(EDITOR’S NOTE: Antawn Jamison played basketball in college at North Carolina, was a first-round pick in the 1998 NBA draft and spent 16 seasons in the league with the Warriors, Mavericks, Wizards, Cavaliers, Lakers and Clippers. He was the 2004 Sixth Man of the Year and a two-time All-Star who scored more than 20,000 points, averaging 18.5 points and 7.5 rebounds over his career. He had 37 points and 10 rebounds as Golden State beat Michael Jordan’s Washington team in 2003, was on the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and the Mavericks with Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, and took on LeBron James’ Cavaliers in three consecutive postseasons before joining him and Shaquille O’Neal in Cleveland. As part of an Associated Press series on the NBA at 75, Jamison describes what it was like to share a court and a locker room with some of the central figures in the transitional decade of the 2000s.)
When I think about the guys I played against, and I played with, you can’t go wrong with saying the 2000s was probably the best generation of basketball players you could ever come across. When you’re going through it, and you’re on the court with them night in and night out, you don’t get the opportunity to reflect. Now that it’s been a while since I retired, I can.
Michael Jordan was the reason a lot of guys in my generation played the game of basketball. I had an early introduction to Mike at the University of North Carolina. He came a couple of times in the offseason, spent some time with Coach (Dean) Smith, played a little golf and played some pickup games with us. I would pretend I was Scottie Pippen. Shammand Williams would “be” Craig Hodges. It was the best feeling in the world.
Michael is a guy we looked up to: He’s on everybody’s Mount Rushmore; he’s the best player to ever play the game of basketball.
When I played against him in the NBA — sold-out crowd, electrifying — I had a pretty good game, so I was yelling and getting hype. And what really stood out was, Michael being Michael, he told me: “Young fella, just calm down. Hey, Tar Heel, calm down.” I made sure I kept my mouth closed and just played.
I was with Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley in Dallas. That was where I saw you could have so many talented guys on one team. And we all had one thing in common, which was try to win, and once I experienced that, I was like “OK, this is what it’s all about.”
I was a teammate of Shaquille O’Neal. A teammate of LeBron James. I had a locker next to Kobe Bryant and saw how he prepared, night in and night out. Some people used to give him a bad rap as far as what type of teammate he was, but if you cared about the game of basketball and you wanted to be great, he was the best teammate ever. He just wanted to win and he wanted to do things the right way. And also a guy I called a friend.
In Washington, I played with Gilbert Arenas, who was an up-and-coming young guard who was giving people fits before his knee injury. I went up against Tim Duncan — dealt with him in college for a year; just one of the toughest competitors out there, even though he demonstrated it differently than Kevin Garnett, another great I had to deal with in the NBA. Paul Pierce, too.
You always hear this talk about “Who is the torch going to be passed to?”
In the middle of my career, along came LeBron, this young kid from Akron, Ohio, who in my eyes is the second-greatest player to ever play the game of basketball, behind Mike.
To deal with the pressures of being the savior of Cleveland, being the next guy to “be like Mike,” and the way he has done it — with class, the way you would love anybody to represent the league. We had a young, up-and-coming Wizards team that had some great pieces and we came close to getting past him, but we couldn’t do it. I saw ’Bron transform and be able to put a city, put a state, put a team on his back and accomplish something they had never accomplished before.
And let’s not forget that skinny kid from Davidson who stays in Charlotte and ended up being my offseason workout buddy the last five, six years of my career. We’ve seen Steph Curry take that next step to be arguably the best shooter to ever lace up a pair of shoes.
When you say “greatness,” I definitely have been blessed to be around it. I’ve definitely been able to see it.
And ’Bron is still going, Steph is still going.
Antawn Jamison is Senior Director of Pro Personnel for the Washington Wizards and a member of the National College Basketball Hall of Fame.
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