SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Chris Webber got a royal welcome in
his return to Sacramento.
Webber was all smiles and hugs before the Philadelphia 76ers'
meeting on Monday night with the Kings, who traded the five-time
All-Star in a six-player deal just 33 days earlier.
The early moments of Webber's much-anticipated homecoming went
just as expected -- plenty of hellos and handshakes, followed by a
deafening ovation for the cornerstone of the Kings' renaissance.
"When there's a trade, when somebody returns home, it's going
to be an emotional night," Philadelphia coach Jim O'Brien said.
Webber spent parts of seven seasons in Sacramento, leading the
team in scoring for five straight years while the Kings made six
playoff appearances and won two division titles in the longest
sustained period of winning in the franchise's history.
But with a chance to unload the final 3½ years of a $127 million
contract for a thirtysomething power forward with a surgically
repaired knee, the Kings shipped him out along with Matt Barnes and
Michael Bradley in exchange for Corliss Williamson, Kenny Thomas
and Brian Skinner.
And the fans haven't forgotten. Dozens turned out in jerseys and
T-shirts featuring Webber's No. 4, and many others held up signs in
tribute. Arco Arena was sold out for the 263rd straight time --
every game since November of Webber's second season in town -- but
this crowd had a special buzz.
Barbara Rust displayed 11 handmade signs from recent seasons,
including ones reading "This is Webber's World" and "4 Ever Will
Be the King of My Heart," on her seats a few rows above the Kings'
bench. Rust has been a Kings season ticket-holder for all of the 20
seasons since they moved to Northern California, and Webber always
was her favorite.
"I keep reminding myself that after tonight, I won't get to see
him again," Rust said. "The team totally changed forever when he
got here. I just love what he did for the city, too. He did a lot
of charity work."
Webber didn't have much to say before the game, only joking with
reporters and clubhouse personnel. He attended a chapel service
before taking the court for his reunion game.
When Webber was introduced, the fans immediately jumped to their
feet in a raucous ovation. Webber briefly tried to ignore it before
raising and clapping his hands in appreciation for the cheers -- and
they would have lasted longer than a minute if the announcer hadn't
introduced Allen Iverson, who drew his usual boos.
After hugging everyone in a Kings uniform, Webber opened the
game with a perfect jumper from his favorite spot on the left wing.
Thomas, who was unhappy and mostly unused in Philadelphia, answered
with baskets on the Kings' next two possessions.
Webber hit four of his first five shots, scoring nine points in
the first seven minutes. Thomas also had something to prove, had 10
points and six rebounds in the first nine minutes.