"Call time out, Chris!"
It's a Friday night in the Central Valley, and the rubes are out for fun at the expense of Chris Webber, the Golden State Warriors' prize rookie, who is making his exhibition debut against the Sacramento Kings.
"Call time out, Chris!"
If he hears it one time, he'll hear it 100, tonight and every night on the road for, say, the rest of his career, which by contract is scheduled to last until 2009.
"Call time out, Chris!"
He's going to hear it in every corner and accent in America, too. It'll be "Cuawll time out, ya bum!" in New York. They'll drawl it in Dixie. They'll make the "T" sign and ask if he can count to five.
Could Webber care less?
You might not understand this, world, but that stuff is old .
It was last April in the Louisiana Superdome when he turned to referee Tom Harrington with North Carolina leading by two and the clock running down and signaled a timeout Michigan didn't have to lose the national championship.
He did his crying that night. Now he laughs about it with everyone around him.
His father, Mayce, who works in a Cadillac plant, says he's going to get "TIMEOUT" on his license plates. His mother, Doris, who teaches developmentally disadvantaged children in a Detroit high school, wants him to set up a foundation to help kids and call it "Timeout."
Chris no longer has to worry how many timeouts remain. He has a $74.4-million contract. He can hire someone to count for him.
He has more pressing worries. Three weeks and a day after undergoing an appendectomy, a week after joining the Warriors, he's breaking in, in the next-to-last exhibition. He has to start showing everyone he's for real.
Everyone doesn't have to wait long.
The first time he gets his huge hands on the ball, two Kings double-team him and pin him on the baseline. Webber snaps a no-look pass to teammate Victor Alexander for a layup.
He proceeds to unveil the entire act. He bricks jump shots, misses seven of 12 free throws, dunks horrifically, rebounds, dribbles the ball coast to coast, eludes a defender in the open floor with a crossover dribble.
Once a coach would get a seizure at the sight of a 6-foot-9, 263-pound 20-year-old wheeling and dealing in the middle of the floor, but the times, they just a-changed. As Magic Johnson said after seeing Webber on the NCAA developmental team that scrimmaged the Dream Team at La Jolla, the way Karl Malone redefined power forward in the '80s, Webber will do it in the '90s.
"We encourage it," Warrior Coach Don Nelson says. "It's the one fast break nobody can stop. Charles (Barkley) used to do it a lot. You get the rebound, you bust it out yourself, you go coast to coast and make a play.
"Not many athletes can do it, but it's the strength of his game."
Webber finishes with 17 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block in 34 minutes.
So what did he think of the NBA?
"What struck me immediately?" he says, grinning. "That it wasn't the Fab Five anymore.
"At first I felt like a kid in a candy store. Then I felt like a kid in a maze. . . .
"I just thank God for letting me play today. It's part of a dream come true. The rest will be Nov. 5, a real game. . . . You know, if I die tomorrow, I lived the life that I've been praying for. It's what I've been working hard for all my life. I played in an NBA game whether it counts or it doesn't.
"My mother and my brothers were there today. My father watched it at home on satellite so. . . . I mean, that was just the best feeling in the world today."
He laughs about the timeout stuff. He says it comes with the territory, and it really just motivates him and he knows it's all in fun.
Of course, he doesn't need too much fun.
"You see I didn't call any timeouts last night," he says the next day, laughing.
"And I damn sure won't call any more."
Meet Mayce Edward Christopher Webber III.
No NBA rookie may ever have had as many names, and none since Magic Johnson rolled out of East Lansing in 1979, also at age 20, has combined so much talent and personality.
Webber may never match Shaquille O'Neal's merchandising push, and he isn't as ready as Alonzo Mourning was a year ago, but he's a prodigy in his own right, with an 87-inch arm span (an inch smaller than Shawn Bradley's); hands that superscout Pete Newell calls the best to come into the NBA in 10 years, an easy smile and a dignity beyond his years.
His new teammates, or the few who have dodged the injury list, are impressed not only by his physical attributes but by him.
Webber, no blushing child, hit the ground talking, but it was enthusiastic stuff about what they were going to do together. That his elders lapped it up from a rookie's palm suggests just how different this rookie is.
"He has passion," says Chris Mullin, 10 years Webber's senior.
"I think a lot of guys that come in with that pressure on them sometimes go the other way. He kind of likes it. He kind of thrives on it.
"There's going to be no secrets about him. He's just going to let it all hang out. That means talking; that means letting it all fly. And that's great. That's the way to be. That's him, though. . . .
"These guys have been exposed to so much. A guy like Chris Webber, he played against the best players in the world two summers ago, and he didn't blink an eye then. He was 18."
Webber was a teen-ager in a hurry, too.
He always had been. Coming out of junior high, he wanted to go to Southwest High in Detroit, where Jalen Rose and a stocked program promised a three-year dynasty, but Mayce II and Doris made him take a scholarship to Country Day in the suburbs.
Webber didn't want to go but learned to appreciate the diversity, if slowly. He says he got comfortable in his senior year and now he would do it all again.
In his three years, Country Day went from Class D to C to B and won state titles in two classes.
Webber, the bluest chip in the nation, chose Michigan, along with Rose, 6-9 center Juwann Howard of Chicago and a pair of 6-5 Texas swingmen, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King.
They were dubbed the Fab Five, and by midseason, they were all starting, an unprecedented development in a major program.
In a preseason meeting, Coach Steve Fisher told them he wanted to make the NCAA tournament.
Webber, typically brash, got up and said his goal was the Final Four.
The Final Four was where they went both years he was there. The first time, Duke blew them out in the finals. The second time, it was North Carolina that slipped by on Webber's blunder.
What would have been quickly forgotten had it occurred in Champaign, Ill., on a Wednesday night in February was seen by millions on national TV on a Monday in April.
The world knew who Webber was: the dunce who called a time out he didn't have.
Of course, maybe one of Webber's guards should have come to the ball, and there may have been people yelling at him to call time.
To his credit, Webber never once alibied, and two days later he went back out in public, to the John Wooden Award lunch in Los Angeles. He says he went, even though he knew he wouldn't win, because Wooden had asked him to and Webber considered it an honor. At the luncheon, Webber answered press questions manfully. Anyone can mess up, but the test lies in what comes next, and he passed with an A.
"People can say what they want," Webber says, "that Jalen should have come to the ball, whatever. I called the timeout."
But weren't teammates on the bench yelling to call time?
"I was the one who called the timeout," Webber says.
But weren't they?
"I was the one who called the timeout," he says again, grinning.
"Right after was sort of a numbing feeling. Like, you know, I can't believe it happened. I didn't realize it was that big of a deal. I knew it was big as far as the game being lost, but I didn't know the media and everybody was talking about it so much.
"The only people I talked to were my family. And I stayed with Jalen for about a week, and I'm not going to lie. That week I didn't go to class. We got back on a Tuesday; I didn't go 'til Monday. Jalen was staying at my house, and he was answering the door, like 'Chris isn't here.'
"Now it doesn't affect me at all. I helped the team get that far. I've accomplished a lot of things individually and with a team. Something that you can't practice doesn't make me a person. I can't practice timeouts, so it wasn't that big of a deal.
"I think I hit the lowest point, so there's nowhere to go but up."
Presumably. Who can imagine a man messing up so heroically twice in the same lifetime?
"I hope not," Webber says. "I pray not."
His embarrassment was also tempered by the fact that NBA teams were lining up to make him a multimillionaire if only he would turn pro.
Webber talked to Fisher and his fellow Fabs. All told him to go.
Said Rose: "I'll always remember the Fab Five doing what no one thought we could do. And I'll remember Chris Webber for making it possible."
Webber, still wearing Michigan baseball caps, says he regrets only that he couldn't win titles in high school, college and the NBA, as did Johnson and Isiah Thomas. His idea of a storybook ending is the Warriors and Wolverines winning championships this season.
Of course, the Warriors had all they could do to get to the season with five sound players. Webber was the latest to go down, spraining an ankle in practice Tuesday, and the Warriors say he will probably sit out the first two games of the regular season.
As a pro, Webber is a power forward version of O'Neal, a gifted young man playing on raw ability. Like O'Neal, his post moves are rudimentary and his free-throw shooting shaky.
Like O'Neal, true greatness beckons.
"I knew I was going to be an NBA player one day," Webber says. "How good, I didn't know.
"I still don't know. I want to be the best that ever was.
"I don't like to take my time to do things. If you can get something done now, why wait? Tomorrow's not promised."
Time is back in, and he's a young man with places to go.