By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Very few people gave Jamison slack for being a post-up player in college who was asked to play face-up in the NBA. Not at all an easy transition. Not that the journos cared any. What mattered were the numbers, and he wasn't putting them up.
"Just imagine in college you've got your back to the basket and you're playing against 4s and 5s, then you come into the league and you're playing Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston and they're blowing by you," Jamison says. "That's another world. Mentally, you have to have a mind frame to play a different position like that. Not just defensively, but offensively, too. I was used to backing people down and throwing the hook, and now I'm on the perimeter and I'm like, 'What the hell am I doing?' I'm trying to cross over Doug Christie, who's one of the great perimeter defenders in the game? Or I'm going against Kobe and those guys? That was just very, very difficult. I didn't know what to do. That was the toughest thing I've had to do in basketball."
Not until his second season did he begin to realize the potential that he and everyone else believed he possessed. Through 43 games that year, he was one of the best small forwards in the league, averaging more than 19 points and eight rebounds per game. Naturally, something had to go wrong--it always does in Golden State. Jamison strained his left knee against Miami and missed the rest of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery.
He came back from that injury and played well, but problems kept arising. A never-ending stream of coaches (five in five years), a lack of organizational direction and an open door that he watched countless qualified teammates walk out of on their way to better clubs. Perhaps it hardened him--if not his resolve, then his game. The rotating cast of coaches and players forced Jamison to become more well-rounded. He went from a player in college who played almost exclusively with his back to the basket, to a guy who can put the ball on the floor, hit a 15-foot jumper or bang down low. His is a unique skill set, forged in the fires of Golden State's ineptitude. He fought through all of it, averaging more than 20 points and seven rebounds during his five-year career in Golden State.
Jamison could have given up, but that's not his style. Even in the off-season, he's not the type to sit around and let his waistline expand or cry about how hard things have become. Instead, he got up every morning and headed to the Warriors workout facility. He'd get there by 9 or 10 a.m. and go through a bitch of a routine--weight lifting, running, a few thousand jumpers.
He was always there, as much a part of the landscape as the balls and hoops. That's partly why it was so easy for the Warriors to find him when everything went down this past summer. In August, on a day like any other, a Golden State secretary came looking for him, breathlessly telling him to call his agent, who then told him that the Warriors general manager, Garry St. Jean, was thinking about trading him and to make sure he stayed by the phone. And when a G.M. says he might trade you, he's going to trade you.
The deal was eventually finalized, and he was shipped to Dallas, along with Fortson, Chris Mills and Jiri Welsch, in exchange for Van Exel and a bunch of spares. For the Mavs, it was an unqualified coup. "[Mark] Cuban needed a sucker to agree to a deal this bad, and he found one in the Warriors owner," ESPN.com's Chad Ford wrote.
For Jamison, it was his deliverance, and for a good while no one could suppress his joy. He practically bounded into town, agreeing to just about anything anyone asked because he was so damn happy to be with the Mavericks (and not with the Warriors). He even popped off a little, uncharacteristically telling one Bay Area newspaper that his time in Golden State was like being in jail.
"When I said that, that I felt that I was in jail, it wasn't that I was unhappy," Jamison says, backpedaling some. "It felt that I was in jail because we could never get anything right. It felt like I was in jail because I was hurt that first year. It felt like I was in jail because when we had a good team, all my teammates would get injured. It felt like I was in jail because we had a great year last year, and then we lost players in free agency. It was one thing after another. It wasn't like I was in jail because I wasn't happy; it was because things never got right. Things never got right to the point where it didn't feel like we could get into the playoffs and make some noise. That's why I felt like we were in jail, because we couldn't get shit right. That's why I feel now like I got a get-out-of-jail-free card. It's like someone handed me the keys, and I got to open the gate and walk out the front door a free man."