When Ernie Grunfled traded Antawn Jamison to the Cavaliers during the 2009-10 season, many Wizards fans assumed that would be the end of the Jamison era in D.C. A great player and crowd favorite during his run in Washington, the former North Carolina star was part of the Washington franchise's best success since the 1970s, and Jamison built a special bond with the city and its fans over six seasons.
And in a flash, Jamison was gone.
He would play five more seasons - three in Cleveland and then one each with the Lakers and Clippers - but Jamison's time with the Wizards was both delightful and volatile, a wild time for basketball and wild off-court stories. The good news, now, is that Jamison will be back with the Wizards as part of CSN's broadcast coverage of the team.
"Every time I get the opportunity to come back to D.C. I’m always excited," Jamison said of his new role. "It’s a special moment for me."
Jamison will work on CSN's Wizards broadcast team in a number of roles, both as a studio analyst in Wizards Pregame Live and Postgame Live working next to Frank Hanrahan, Tony Massenburg and Ron Thompson as well as working on the game coverage with Chris Miller and the legendary pairing of Steve Buckhantz and Phil Chenier for some games. His debut will come Tuesday night as the Wizards take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It's remarkable to think that some of Jamison's most memorable games came in the playoffs against James and Cleveland, and in a way, opening his Wizards television career with a game against LeBron seems full circle. Jamison talked about those games, and the Wizards dashed title hopes, especially in the years when teamed with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler Washington had one of the best teams in the East.
"I remember I had a picture of the Larry O’Brien trophy in my locker because deep down in my heart I knew that we had the talent to do something special," Jamison said of those teams.
Stories of the downfall of those Wizards teams are now over-told, the demise of Agent Zero from both injury and off-court decisions. Jamison wonders if he could have done more in those days, even though he never found himself in trouble, but as a teammate, captain, and friend.
"As you get older you always say to yourself, ‘If I would have paid more attention to this or got to that person and talked to him.’ At the time it felt like you were doing enough, I was the captain, being positive, being the perfect teammate, but it wasn’t enough. If I could go back and just find a way to talk to Gil or whoever it was to try to keep those outside distractions out. I think that was the biggest problem that we had."
The collapse of those playoff Wizards teams into a rebuilding collection of square pegs and round holes was difficult for Jamison.
"I have my fondest memories, and my best moments as a professional athlete, occurred when I was in the D.C. area," he said. "I was upset—like how could something so good turn around 180 so quickly? And, you know, things just kind of exploded."
With time comes perspective, and with Jamison now out of the NBA for two years and away from Washington since 2009, he has been able to watch the current Wizards team grow and sees them as a threat in the East facing similar foes as his Washington squad did some eight years ago.
"You look at the Wizards now and they went through that whole process of getting John Wall with the No. 1 pick, and Bradley Beal," Jamison said, before conceding, "yeah you got the LeBron hurdle."
Though the Wizards are slumping right now, the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. Jamison said the Wiz need more bench production and the team is in the hunt to come out of the East.
"I think if the Wizards can stay healthy, and like I said get some more activity from the bench, they can compete with anybody," Jamison said. "There’s not going to be a playoff matchup where you’re going to be like, ‘Well, it can go this way or this way.’ I think it’s all about matchup and most importantly, the team staying healthy and getting their confidence at the right part of the season."
Jamison has the next six months to hopefully talk Wizards basketball, but before his first day working as an analyst, he has some emotions to sort through. Now a father of four kids, Jamison remembers three being born while he was playing with the Wizards, including his 8-year-old son A.J. that was born at Sibley Hospital. He knows the area well - he lived in Friendship Heights and Bethesda as a player - and the opportunity to talk basketball with Buckhantz and Chenier seems to resonate the strongest.
"I feel like Buck and Phil, after games we would talk basketball and just life and things like that and now to get the opportunity to call a game with them it’s special because I know these guys," he said. "I couldn’t imagine learning from a better team than those two guys because of the history that we do have and, like I said, I remember times we’d be on a plane or on the bus after a game and good times just talking."
It won't all be learning either. The first time Buckhantz catches Jamison putting on makeup for the TV cameras should be interesting.
"You know Buck is a funny guy and most people don’t really see it but I used to just joke about anything with him," Jamison explained. "He’s been doing his own makeup before, about to go on, and I’m like ‘What are you doing makeup for?’ And now I’m the one that’s got to put on makeup."
Don't expect Jamison to intrude on the chemistry that Buckhantz and Chenier have displayed for years, and it will be interesting to get Jamison's perspective Wednesday as the Lakers come to town. That game marks Jamison's first work as an in-game analyst, and will also be the last game of Kobe Bryant in D.C. as the former MVP announced his retirement at the end of the season. Jamison played with Bryant in Los Angeles, and has done TV work as a Lakers studio analyst, providing an intimate knowledge that could provide keen insight.
Jamison knows he will have to learn his spots during the broadcast, including any last-second shots. Asked specifically if he would try to replicate the famous DAGGER call, he laughed and said, "We’ll leave that to Buck."
If there was one point Jamison made again and again about coming back to work on Wizards basketball, it came about the familiarity and comfort of being in D.C. The words seemed so genuine about his excitement to work on Wizards basketball, and it's not like Jamison hasn't had other opportunities, working in L.A. with the Lakers broadcast. But it was clear this seemed a special opportunity.
"There’s just so much history," he said. "You couldn’t script this out at all."