When we think of players who “changed the NBA,” names like Michael Jordan and Steph Curry come to mind. The combination of how these two changed the way fans and fellow players saw the game, along with success achieved with their respective teams, is why Jordan and Curry are the two most influential figures in terms of how the game is played today. MJ made the fade-away jumper a fundamental part of each great player’s arsenal, something he would punish opponents with when he was not gliding through the air in acrobatic fashion en route to six championships and six NBA Finals MVPs.
Chef Curry is the league’s only unanimous MVP and the leader of the record-holding 73-9 Golden State Warriors of 2016, feats he achieved by changing the dimensions of the game and extending the range of the game to lengths never thought to be possible. However, Curry and Jordan are both guards. So for the modern big man, who paved the way for their success? Was it Kevin Garnett? Tim Duncan? Partly, but much of the credit should go to the recently inducted Basketball Hall of Fame member, Chris Webber.
“Chris had the ability to go coast-to-coast and dunk the basketball at 13 years-old. From that point on I knew he was going to be a special player.”Jalen Rose, via NBA
At 6’10, Webber was a first of his kind, a legitimate big man that could block shots, play defense and handle the ball with guard-like skill. Chris took what Charles Barkley did in the 80s and took it up several notches. Later in his career, C-Webb developed a consistent jump shot, which helped him average over 20 points per game for nine consecutive NBA seasons. I also cannot think of a big man that could pass out of the post better than Webber did, be it with a standard drop pass of a beautiful wrap-around to hit an open cutter making his way down the line. Duncan, Garnett, and Nowitzki all get much praise from NBA fans, but truth be told, Chris was just as good as each one of those all-time great players. Sadly, the only reason why he is seemingly a tier below them is that he never won a ring.
“Sports is the most fair platform because it’s unfair to everyone. I know a little bit about that.”Chris Webber, via Hall of Fame
The above statement could not be more true for another NBA player; no superstar has worked so hard and come close only to come up short in the end repeatedly. Chris Webber has been through a lot from his days at the University of Michigan and the mishap in calling a timeout to the numerous NBA playoff heartbreaks, non more painful than the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers back in 2002. Winning is never guaranteed in the NBA or life, and Webber’s career serves as a reminder that results are not what matters most.
“What matters most is the commitment. Embrace it. As someone who had to go up against KG, Tim, Shaq and Hakeem in a week, embrace it.”Chris Webber, via Hall of Fame
Chris’ speech was a beautiful one, one that helped remind us of his pivotal role in paving the way for this generation’s big men. Webber’s excellence on the court in all aspects of the game is something that we ought to celebrate because this is how Detroit native made his mark on the game. Somehow, as I was listening to his speech, the words coming from Chris’ mouth were not merely words of gratitude and celebration but a challenge to the NBA players of today.
The challenge is to continue to come into the league and be yourself, commit to your craft as hard as you possibly can and the recognition will come. Today, we judge players by the number of championships to their name or the game-winning shots they have hit. No one seems to purely appreciate players for the joy they bring to basketball fans with the beauty of how they play the game, and it’s all about winning when reality, the game is there to entertain and inspire us.
In Chris Webber’s words, I could sense the validation and vindication of a player that never won a championship but brought so much to the game of basketball. Without C-Webb, we probably don’t see Nikola Jokic. Without Webber’s impact on the Sacramento Kings of the early 2000s, we probably don’t ever get to watch the level of creativity and connectivity present in the dynasty Golden State Warriors led by the Splash Brothers and Draymond Green. It’s good to see Webber get the ultimate recognition, now being part of The Hall, but it’s even better to hear him challenge the superstars of today to embrace the moments that raise them and continue to compete against the best without the guarantee of winning. To guys like Damian Lillard, who are incredibly loyal to their teams, keep that same energy because, like C-Webb, you will one day receive the ultimate honor, champion or not.