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When will D.C. be rid, really rid, of Chris Webber?
It’s been two months since the Wizards jettisoned Webber’s slacker butt to Sacramento. But there’s still plenty left to purge.
The Modell’s outlet inside the MCI Center did its part by putting all Webber jerseys at half price ($15-$120, with the discount) after the big trade. Store managers now expect their Webber inventory to be shot by the time the next NBA season starts, assuming all of the various millionaire constituencies work out their differences.
Officials at the MCI Center Sports Gallery promise remnants of Webber will soon be evicted from their hall, too. Hoops, the H-O-R-S-E video game, still has Webber’s ugly mug and smart mouth. (“You didn’t put enough Webber on it!” a cyber-Webber taunts players who miss a free throw, “Webber” apparently being a synonym for mustard when it comes out of the mouth of this particular hot dog.) On Monday, the Gallery filmed Mystics star Nikki McCray shooting around to take Webber’s place in the virtual-reality realm.
But all that still leaves the most conspicuous vestige of the departed player: the Webber mural. And, sad to say, we could be stuck with that big picture for some time.
As if Sunday’s Mystics loss to the previously pauperly Sacramento Monarchs wasn’t depressing enough for the locals, fans entering and leaving the building had to face Webber. Five stories’ worth of him.
A 50-foot painting of Webber, for those who haven’t been to the MCI Center, has covered most of the west facade of the Oriental Building Association (OBA) edifice across from the arena on F Street since last fall. Just before Abe Pollin’s new house opened, Baltimore-based footwear giant FILA commissioned James Crespinel, a large-format artist from Seattle, to put Webber up against the wall.
Crespinel took a photograph of Webber provided by FILA, blew it up to the size of the mural, traced it onto sections of perforated paper, positioned those sections up against the wall, and rubbed charcoal dust through the perforations to leave a faint image on the wall, which he then painted over. In just five days, Webber stood tall over Chinatown.
“It’s an age-old process, the same one Michelangelo used when he did the Sistine Chapel,” Crespinel says.
(So how come Crespinel finished off Webber in just five days, while his Italian counterpart took years and years to doll up a church wall? “He had to deal with the Pope. I didn’t,” Crespinel chuckles.)
At the time it was unveiled, the Webber painting caused quite a stir. Capitol Outdoor Media, the firm that negotiated the FILA-OBA mural deal, says it is the only commercial artwork of its kind in D.C. But unlike Michelangelo’s Renaissance art, the Webber work won’t get a chance to stand the test of time. And Webber has only himself to blame.
The larger-than-life image of himself that the young player had to look at whenever he drove to work clearly had a negative effect. After the MCI Center opened, an interviewer asked Webber whom he would choose if he “could be any person in history.” Webber’s response: “I like being me at this point in history. I have the ability to influence history. I may be the person to discover the cure for cancer, improve race relations, or end poverty. It is important for each of us to be ourselves and do what we can to make the world better for the next generation.” A brief reality check suggests that Webber never had much luck making his team better, let alone the world.
When his mouth wasn’t getting him in trouble, other parts of his body did the job. He alienated fans with his January traffic/drug bust and alienated management by being implicated in a sordid, if fictional, sexual escapade at Juwan Howard’s Potomac digs when the Wizards should have been making a playoff push. He may not be guilty of criminal acts, but he stands convicted of being a cad with misplaced priorities. So at season’s end, the organization, in an uncharacteristic burst of good taste, shipped Webber off to Sacramento, the NBA’s version of a black hole, on May 15.
The trade allowed FILA to exercise a clause in its contract with OBA that voided the deal if Webber left the Wizards.
Capitol Outdoor had hoped FILA would retain the rights to the wall even after Webber took off. Mystics star McCray, as it turns out, is also under contract to FILA. On some levels, she seems a natural to fill Webber’s, well, shoes: McCray was supposed to carry her team, too. But the Mystics have underachieved to a degree only Webber can truly appreciate, having won just two games this year.
“We got terrific exposure from Chris Webber being on that wall, and we hate to lose it,” explains Mark Westerman, FILA’s director of advertising. “But he’s gone.”
As soon as FILA said goodbye, OBA put whitewashers to work on the wall, but they hit only on those parts that carried the company’s name and slogan (“Change the game”). That left Webber standing tall. And he’s still standing. Other than maybe Webber, nobody’s happy about that.
“The truth of the matter is, Chris Webber is still up there because it would cost a lot of money to get him off,” says Bill Jarvis, an attorney for Capitol Outdoor. “We know it doesn’t make sense from anybody’s standpoint to have a guy who’s no longer with the team on that wall.”
Capitol Outdoor thinks another Wizard would make the best fit. But the current NBA lockout prevents men’s basketball players from signing endorsement contracts until the labor negotiations are settled. So, the company has begun looking at other sports teams in the area, hoping to find a replacement player for Webber. (A Redskin would seem a natural, but Gus Frerotte’s antics in last year’s Giants game make putting him against a wall a little redundant.)
If and when a new model gets signed, Capitol Outdoor will commission a cover-up of Crespinel’s work. The artist says that even after 25 years on the job, he still gets attached to every painting, but he’s learned how to say goodbye.
“That’s the nature of my business,” Crespinel sighs. “When you’re putting it up, you know it’s coming down. There’s not many people in my field, so oftentimes it ends up I’m the guy rolling up the white paint over my own painting. Hey, it’s like life; nothing is permanent.”
No slight to the wall painter, but it never should have come to this. Webber never deserved his own mural in Washington. A bust would have been far more appropriate….