By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
It is midafternoon, and another day of Mavericks training camp has wrapped up, sending the players scurrying from the practice court in the lower reaches of the American Airlines Center. Some head to the ornate locker room and gorge themselves on chicken and fish and warm, fresh breads; some camp in the weight room and attack dumbbells or walk/run themselves tired on the treadmills; others cloak their massive bodies in the posh comfort of heavy white robes embroidered with the team logo, looking important and relaxed.
There is no rest for Antawn Jamison. The newcomer is about to be ass-deep in a vicious fight, his first imbroglio since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to Dallas a few months ago. Until now, the man has been polite and gregarious, eager to help everyone he meets, always flashing an enormous smile. For nearly two weeks, I tried to get Jamison's guard down, to make him snarl or at least curl his lip in defiance, to show some sort of emotion that wasn't sugary. He remained affable; I remained frustrated. I mean, a professional athlete posing as a nice guy? Come on.We've seen this story before, and we know how it ends--on a depraved, vapid TV show like Inside Edition or, worse, in a courtroom, and almost always with the player crying and begging the world to forgive the transgression the rest of us never saw coming.
"Not even you can find something negative about him," a Mavericks PR staffer chortles. "He really is a good person."
I'm just not buying it. And this is where the charade ends, because I'm close to exposing the man for a fraud. Jamison is sitting on a plush leather couch in front of an enormous television in a back corner of the Mavs clubhouse. He's an avid gamer and has agreed to play some journos in NBA Live 2004. I plop down next to him and grab the other PlayStation 2 controller, positive that this will be Jamison's unmasking. If there's a human alive who can play me in a video game and sit idly while I talk ridiculous trash, I've yet to meet him.
Both of us play the Dallas Mavericks--not my choice, but when in Rome. His team wears the old-school green uniforms. Mine is clad in the jazzy white numbers. At first, there's not much opportunity for me to infuriate him, because Jamison thoroughly whips me, manipulating his controller deftly like a giant pinball wizard. He nails jumpers with video Dirk Nowitzki and throws down ferocious dunks again and again with--predictably--video Antawn Jamison. Suddenly, I'm the one who's getting mad. This isn't going well.
Just when I'm about to abandon the fight, an occasion presents itself. I kick the ball inside to Shawn Bradley. (I hate to do it, but he's open.) For the first time maybe ever, Bradley rises to the occasion and hammers home a monster windmill dunk, sending me into a frenzy of gesticulation and verbal harassment.
"Shawn Bradley just dunked on you," I say, taunting Jamison with words that must burn an NBA player. His only reaction is a good-natured chuckle. I decide to kick it up a notch. "Oooh, I just dunked on you," I say, resorting to the always-effective childish sing-song voice. He laughs again. I push him on the shoulder. Take that, I think, waiting for him to smack me with the back of his big manhand. As he turns, I brace for the collision, fortified by the knowledge that I'm about to be proven right; he's not a nice guy, he's merely a guy; he's about to unleash all that pent-up rage, and I'll finally have something to write about. Except he doesn't bite. Jamison only laughs harder, looking at me with amiable, cut-that-out curiosity. The bastard is enjoying this. He's enjoying his time playing video games with a bunch of media asses. How can that be? Doesn't he know he's screwing my story?
When the game ends, Jamison says goodbye and tells me to let him know if I need anything else for the feature. He actually means it.
I find myself trying to rework the image of the professional athlete in the cramped quarters of my small brain. Jamison, for whom the Mavs traded their best playoff performer and the city's favorite scrapper, Nick Van Exel, has been in town for only a few months, but he's already managed to ingratiate himself with nearly everyone by doing nothing more than being his jovial self.
And he's no phony. I suppose I had better get used to that notion. We had all better get used to it. Because this is what you get from Antawn Jamison--grins and giggles, well-wishes and claps on the back. Bend your head around that, come to terms with it, because he's not changing, and he's not going anywhere. If the Mavs want to improve on last season's brilliance, if they want to advance beyond the Western Conference Finals and win a championship instead of backsliding into the pack, they'll need everything Jamison can give them. He'll have to excel where other imports like Juwan Howard and Raef LaFrentz have failed--in the post, rebounding and doing the dirty work.