on your team and being a part of a winning team.”

Jamison will join a former college teammate, starting forward Vince Carter, on the East. Jamison and Carter were drafted fourth and fifth, respectively, in 1998 by Toronto and Golden State, who then swapped picks.

“He really wanted to be on this All-Star team, so I’m more than happy for him,” said Carter, now with the New Jersey Nets. “I called him yesterday and left him a message asking him if he was nervous about it. I remember how we felt the day of the draft, so I can imagine.”

Before guard Larry Hughes suffered a broken right thumb, the Wizards were looking at the possibility of having three players make the team. When Hughes was injured Jan. 15, he was averaging 21.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.3 assists and a league-leading 2.82 steals. In his absence, the Wizards have gone 6-6.

“Absolutely, he deserved it,” Jordan said of Hughes. “Larry’s contributions were as big as Gil’s and Antawn’s.”

Both Jordan and Hughes have said they will attend the game in Denver.

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