First-Round Pricks Farewell to Chris Webber, and good riddance to the Chris Webber era

Brick and Disorder: Webber’s mural has since been covered, but his crappy legacy lives on.
Charles Steck/File

Chris Webber’s recent retirement didn’t get the attention it deserved around here.

Perhaps Wizards fans are just too happy with the current state of the franchise, which clinched a fourth straight playoff berth on Friday, to dwell on the Webber Era.

But anybody doubting just how good things are now should look back to that, um, special period. O, what a time! O, what a team!

Webber’s squads had some similarities to today’s Wizards. Well, make that, one similarity: Both were dominated by a trio of players and personalities. Today’s Big Three: Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison, and Gilbert Arenas. Yesterday’s: Webber, Juwan Howard, and Rod Strickland.

But this late model bunch wins its share of games and is as likable as any in the league (who doesn’t love Caron Butler?). The Webber Era confabs weren’t only uncompetitive—one playoff appearance, zero playoff wins—but hindsight reveals their rank as the most unlikable team to ever call this town home (who doesn’t despise Rod Strickland?).

The Titanic set sail in November 1994 when the then Bullets gave four first-rounders (Tom Gugliotta, 1992’s No. 6 overall, plus three future picks) to Golden State to bring Webber here.

By January, Webber was going to the press to complain about the food served on the team’s chartered flights: “You got this little thing right here with beef on it. I don’t eat beef,” he told the Washington Times. (Owner Abe Pollin bought the team its own plane in 1998.)

Webber was also soon publicly slamming the front office for not consulting him before making personnel decisions.

In hoops-unrelated affairs, Webber and a sponsor commissioned a 50-foot rendering of him on a Chinatown wall. He also laid out architectural plans for a 15,000-square-foot home on a 14-acre site in Prince George’s County, complete with three islands, officially dubbed the Chris Webber Estate. And Webber started a record label and called it...Humility Records. (Cassette copies of Webber’s own Humility release, a rap recording titled “2 Much Drama,” are often available on eBay for less than $5.)

And, remember, Webber’s the guy who made the throat-slash gesture infamous, threatening New Jersey fans with it after a March 1998 game against the Nets.

He wasn’t any nicer to the home fans, charging a $15 membership fee to the Chris Webber Fan Club, then lowering it to $6 after getting slammed for greediness.

Much of the Webber Era’s despicability came from players doing things that didn’t show up in the box score. Like: getting arrested. The beginning of the end of Webber’s run here came when he was pepper-sprayed and busted by Prince George’s police in January 1998 after a very high-profile bust. Webber was convicted of a few minor driving offenses that came out of the incident, but a jury cleared him of more serious charges, including assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, and possession of marijuana.

Because of the arrest, Webber missed a session to produce a promotional video of the Wizards theme song “You Da Man” for season ticket holders. When the team rescheduled the shoot to accommodate the star’s legal affairs, Webber again didn’t show up.

Pollin gave Webber away to Sacramento for an old-and-in-the-way Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe in May 1998, then went on the air with George Michael to say Webber’s “antics” were “a disgrace” and that shipping out his star player was the only way to go.

Howard began his awful run with the team in November 1994, the very same day as Webber, signing an 11-year $37.5 million deal as a rookie to end his holdout. Those negotiations ended when the team agreed to allow Howard to void the contract after two years. After two losing seasons alongside his fellow former Fab Fiver—including a 21-61 record and last place finish in 1994-1995—Howard bailed out of that deal and held out again for a seven-year, $105 million contract from Pollin.

Just months after signing the second whopper, Howard, whose good-guy image was pushed by agent David Falk to force the Bullets to re-sign him at the inflated wage, got arrested for drunk driving after partying with Webber at LuLu’s Mardi Gras and yelling at cops on M Street NW. After the arrest it came out that Howard was involved in a paternity suit for nickel-and-diming the mother of his 4-year-old son.

Howard, like Webber, didn’t show up for the “You Da Man” video shoot. And the local masses grew to despise Howard long before the Wizards traded him to the Dallas Mavericks for Etan Thomas, Christian Laettner, and a gaggle of nobodies amid the 2000-2001 season. By the end of the 1998 season, in fact, his and Webber’s approval ratings were so low that when both were accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a party at Howard’s Potomac home—charges made from whole cloth, as it turned out—most callers to sports radio were sure they were guilty. Shortly before leaving, Howard was booed by the home crowd after taking the court to plug his youth charity.

That left Strickland without a D.C. posse. The borderline all-star and borderline sociopath had been brought in from Portland in a trade for Rasheed Wallace.

Whereas Gilbert Arenas now gets peeved when doctors tell him he’s too injured to play, Strickland pulled no-shows at games because doctors told him he could play. He was once fined a game’s pay—$111,111 according to a report in the Washington Post—for not coming to practice after the team physician ruled that his shoulder injury shouldn’t prevent him from suiting up. It’s not like Strickland had a reputation for taking care of his body: After he threw up on the court mid-game in New

Jersey in March 1998, Strickland admitted having a pre-game ritual of shoveling down pizza and hot dogs just before tipoff.

Then there were the off-court scrapes. A whole lot of scrapes.

He’d been a bad actor before coming to Washington. Strickland broke his hand in a 1991 barroom brawl in San Antonio and was arrested the same year for indecent exposure in Seattle. He was charged with battery after a fight in a Chicago parking lot in 1994 and had to complete court-ordered counseling sessions for domestic abusers after pleading guilty to a 1995 assault on the mother of his son in New York.

He added many lines to that rap sheet around here. Strickland’s first drunk-driving arrest in this market came in September 1997 after he’d made an illegal U-turn on New York Avenue NW; Strickland’s “Do you know who I am?” defense failed to sway D.C. cops. His second DUI arrest here came in April 1999, just weeks after completing probation for his first offense, with cops saying he ran three red lights on 16th Street NW. His third DUI arrest here came in January 2001, when police saw his Cadillac SUV juking on the George Washington Memorial Parkway shortly after 3 a.m.

He was also arrested for disorderly conduct in October 2000 when police said he wouldn’t follow a fire marshal’s order to empty out the Republic Gardens nightclub on U Street NW. The law didn’t get involved, however, when Strickland gave teammate Tracy Murray a seven-stitch eyebrow gash in a brawl at a North Carolina hotel in 1997.

The official end of the Webber Era came when Strickland was paid $2.5 million by the team after the 2001 season to void the rest of his contract, just to get him to leave. But he wasn’t done tormenting this area; Strick came back to town on the night of Sept. 11, 2001. We know this because Strickland was arrested after members of his entourage, which included wimp soul maven Chico DeBarge, took out their 9/11 frustrations by pounding on fellow customers in the parking lot of a T.G.I. Friday’s in Bowie (“The TGIF Massacre,” Nov. 2, 2001).

Once more with feeling: Sept. 11, T.G.I. Friday’s, Rod Strickland, and Chico DeBarge.

Oh, speaking of bad music: Strickland joined Webber and Howard in pulling a no-show for the “You Da Man” shoot from 1998. With none of the Big Three around, producers were left to let Lawrence Moten, then on his last 10-day contract with the Wizards, star in the video for season ticket holders.

Our Readers Say

Congrat's to my Bro. & Best Wishes to you WEBBER.....People REMEMBER this you can never say anything Bad on the Good that anyone does.
Not only was the U of Michigan timeout call a fiasco, you could excuse that given their age and their success to that point. But a result of illegal payments squashed several years of Michigan records from the books. Webber pled out when the main witness against him died.

Not going to go into the Webber years at Golden State, but suffice to say he basically wrecked one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the NBA at the time. The turmoil he caused in the front office, and day after day of extremely harsh criticism from the press, the Webber trade was basically the beginning of the end. The beginning of a very long playoff drought.

Then talk about the Sacramento years. He had a number of run-ins out on the town, and he cultivated a very combative relationship with the press. When one of the Sac Bee lifestyle writers wrote a story about his girlfriend Tyra Banks, Webber cut off interviews with the press. Then it was basically a circus which ended up as a nightmare for the Kings.

Bad dude. How many franchises has this guy killed?
I boo Howard every time I see him at a Zards game. I blame him, not webber or strickland for ruining my basketball childhood. People often look at me weirdly when I'm booing this nincompute (kornheiser) when there's only 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter. I just take these onlookers as DC transplants who stand to the right on metro and have no idea what Howard & Webber did to this community. I have no problems with Strickland...he bought me a drink a long time ago at Republic Gardens...judging from his records...I probably shoulda called a cab for his ass on a few occasions. Anybody have a copy of "big G"s Rod Strickland Call....All around ball player, jumper shooter, man my man......RoDDDDD STRICKLAND!!
Let's not forget Webber and Howard pulling the always-classy "Do you know who I am?" when they got their DUI's.

What a bunch of rich bums.
Great article! Howard and Webber were two bad guys who were talented but self indulgent, reckless and a danger to themselves and the DC community. I will never forget the beating in the press that poor old Abe Pollin took for having to give away Webber for old Mitch Richmond. It was the only deal he could get at the time, no one else offered anything for Webber. Pollin, a generous, philanthropic man was treated like he did something wrong by the local press and some fans until the whole story came out. The fact that Webber never won a championship at any level is a very telling fact. Howard, the man who gave herpes to several women from coast to coast was at best a role player who got lucky and had a career year before his contract year. He took the money and never performed to that level again. Strickland was just an alcoholic who couldn't help himself.
To Webber's credit: He got an otherwise pennypinching Pollin to come into the then present by making upgrades to team meals and team flights...

Strickland was a perennial bum who quit on this town, the east coat version of JR Rider, talented but really didn't give a fuck. The real unsung hero was Chris Whitney who ruined both ankles and shortened his NBA career by having to play hurt while Rod acted like a lil spoiled bitch...Whit was a real soldier whose time here went underappreciated by damn near everyone, team and fans alike. It's a shame most supposed 'fans' barely remember him.

And finally, no one would have turned down those millions and I don't blame Juwann for taking them; I blame another known cheapskate: John Nash, then GM for not signing Howard to the 6 year/24 mil deal that was originally on the table. He's the idiiot (with cheap Abe's blessing) who created the whole 'Miami Heat Mulligan' situation where Howard got all those dollars after the league pulled Howard back from Miami and giving the Boulez a 'do-over'. Nash makes Bob Ferry look like Jerry West...and Ferry was terrible, often trading big for small and fast for slow and young for old.
Fantastic article! As a lifelong diehard (at 8 yrs old, bailed on my sis' birthday party at Glen Echo to sneak into the house and hole up by myself to watch THE game 7), I have paid dues long enough to remember the Fab Two era with special pain. I get furious every time I hear someone mention the AWAY trade of Webber as the worst Bullets trade ever, when the FROM of Googs + 3 was infinitely worse.

Any success Webber ever had was courtesy of Jalen, Run-TMC, Rod-Gheorge-Murray-Price-Legler or Vlade-Peja-White Chocolate. One thing your article does miss: his absolute lack of commitment to the game. He never bothered to work on any aspect of his post game. The only thing he ever improved was an outside shot (why?) and passing out of the post, which if you're too lazy to improve the worst footwork in NBA history, you might as get rid of it to your better qualified teammates.

The guy easily filled a statsheet the first 43 minutes of a game, and was MIA the last 5, which are commonly accepted as the only minutes that count. Back when he wore Bullets white, he once blindly swatted at a last second heave, earning him a game-winning shot. He cluelessly gloated over the fact that this was the first game-winner he ever made. I.e., the guy that had 100x more physical talent than anyone on the court had NEVER TAKEN OVER A GAME WHEN IT COUNTED at any level of basketball. More to your point, he never seems to have realized that this was a problem.
Didn't I see the esteemed Rod Strickland as an assistant coach for the Memphis Tigers this past college season. Not a dude I'd think would go into coaching, especially at the collegiate level.
WOW! I just read this and I hadn't moved to the area yet when the article was published. Great reading. Just another reason why you never acquire a player who played at the University of Michigan. That program is still suffering from the actions of Webber and Howard 17 years earlier.

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