Thu. Mar 4th, 2021

Anatomy of an Analyst: Chris Webber

“Webber has the “it” factor when it comes to being an analyst. Knowledge of the game, personality and the ability to articulate what he sees in a concise manner.”

He’s most famously known for being a part of the Michigan “Fab Five” teams of the early 1990’s. Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King all became Wolverines at the same time. The group went to 2 NCAA Finals, but lost both times. Webber took a lot of heat for the second of those losses. Facing North Carolina and down 2, he attempted to call a timeout, while the Wolverines had none, a technical foul was called and the Tarheels went on to the win. Webber would declare for the NBA Draft the next season.

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Webber grew up in Detroit. He played High School basketball at Detroit Country Day School and was the most recruited Michigan high school player since Magic Johnson. Webber led his school to 3 state championships, averaging nearly 30 points a game along with 13 rebounds. Then of course he went to Michigan for two years and was taken by the Orlando Magic with the first pick of the 2008 NBA Draft, he was immediately dealt to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three future 1st round picks. He would later play for the Wizards, Kings, 76ers, Pistons and then back to Golden State where he would retire. Webber scored just over 17-thousand points and had over 8-thousand rebounds. He was a 5-time all-star. 

THE ROAD TO TNT/NBA ANALYST LIFE

After a 15-year NBA career, Webber began his new career, when he joined the Inside the NBA crew in 2008. Webber had an initiation ceremony upon joining the show. The established crew asked him a series of questions, including, “In college basketball how many timeouts do you get in a game?”. Webber responded, “I still don’t know the answer!”. With that he embarked on his broadcasting career that has seen him in the studio and courtside at games as an analyst for the NBA and the NCAA Tournament. 

Webber along with Reggie Miller are the main color commentators, working Thursday night games on the network. In 2015, he added NCAA basketball analysis to his resume, when Turner Sports became involved with CBS in the telecast of March Madness. 

WHY IS HE GOOD?

Webber, from all the games I’ve seen him do, is pretty smooth on the microphone. He articulates a point within the flow of a game and seems to work well with whomever he’s paired. I enjoy his candor when it comes to carefully calling out NBA players from time to time. He never makes it a personal attack; it’s about what a player may be doing within the framework of a game. I think he understands that because of course he played in the league. For example, he and Marv Albert were doing a game between the Rockets and Clippers just before the pandemic shut down in March of 2020. Houston frustrated Webber with its shot selection. 

“That’s the frustration with this Rockets team, you’ve got a step back three by House Jr, who should not be taking that shot, then on the other end you get a 3, that’s a six-point swing. Just because someone on paper says to take it, you need to understand your shooting percentage and how much realistically you can make it.”, said Webber. 

Makes sense to me and judging from the comments accrued on the YouTube page I watched the play on, Rockets fans agreed with the assessment. It seemed like Webber was channeling the frustration of a team’s fan base, articulating the point and having them all agree to an extent in this particular case. Some former players turned analyst are not as outright with their criticisms for fear of blowback. Webber straddles the line and doesn’t really cross it, especially in this instance. 

Webber seems to be a polarizing figure though overall. While some really enjoy his work, there are those that are not as enamored shall we say. It seems people have strong feelings, both ways, for the work he does on TNT. So much so there is an online petition started by a basketball fan “to ban Chris Webber from all TNT broadcasts moving forward.” The comments I read on the page range from “he has a total lack of care in regards to the fan experience…he is constantly off target in his analysis…” to the less thought out “Chris Webber sucks. That’s all”.

As we’ve mentioned in this column before, not everyone is going to be a fan of your work. This is not surprising at all. If you really look at it though, are they watching? They are compelled to react to what he’s saying, right? To me that makes him effective. Webber is stoking emotion in these fans and creating conversations. 

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WHY HE’D BE FUN TO WORK WITH

To me it’s his sense of humor. Webber seems like he’s having a great time and isn’t afraid to poke a little fun at himself. Take this back and forth between Webber and Albert during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2015, between the Bulls and Cavaliers. In Game 4, Cleveland head coach David Blatt tried to call a time out, without any left, luckily an assistant coach stopped him and the refs didn’t see it. TNT flashed back with Albert describing the actions and what the consequences might have been. 

“Marv, I was going to interrupt you, I hope you aren’t explaining what happens when you call a time out to me, was that for everybody else?”, asked Webber.  “Yes, for everybody else.”, said Ablert. Then Marv asked the obvious question, “What went through your mind when you saw David Blatt call for the time out when he was out of time outs?”  Webber responded, “I wish had time to undo my wrong for my team 20 years ago. That’s exactly what went through my mind.” Later TNT showed a graphic with the rule about calling a TO without one, to which Webber deadpanned, “I don’t need to see it.”. 

That is a dynamite exchange. A sense of humor must run in the Webber family. Did you know his dad Mayce Sr. has a license plate that reads “TIMEOUT”, referring to his son’s famous miscue in the 1993 NCAA Finals. Great stuff. 

SOCIALLY AWARE

It’s not always fun and games though. Webber isn’t just a former basketball player and current television analyst. He’s a man in tune with the social issues facing not just the NBA but the country and world.

Webber was front and center on the night the NBA players staged a walk off, August 26, 2020, to protest the shooting of an African-American man Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Bucks refused to take the court for a playoff game against the Magic in the Orlando bubble to protest the incident. The walkoff forced the postponement of all NBA games that night. The WNBA postponed 3 scheduled games that night and 3 MLB games were also called off. 

With no games to call, TNT used the airtime to discuss the civil unrest and shooting of Blake. Kenny Smith walked off the set in solidarity. Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley remained to further talk about what it all meant. Webber was in Orlando, getting ready to call a game, so they brought him into the show to get his thoughts. Webber was visibly shaken and was choking back tears. But he managed to make some very powerful statements. 

“I have a godson who has autism,” Webber said. “I just had to explain to him why we aren’t playing. I have young nephews who I’ve had to talk to about death before they’ve ever seen it in the movies. If not now, when? If not during the pandemic and countless lives being lost? If not now, when?”

“I keep hearing the question ‘What’s next?, What’s next?’. Well, you gotta plan what’s next. You have to figure out what’s next,” Webber continued. “Very proud of the players. I don’t know the next steps. Don’t really care what the next steps are, because the first steps are to garner attention, and they have everybody’s attention around the world right now. Then leadership and others will get together and decide the next steps.”

“Don’t listen to these people telling you don’t do anything because it’s not going to end right away,” Webber said. “You are starting something for the next generation and the next generation to take over.”

Pretty powerful stuff. 

CONCLUSION

Webber has the “it” factor when it comes to being an analyst. Knowledge of the game, personality and the ability to articulate what he sees in a concise manner. He works well with those that he’s paired with and you can tell they enjoy working with him. If all else fails for Webber, he could rely solely on his sense of humor. Don’t ever lose that Chris!  

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