“Free C-Webb!” – An Appreciation for Chris Webber, the Analyst

A Sports Scribe, Basketball — By on May 17, 2012 at 7:00 am


Just about a year ago, as NBA fans fretted about the eventual lockout, TNT announced that it would add Shaquille O’Neal, the recently-retired legend, to its Inside the NBA team. The bidding war between the Time Warner network and ESPN had to have been fierce considering he was a walking quote machine during his playing career. When he was signed, there were already ponderings on how he would mesh with friend and former on-court adversary, Charles Barkley. It seemed to be as close to comedy heaven as sports TV could get.

Yet, already hiding in our bunkers from the theoretical nuclear winter, Shaq’s arrival compelled many of us – this Scribe included – to ask one question, and for good reason.

“What’s going to happen to C-Webb?”

Chris Webber, the previous major addition to TNT’s broadcasting team, has made quite the name for himself since retiring from the NBA in 2008. Beyond his other interests and efforts – the restaurant business, music production and a longtime appreciation of African-American artifacts – his media work has been largely well-received by fans and media.

Say what you will about his relative lack of on-court successes – and many of you think of that first – but Webber was probably one of the more cerebral players in the NBA. If not for his offensive gifts, you would have probably never heard of Peja Stojakovic or Hedo Turkoglu, may have forgotten about Mike Bibby, laughed Jason “White Chocolate” Williams out of the league, and dismissed Vlade Divac for nothing more than the king of big man floppers. With those players, and countless more, Webber developed strong rapports with each using his court vision.

Said rapport, along with his penchant to call things as he would see it, put him on TNT’s radar rather quickly. So quickly, in fact, that two days after his retirement, he was on the Inside the NBA set, throwing verbal jabs with Barkley and Kenny Smith while finally giving Ernie Johnson a semi-sane analyst to bounce questions to. That rapport was easily translated from the court to the studio in one of the smoothest athlete-turned-analyst transitions of any sport in recent memory.

We truly got to see Webber step up to the plate in the early 2009 absence of Charles Barkley, who took a hiatus from ‘Insideafter his DUI arrest on New Year’s Eve ‘08. During those two months, Webber showed that he could not only bring the comedy to and against Smith – the banter between Smith & Barkley has been an integral part of the program’s success – but he could provide a better perspective from the player’s point of view. That C-Webb’s retirement was more recent allowed him to relate to the current players much better than either Smith or Barkley, as he was not too far from playing with and against the majority of them. As if he was still looking at game tape on an off-day between games, he could relay tendencies of certain power forwards in a way that Barkley couldn’t. He could spin Smith’s telestrator-assisted analysis on its ear with a contrasting comment or question.

Most importantly, he didn’t try too hard to replace the outsized personality of Barkley, even when Sir Charles returned from hiatus nor did he kick ‘Kenny’s Pictures’ to the side. While respecting the veterans of the show, he found his voice quickly, and rarely let any personal biases overshadow his analysis (Let’s be for real: Charles & Shaq hate the Knicks, and you know it.)

During show prep before one of the first broadcasts of The Exchange last year, my co-host Sumit Dasgupta had a pretty apt description of Webber’s approach to his television work, once stating that “he is versatile on the mic as his game was on the court.”

It’s that versatility that answered producers’ questions on what to do with him when Shaq arrived. Besides sticking with the ever-expanding team at NBA TV, he’s provided color commentary to many games this season, even as part of TNT’s ‘C-team’ with Dick Stockton. The jury still seems to be out on his live commentary at games, but he’s less of a cause of aneurysms among basketball fanatics than Reggie Miller seems to be.

It seems that C-Webb has a home with TNT/NBA TV, something to appreciate considering the alternatives. He could be on the host-less ESPN halftime shows; seemingly stifled by the tighter, faster pace of commentary that forces each analyst to be heard. Arguably, worse yet, he could be a hidden gem with a local outlet with little national exposure.

There’s no doubt that he shines brightest in the studio, where fans clamor for strong insights before, during, and after the games. Yet, as his former on-court rival struggles to find his on-air groove, Chris Webber may finally have the edge on Shaquille O’Neal where it counts these days: at a television near you.

J. Clinkscales

Jason is the co-host of The Exchange on BlogTalkRadio with Sumit Dasgupta (@skd_thExchange) and spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon's beat writer for the New York Giants. Also a vastly undersized PF.

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    9 Comments

  • Personally, I think Webber is fantastic in the studio. He did a wonderful job on TNT with Kenny & Chuck, and then filling in for Barkley. And he was tremendous in the studio from day 1 on NBA TV. Watching him and GP go bonkers was entertaining as hell, and he is without questoin excellent at analyzing the game as well as being entertaining.

    As for calling games live, that’s where he definitely needs to grow. Listening to him during this Boston-Philadelphia series, I’ve been less than impressed. Not that he doesn’t make some excellent points – he still does. He is great at analyzing, like you said. But his flow and constant recall of NBA legends during the broadcast gets a little disjointed.

    I’m hoping he can develop in that regard because I love his insights. But if not, we know he’s dynamite in the studio.

  • Joe Simmons says:

    Having worked on radio and television, I have learned that preparation is everything. You can’t do a good job doing color commentary if you don’t do your homework. Chris Webber is solid with his knowledge of the game and it makes for great game analysis in the studio. There you have time to collect your thoughts. His color commentary needs work. He is getting better and in my opinion he is the best former player at it in the league but if he is going to grow as a color guy, he has to put in a little more work. When you listen to guys like Hubie Brown it he always ads something that makes you watch the game even harder. C Web is close but he’s not quite there yet.
    Good post though. I love listening to him when he is no the tube.

  • JAG says:

    Good to know that I’m not the only one who felt this way. I found Shaq’s first year to be a disappointment. His picking on Howard for using the “Superman” moniker grew tiresome. (I’m sorry, did Shaq invent the Superman character?)Shaq is also too recently retired to feel comfortable criticizing other players.

    Webber was very good on that show, and, as the Rev pointed out, he was dynamite with GP. I hope they find a way to get him more studio work, maybe with NBA TV.

    As a diehard Buckeye fan, I don’t pass out compliments to Wolverines easily. Excuse me while I go scrub these fingertips that created this comment.

  • J. Tinsley says:

    1. Hubie Brown, like The Rev said, is a national treasure and should be appreciated.

    2. Chris Webber is fine by me in the announcing booth. I see a lot of people give him a hard time, but that job is nowhere near as easy as people make it seems.

  • Mike Bafta says:

    Good to see an athlete to make that progression from his previous occupation, to possibly management someday, who knows.

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