Webber gets relief on court Booed Wizard scores 20 in loss to Blazers

January 22, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- From the start, Chris Webber knew he was about to play in a hostile environment. Just one day after his arrest, Webber heard quite a few boos during the pre-game introductions -- a reaction that his teammates found shocking.

"For the fans to give a mixed reaction like that, that's not right," teammate Calbert Cheaney said. "If anything, you have to try to support the man."

Just over 24 hours after being released from a holding cell at a Prince George's County police station, Webber got to do something that he could control -- play basketball. And he didn't play that badly, scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds, although the Washington Wizard lost, 100-87, to the Portland Trail Blazers last night at MCI Center.

It was after the game, when he was about to face the massed media surrounding his locker, that Webber appeared uncomfortable and maybe a bit embarrassed.

That's because he knew few wanted to talk about the 13th straight game in which he'd scored more than 20 points, Most wanted to discuss the nine misdemeanor charges against him, including second-degree assault and possession of marijuana in an incident in which officers had to use pepper spray to subdue him.

A court date for Webber has been set for April 2.

Webber, at the advice of his attorneys, refused to discuss the incident.

"I'd like to talk about that when it's over and maybe with an unadulterated perspective," he said.

The usually outgoing Webber did show signs of being affected by his arrest, answering questions in low and halting tones. Asked about the negativism being attached to his name after what had been pretty much an incident-free stay in Washington, Webber appeared to get emotional.

"My little sister she was crying and wanted to leave school," said Webber, saying that his sister was the victim of taunts. "Things like that definitely affect me. It bothers me. It puts the pressure on me. That's the toughest thing about it, how my little brothers and sisters are being treated."

Webber said he was actually looking forward to playing last night's game.

"When I have something against me, it seems like it's easier for me to perform," Webber said. " I put all my concentration into being vindicated. It kind of helps you focus more."

While the organization has said little in reaction to Webber's arrest, the team appears to be rallying around the 6-foot-10 forward. Coach Bernie Bickerstaff seemed confident things will work out for Webber in the long run.

"I think adversity, when it manifests itself, it gives you an opportunity to step forward or step backward," Bickerstaff said. "And I think Chris Webber will take the high road. And I think he can come out better. Because I think he'll show the honesty and integrity he has. We make mistakes, and you have to step forward."

Still, the incident and the negative attention it has drawn to the team could wind up being a distraction. The Wizards were on a four-game winning streak when Rod Strickland and Tracy Murray scuffled in a Charlotte hotel on Dec. 10. After that, the Wizards lost three straight.

"You roll up your sleeves and continue to work," Bickerstaff said. "The team has pride. Things happen and it's a test to what you are all about as an individual and as a team."

Coincidentally, it was Isaiah Rider, suspended for two games at the start of the season after a conviction for marijuana possession, who led Portland last night with 29 points.

Rider said: "It will pass. I know Webb. He's strong. He made a mistake and he's not going to let it hold him down. He won't make the same mistake twice."

And the Wizards claimed the incident has not shifted their focus from basketball.

"It's something that's happened, and we all at some point in our lives make mistakes," said reserve forward Harvey Grant. "We're all grown men and we come here and do a job for two to three hours. To say its a distraction, I can't see it. Not at all."

Pub Date: 1/22/98

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