By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I wouldn't be in this situation if it wasn't for my upbringing," Jamison says. "My work ethic, I get it from my mother and father. Seeing them come home after one job, and they're tired, and they gotta go back to work. They didn't really have to do it, but they did. Sometimes, I go out to work out, and I might feel like I'm tired or I might feel like I can't go on, and I think about that and I remember that I got it easy compared to a lot of people. I'm out here fulfilling my dream and doing things that I love."
Jamison has been working on that dream for a long while. He could dunk a basketball on a regulation goal by the fifth or sixth grade. He played organized football, too, and he was a good quarterback for a time. But he loved basketball most. He played after school each day until dusk. "It was something that I loved to do, and it made my parents happy to know that I wasn't out running the streets or getting into trouble," he says.
He stayed close to home for college, choosing to wear Carolina blue. He was wildly successful in three seasons as a Tar Heel. As a junior, his last year playing hoops at Chapel Hill, he was named Player of the Year by nearly every media outlet that handed out such an award. He was just the second North Carolina player to be so honored by The Associated Press. The first was Michael Jordan.
Jamison never won a title with the Tar Heels, but his career was brilliant, and by 1998, most of his college teammates, including Vince Carter, were ready to make the jump to the pro ranks. He was, too, so he declared for early entry into the NBA. His future seemed bright.
"That's why I was so sad for him at first," Dean Smith says, his voice trailing off.
As an organization, the Warriors had been wretched for years. Really, they hadn't been good at all since Don Nelson left Oakland way back in the early '90s and the extraordinary triumvirate of Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin was disbanded. But that was all going to change with the addition of Jamison. He was going to be the team's savior. On that, both Golden State and Jamison agreed. Where they differed was in how they might achieve that goal.
"It was tough there, especially my first year," Jamison says. What you usually notice about him are the thick, ink-black eyebrows and, more than that, the handsome, gleaming white teeth that are constantly on display. But here, for the first time, the smile vanishes. He's not exactly frowning--more like his face has slackened, like the emotion has been drained from him somehow, left behind in a place he'd just as soon forget. "Coming from North Carolina, being the Player of the Year, and then not playing, that was tough. You're so used to the ball running through you and you being able to show what you can do. That first year, not getting the opportunity to play and showing that you deserved to be a high pick, that was the hardest thing. My rookie year I doubted myself. I never thought I didn't belong, but I wondered if I was just gonna be a guy coming off the bench getting eight or nine minutes."
The biggest humiliation came right away, in public, with nowhere to hide. In his first game as a pro, the Houston Rockets came to town. It was a team full of future Hall of Famers--Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley--and Jamison was eager to prove his worth. He'd flown his family into town and gotten them great seats just a few rows off the court and close enough to the Warriors bench that they could all steal looks at one another. They really were great seats, maybe even better than Jamison's, whose ass, not to mention pride, began to get sore quickly that night. The first quarter went by without him playing a minute. Same for the second. In the third quarter, then-coach P.J. Carlesimo saw fit to play him over the last few minutes. He got a couple more minutes in the fourth quarter, and that was it. A grand total of 10 minutes for the fourth pick in the draft. The kids who mop up sweat before free throws see more floor time. Jamison finished with the oh-so-impressive line of zero points and one rebound. Ugh.
It got worse. He was criticized by the media for being a failure, for not being able to single-handedly rescue the Warriors. He caught flak for developing slowly while former teammate Vince Carter--who was selected behind him and traded from Golden State to Toronto--caught everyone's eye with absurd, showy dunks. As one Bay Area writer noted during Jamison's rookie year: "Jamison over Vince Carter--were they nuts?"