If it’s true that Chris Webber resorted to old form, running his mouth much better than we saw him running the floor in the last 21 games of the 76ers’ regular season and in the playoffs, mere criticism is too good for him. He needs to be insulted. Excoriated. Dragged through basketball purgatory for insulting a superstar who made Webber look much better than his own health would allow.
“But none of it is true,” Webber said yesterday in a telephone interview.
Webber was talking about a report in Sunday’s New York Daily News that had him wanting out of Philadelphia. It said Webber confided in a friend that he wanted out because of Allen Iverson, because the Sixers’ mercurial star dribbles too much, and that he would be willing to take a cut from his remaining $62 million over the next three years to do so.
It never mentioned coach Jim O’Brien as a reason, either.
“I’m telling you I never said that b.s. about A.I.,” Webber said vehemently over and over again, adding that he already had called Iverson. “I love A.I. I love being back East. I’ve got no problems with Allen and I don’t know where the hell anybody got that from.
“I have a problem with me. I’ve got a problem with the fact that I can’t run the way I used to, that my legs aren’t as strong as they need to be, that my game isn’t where it needs to be for me to be what I used to be. And that’s what I’m determined to work on.
“My plan is to take two weeks off. After that, I’m back in the gym working on my body, getting in tip-top shape so I can show this town what I’m all about. As for all that talk about me saying something about A.I., that’s a… lie. The person I have the biggest problem with is me.”
Talking about Iverson won’t get Webber anywhere in a town whose credo runs one word shy of Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” challenge. But who knows what it eventually will do for him if he talks about O’Brien.
Webber isn’t fond of O’Brien. Plain and simple. While it’s been said that Webber mentioned Iverson’s propensity to shoot too much and always pass later near season’s end, I’ve heard it’s O’Brien he blamed for his travails. Not Iverson.
Webber believes that Iverson only does what O’Brien plans for him to do, that his desire to be a facilitator was squelched immediately upon his arrival, which set the stage for some of his struggles. He doesn’t believe that O’Brien can be talked to or reached, that the coach is even remotely interested in ingratiating himself with his players. That’s one of the reasons a few players privately intimated they would inquire about O’Brien’s future in Philadelphia once the season ended.
“Well, no player has approached me yet,” Billy King, the Sixers’ president and general manager, said yesterday after returning from a weeklong vacation. “No one has asked anything about him.”
If you’re O’Brien, that’s great news. Who knows what it is for Iverson? And if you’re Webber, one of two things is happening right now:
You’re bordering on misery, or you are preoccupied with acting lessons to hide it very well.