Entertainers sending videos to prospective NBA free agents, in the hopes of luring them to a particular city in the league’s offseason, are nothing new. The New York Knicks went all out in 1996 with a video package featuring Woody Allen and Spike Lee amongst others imploring players like Reggie Miller (who didn’t), Allan Houston (who did), and Chris Childs (samesies) to sign with the Knicks. The Cleveland Cavaliers reportedly put together a rather crass "Family Guy"-esque video for LeBron James to cackle at when he was considering options during the summer of 2010, amongst many other examples.
Apparently comedian Martin Lawrence gave Chris Webber the same treatment in the summer of 2001, working on behalf of the Detroit Pistons. Lawrence talked about as much last week on Jimmy Kimmel Live, as discovered by Brendan Savage at MLive.com:
In an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live that coincided with the beginning of the NBA Finals last week, the comedian explained it.
"Joe Dumars wanted to recruit Chris Webber back in the day for the Detroit Pistons," Lawrence told Kimmel. "So he called me and asked if I would put together a comedy tape that would recruit him and get him to come to the Pistons.
"And I put together a comedy tape and he didn't come. So I guess it didn't work."
But Dumars, who eventually did land Webber near the end of his career, apparently appreciated Lawrence's effort.
"And when they won the championship, they sent me an honorary ring," Lawrence said.
If you were the sort of bored teenager that liked to spend hours looking at player bios on NBA.com in the 1990s, as I was, you’d remember that seemingly every NBA player save for Brent Barry (a noted "Seinfeld" obsessive) and probably John Amaechi ("Blackadder", we hope) listed "Martin" as their favorite television show. The sitcom was Detroit-based and Lawrence's character was notably a huge Pistons fan. We can’t recall if C-Webb was amongst that lot of show supporters, but Mr. Lawrence did hold considerable sway back then.
The 2001 offseason was Dumars’ second with the Pistons and his first offseason where he had final say on personnel transactions. He smartly hired Rick Carlisle as coach that summer and made all manner of cap-friendly deals to build up the depth that eventually led to the Pistons’ 2004 championship. But prior to those deals, Dumars did boast quite a bit of cap space – certainly enough needed to pry Webber away from the Sacramento Kings.
The Kings were just a few weeks removed from losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Webber was in his prime, averaging better than 27 points and 11 rebounds that season, and then-Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof famously promised to mow Webber’s lawn (via an eye-rolling billboard campaign) if he agreed to stay with Sacramento. Detroit, meanwhile, was coming off another terrible season, a hard-to-watch campaign with Jerry Stackhouse piling up the points, and it couldn’t pay Webber as much as the Kings could dole out.
Dole out they did, to the tune of seven years and $122.7 million. Webber and new addition Mike Bibby brought the Kings to the brink of a championship in 2001-02, falling to the Lakers in an infamous 2002 Western Conference finals, but a leg injury in the 2003 playoffs set Webber’s career adrift.
By 2004-05 a limited Webber was an unmitigated cap clogger, and the deal then-general manager Geoff Petrie put together to dump Webber on the Philadelphia 76ers (for a series of long-term contracts in Kenny Thomas, Brian Skinner, and Detroit’s 2001-02 power forward Corliss Williamson) did little to relieve the financial burden. The Maloof brothers went on to betray the city of Sacramento by attempting to sell the team to buyers in Seattle before leaving for good in 2013.
Webber? He eventually ended up a Piston midway through 2006-07, but at 33 his best days were behind him, and he was not asked back the following summer.
Martin Lawrence? His career has continued apace, and he even got a ring from Dumars as an honorary Piston because of it. Sound work, for a guy that couldn’t seal the recruiting deal.
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