Chris Webber has evolved over the last decade in the broadcast booth to become one of the go-to voices for TNT’s primetime NBA games.
With the season slated to begin next week, Webber will also be taking part in NBA TV’s “Players Only” broadcasts, where only former NBA players comment during the games.
Now in his ninth season with Turner since leaving the NBA in 2008, awaiting a Hall of Fame induction, Webber spoke to Business Insider about his growth as a broadcaster, the wild NBA offseason, and of course, if anyone can beat the Golden State Warriors this season.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Scott Davis: Is there anything you still feel like you’re picking up as a broadcaster or still hoping to learn?
Chris Webber: “Well, I’m still learning every day, I’ll tell you that. And the great thing about being at Turner for so long is I’ve been able to kind of work up, and learn about different levels and work my way up. I really learn from the talent and the producers and directors there. Yeah, I’ve got a lot to learn. I’m gonna continue learning hopefully, but I’m gonna continue to improve, but hopefully there’s been large improvements since I started.”
Davis: Has anything changed about the job since you’ve been doing it? The involvement and evolution of advanced stats comes to mind.
Webber: “No, that hasn’t really changed much. I think the argument of the use of analytics vs. the eye test or how consistent can analytics be when it doesn’t have a constant variable, so it doesn’t take into [consideration] when you were playing on the road, if it was cold that night, if you were tired, if you were coming off of injury. Those are the types of things more so that’s discussed. But no, stats and information that’s always been the same, and the more the better.”
Davis: Is there any team you’re most interested in watching this year or calling games for?
Webber: “No, but I think there are a lot of cool stories, you know, besides the obvious ones of different guys going different places, from OKC, to Houston, to will Golden State repeat, to the big trade in the East with Boston and Kyrie [Irving] and Isaiah Thomas. I think some underlying stories are: John Wall was voted the best point guard in the East. He’s been criticized before, and now we’ve all given him a lot of props with his maturity. Does he come back, and how good will they be this year? Or a lot of times you see the teams are one-hit wonders or they stop when they get to a certain level. How will that go?
“Also, I think just the young teams. When you look at Philadelphia, how will they improve? Lakers, it’s gonna be fun watching them develop. So along with the wonderful storylines, I just think there’s some great underlying storylines that will be fun to watch this year as well.”
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Davis: Is there any team that you would declare the winner of the offseason?
Webber: “Whoa. I’d say Golden State’s the winner of the offseason because they got Kevin Durant a few years ago, so that helped them win every offseason they have him.
“But I would just say Cleveland looks like one of the deepest teams in the league right now. They look good. And then you look at Boston, any time you get a Gordon Hayward. It’s really hard to say. You can’t really quantify guys’ motivation. When you look at [Carmelo Anthony] out there playing with Paul George [on the Thunder]. Those guys have a lot of motivation. So, it’s gonna be fun. Chris Paul. I can’t say that one team won. That question is only gonna be answered at the end of the season.”
Davis: You touched on some of the super-teams. You obviously played on some deep and talented teams from college to the NBA – how does a team adjust to having multiple superstars and learning to play with one another? What happens behind the scenes to make it happen?
Webber: “Well if a lot of that is going on behind the scenes to make it happen and not everybody together making it happen, then it’s not gonna work. That’s what I mean not being able to quantify motivations. It’s not gonna be hard. Usually the hardest problem you have in playing with new superstars is deferring. And then you guys have a talk about, ‘Listen we both can’t defer. Let’s both play our games and figure out how to find each other within it.’ And that comes. Deferring is almost like a sign of respect. I had that when I played with Allen Iverson and vice versa. I’ve seen other players do it. I’ve been told by the players they’ve done it … So it’s not any behind the back jostling or negotiating for time or shots or anything like that. Usually guys work that out on the floor. And if you’re a great player, you find your way to get in there to fit in.”
Davis: How quickly do you think that’ll take for some teams? Like Houston, for example – how long will it take for Chris Paul and James Harden to fit into a system and learn how to play together and off one another?
Webber: “Well, when LeBron went to Miami, I thought it would take two years, and I was right. Well, when Durant went to Golden State, I thought it might take another year. I was wrong [laughs].
“I don’t think it will take that long. I think that the one thing that intrigues me about Chris Paul and Harden together is that those two, I believe, were one and two in ball-handling last season in minutes or possessions handling the ball. That, to me, is just really tough when they play the same position. In order for Harden to play in MVP-type caliber ball, he has to have the ball in his hands a lot. And I’m sure in the 4th quarter, they’ll work a way out. [Rockets coach Mike] D’Antoni, to me, is one of the best offensive coaches in the game. So, I think he’ll answer that question, but that’s the one thing they’re gonna have to overcome.”
Davis: You mentioned the Warriors winning the offseason. Is there any team right now that you think can beat them and how do you think is the best way to beat them?
Webber: “I still think you have to look at Cleveland. Cleveland now is deep. They also have a number of guys that can play the four position, that can go up against a Draymond Green or might be able to maybe get in the way of Durant just a little bit. They seem like they’re deep on offense. And then they have a guy who led the league in fourth-quarter scoring last year in Isaiah Thomas, who you can’t underestimate his heart. And now you’re gonna have to play defense on both ends. So, I would say it [will be] Part 4 of the championship drama.”
Davis: There’s some debate about how best to play the Warriors, whether it’s slow it down and play them physically or try to match their scoring? What do you think works?
Webber: “Well, I think in a seven-game series you’re not gonna do one and beat them four times … I think that’s why Cleveland may still have an advantage in the East. They have multiple guys that can stretch the floor, shoot three-pointers, but they also have guys that can get to the hole and finish. Kevin Love still can space the floor and post up. So now you have guys that can play defense. So I really think you have to balance it out. I don’t think it’s one way. You’re not gonna outscore them in a seven-game series. But you can outscore them for two games, slow it down one, and wish for the best in a fourth. So I don’t think there’s one way to beat them.”
Davis: Is there a way for the NBA to fix conference imbalance? The West looks like it’ll have about 12 playoff-worthy teams and the East looks weak, comparatively.
Webber: “I don’t think so. I think it’s all cyclical. I think if in five years when it changes to the East, I don’t wanna go back and just change it back. In some conferences it’s gonna be tough. I mean, you look at the West this year, wow, there’s some really good teams that are going to miss the playoffs.
“But that’s why you play every game and it makes every game matter. We complain about every game [not] mattering and every game [not] having an impact on the season, well, on the west coast, every single game will determine if a team makes it to the playoffs, or more importantly, home court advantage in the playoffs. I like that.”
Davis: Do you think the current small-ball, spread-out era will ever evolve back into a low-post game? It seems like young players today don’t learn about playing in the post as much.
Webber: “I think what it’s gonna turn to is you should be skilled in all areas. Just because you’re the tallest guy on the floor, doesn’t mean you should go with the big fellas on the inside and shoot post-up shots. You should shoot post-up shots then shoot free throws and three-pointers. And the same for the smallest kid on the floor. Go post up. We’ve seen guys like Mark Jackson do it, and other guards that can change the game. You should be prepared for all positions on the floor. More so than the traditional seven-footer posting up, I do see where you’ll have guys … post up, draw a double team, kick it out to a shooter. That is definitely a skill set that is needed in today’s game no matter what size you are.”
Davis: I’m curious what you thought about the NBA saying it expects players to stand for the national anthem this year.
Webber: “Well, I think the NBA’s already spoken. I think that when you’ve seen players in the NBA wear “I can’t breathe” shirts or openly talk about police brutality against unarmed black men, we’ve been supported and the players have been supported by Adam Silver, been supported by their teams and coaches. So, I don’t think the gesture of kneeling was ever really thought of by most players because they’ve been able to demonstrate in many other ways. So, giving your opinion is never something that I think has been a problem for players in the NBA. We have the support of our league to speak out on social matters, so I think that’s important.”
Davis: Do you have any other plans in basketball besides for broadcasting? Coaching? Front-office work?
Webber: “Still keeping all options open … I definitely keep that door open.”