Webber's Kings are a royal surprise; NBA: Now with resurgent Sacramento, Chris Webber faces the Wizards tonight for the first time since Washington traded him.


During a celebration of a Washington Wizards win last week, two fans in a midcourt luxury box decided to make a statement. The two unfurled a banner that, within seconds, had the attention of many in the crowd and most on the Washington bench:


Fan 4 Life


When Chris Webber -- CWEBB -- was asked yesterday whether payback will be on his mind when he visits the MCI Center tonight with the Sacramento Kings, he laughed.

"That's the last thing I have time for these days, rivalries and all that," Webber said at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, where he was preparing for last night's game against the Philadelphia 76ers. "I'm not trying to put all that extra incentive in it. It's not like I circled this on my calendar."

Maybe he didn't circle it. Knowing Webber, he probably used a bright highlighter on every calendar he owns to mark tonight's game against the team that traded him to Sacramento after last season for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe.

And while Webber may not be happy in the city he's in (he said he'll finish his current contract, and then he's gone), he's probably ecstatic about the company he's keeping. The Kings, who finished 27-55 and missed the playoffs last season, are 5-6 and perhaps the NBA's most surprising and exciting team in the 3-week-old season.

Credit for Sacramento's turnaround goes to a trio of new faces -- Webber, center Vlade Divac and rookie point guard Jason Williams -- who have helped take an offense that ranked 22nd in the league in scoring last season (93.1 points) to the current top spot in the NBA (98.3).

In a season-opening stretch that has them playing 10 of their first 13 games on the road, the Kings have won at Phoenix and Seattle and have pretty much been competitive in every game as they try to post their first winning record in 14 seasons in Sacramento.

Webber is perhaps playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 22 points and 13.8 rebounds and posting 10 double doubles in 11 games.

"I don't know of anybody who is playing better than him right now," Kings coach Rick Adelman said of Webber.

Divac, who signed as a free agent before the season, is nearly averaging a double double with 9.7 points and 10.2 rebounds.

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the play of Williams, the 6-foot-1 point guard with a flashy style similar to "Pistol" Pete Maravich.

Like his high school basketball teammate Randy Moss, Williams -- whose nickname is "White Chocolate" -- had problems in school that eventually led to his dismissal from the University of Florida basketball team. And like Moss as a rookie, Williams has been sensational. The seventh pick in the draft has averaged 15 points and ranks fourth in the league in steals. One of the highlights in the early NBA season: a hesitation move by Williams that left Seattle's Gary Payton, the league's best defensive guard, seemingly standing in cement.

"He's got a lot of heart. He can play," said Payton after that game. "He's going to be good. He has a little spark in his game."

Said Charles Barkley, whose Rockets beat the Kings on Feb. 10: "That kid Williams is a stud."

"Stud" is one word people have used to describe Webber since he entered the league in 1993 and won the 1994 Rookie of the Year award with the Golden State Warriors.

Webber was traded to Washington in November 1994, and the 6-10 forward -- along with college teammate Juwan Howard -- was supposed to be a cornerstone of the franchise.

But Webber has been hampered by off-the-court problems: a feud with then Golden State coach Don Nelson, a traffic arrest in Prince George's County, a marijuana charge in Puerto Rico and a sexual assault allegation (Webber was never charged) stemming from an incident in Montgomery County.

Those incidents, coupled with Washington's one playoff appearance in four seasons with Webber and Howard, led the Wizards to trade Webber.

Asked if he thought he and Howard should have been given more time in Washington, Webber answered: "It doesn't make a difference now. I really try not to think about things that don't matter."

Webber refers to Washington as "home," but he said he does not follow what the Wizards are doing other than to check Howard's box score. After he and Howard took separate legal routes after a sexual assault allegation against them last spring, comments made by Webber indicated a rift between the two.

"There was a statement in the paper that everybody took the wrong way. It said outside pressure always put strains on our relationship," Webber said. "And that's true. Whether you're married with somebody, or friends with somebody.

"But Juwan's one of my closest friends," Webber added. "And I always expect him to be that."

It will be the first time since high school camp that the two former Michigan teammates will have played against each other in a game.

"He's made me a better player, I think I've made him a better player," Webber said. "I'm really not looking at that one-on-one matchup."

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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