YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

What, Him Worry?

Webber focuses on NBA, even as trial approaches

November 10, 2002|Barbara Barker | Newsday

NEW YORK — Chris Webber does not worry. It's not his style.

He doesn't worry about Shaquille O'Neal and the trash-talking Lakers. He doesn't worry that they simply have his team's number, that he will forever be denied a championship trophy because the team O'Neal calls the "Sacramento Queens" just keeps finding new ways to hand the Lakers a Western Conference title.

Nor does Webber worry about what could be an even bigger stumbling block to his championship aspirations: that he might have to face a perjury trial in Michigan in the middle of this season.

On Sept. 9 -- a little more than three months after his team's overtime loss to the Lakers in Game 7 of the West finals -- Webber and several of his family members were charged with conspiring to obstruct justice and lying to a federal grand jury. But you wouldn't know it from talking to him Wednesday.

"Right now, I'd say I'm at peace and that's good," Webber said last week. "I'm just focused on winning a championship."

The Kings don't like to talk about Webber's Michigan situation. Coach Rick Adelman has called it a distraction only in the context that the media keeps bringing it up. Yet, come December, the Kings could find out just how major a distraction it will be.

U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds has set a Dec. 9 date, when attorneys for both sides will debate how much longer they will need before going to trial, which means it won't open until at least January. The charge against Webber, his father and his aunt stem from testimony they gave two years ago to a grand jury that was investigating Ed Martin, a University of Michigan basketball booster.

Webber, who has pleaded not guilty, could be in for the fight of his life.

If convicted, he could end up in the big house, and by saying that we don't mean Michigan Stadium. Two of the four counts against Webber could each result in five years in prison, though legal experts have said a guilty plea would garner him as little as home confinement.

Webber said he can't discuss the case, but when asked how confident he was that he would come out on top after his day in court, Webber said, "Very confident."

Though Webber has never been in this kind of trouble before, he is no stranger to controversy.

It began his rookie season, when he and Don Nelson went at it in Golden State. It dogged him in Washington, where he was arrested, but later acquitted, for marijuana possession, resisting arrest and second-degree assault in connection with a traffic incident.

Webber, however, has maintained his focus on the court since coming to Sacramentoand has become the main cog in the team's hopes for an NBA championship. There are many out there who think this should be the Kings' season; their talent is deeper than the Lakers and they have finally experienced the requisite heartbreak needed to become a champion.

Webber, however, believes his season was last season. Because of that, he's almost on a mission to right what he feels is an egregious wrong.

"I'd like to say that this year is my best chance, but last year was my best chance," he said. "Hopefully, this year, we can make the most out of it. I am excited about the opportunity to win a championship. It feels good to have a chance. It feels good to believe not just because you have faith in yourself, but because you have faith in your teammates."

The Kings have struggled with injuries, including those to Mike Bibby and Scot Pollard, in the early going this season.

Webber, who is coming off an ankle sprain, has sat out a four of the Kings' first seven games because of the injury this season. And the Kings remain a favorite to win the Pacific and have set their sights higher: shutting up the Lakers.

Bad blood between the two teams escalated in the preseason when Doug Christie and Rick Fox went at it, and ended up with suspensions for Christie (two games) and Fox (six games).

"They've won championships, so anything they do, people are going to say it was a mental game," Webber said. "They'll say it was a preparation game. It wasn't them getting out of character or getting scared or making certain comments about certain guys' family members. On the street, that's something you would get your head knocked off for.

"This isn't about trying to beat someone in a war of words or prove something. To me, if we don't have a championship at the end of the year, all we proved is that we could talk."

Webber sees a championship as a way to reward those who have stuck by him, both the fans in Sacramento and in Detroit.

Webber, once a hero in his home state, has taken a bit of a beating in Michigan this off-season. But in characteristic fashion, he said he is not letting it bother him.

"In the city of Detroit, I have their support," Webber said. "In the suburbs, you know how that goes. There are people who support you, and people who don't. You have to make the best out of it. If I'm ever so lucky to win a championship, it will be for the people who support me back there too."

Los Angeles Times Articles