April 6, 2004

Webber Hears the Boo-Birds at Arco

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It started as a murmur of scattered jeers drizzling down from the stands at Arco Arena. But as the Sacramento Kings March 21 game against the Houston Rockets swung into high gear with the clock ticking down and the points on each side of the scoreboard piling up, the murmur turned into minor mayhem as boos rained down on Chris Webber, the King’s golden boy who played more like hardened sediment than precious metal that day.

With each missed shot — all 14 of them — the taunts got louder, and the crowd grew more restless, angry at its star, who had missed much of this season with a knee injury; embroiled himself, his team, and his alma maters in controversy; and forgotten to bring his game out of the locker room on his own court.

Fueled by a spicy King-sized carne asada burrito and a “Gary special” shooter, the secret recipe for which no doubt lowered my inhibition, I belted a few boos myself. Unlike many of you Phily, New York, and Beantown die-hards, who find nothing unordinary about shamelessly telling your hometown heroes just how you feel when they play like their shoes smell, the boo barrage shocked Sac- town. Following the game, as my hosts and I listened to radio commentary in the car ride home, announcers debated the legitimacy, necessity, and courtesy of the conduct. A few callers were appalled, but I agreed with the other Sacramento sentiment: Webber should have gotten balled.

On the day, the King’s franchise player and usual go-to guy shot 9.5% from the field, sinking only four buckets. He looked slow, jogging down court at Yao Ming speed — about as fast as a Beijing junk at half sail. And even as teammate Brad Miller battled through a massively swollen bursa sack in the elbow of his shooting arm, even as Peja Stojakovic busted his butt to find openings outside the arc, and even as Sacramento struggled to keep pace with the momentarily red-hot Rockets, Webber continued to make sloppy passes and take ill-advised shots.

I guess the spring in Webber’s step and spin on his shot haven’t quite caught up with his knee, which Webber says has healed just fine since he had surgery on it to repair ligament and cartilage damage some months ago. Granted, Webber’s missed two-thirds of this season due to the injury. He’s also sat out an additional eight games this season for sports-unrelated problems. Three of those benchings were the result of a criminal contempt conviction for lying to a grand jury during an investigation into $280,000 in gifts he received from a booster throughout his playing days at Detroit Country Day and the University of Michigan. The other five were added for Webber’s failure to comply with the NBA’s drug policy.

To his credit, Webber has taken the setbacks and insults in stride, albeit a hobbled one.

“I’m disappointed this happened, to affect the team like this. My hope and desire is to get back on the court as soon as I can. Now I have a date when I know I’ll return. Hopefully, I can just move forward,” he told the Sacramento Bee regarding the suspensions.

In response to questions about the boos, he told the Bee, “What can you do about it? I’ll remember it, but that’s it.”

In spite of the stoic reply, I imagine the fans’ rebuttal did jilt the star’s ego. After all, he’s used to living like a King. As the only major professional franchise in the city of roughly two million, the Kings are the hottest ticket in town, and fans revere players and pay a high price to watch them. According to most Sacramentonians, those boos were the first they could remember for a player on their own team.

A second-row seat to the game (which two members of my party fortuitously received early in the fourth quarter from some dismayed fans who’d decided they’d seen enough) cost $600 apiece. Kings gear to show your support for the boys will set you back at least $50. Much of that revenue goes towards paying salaries like that of Webber’s, which is worth over $127 million.

And what can you buy with that kind of cash? In Webber’s case, some sweet rides with 22-inch rims and booming bass. (You could illuminate the dark side of the moon with the amount of light that reflects off the chromed chariots in the players’ parking lot.)

For the minivan-driving fans who pay that kind of money to support these luxuries, the boo serves as a vote: in lieu of polling stations and primaries, the boo is their voice of concern, if not contempt, for players who make millions but play a one-dollar game or allow extracurricular activities prevent them from playing at all. And make no mistake about it, there were no hanging chads to cloud the results of this Arco recall.

Why, then, were so many Sacramento fans so upset over the vocal vote that day. Why was there such public outcry over such a harmless event? Those same fans sure don’t get as riled up when their Governator decides to increase taxes and cut funding to ameliorate the state’s woeful budget problems. Plus, it’s not like the fans who did boo tried to throw tomatoes or rocks at Webber, though he does have a penchant for getting stoned. The crowd’s reaction was merely a simple and humbling reminder for Webber to get his act and his game together. Maybe it will work. Maybe more fans should employ the tongue lashing as a means to encourage other problematic athletes to step up to the plate and deliver on or off the field as well.

Boo who? Boo due, Chris.

Everett Hullverson is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. He can be contacted at ejh27@cornell.edu. Chew on This will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson