EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — On the surface, Antawn Jamison has had a pretty incredible basketball career.
While attending North Carolina, he was the AP Player of the Year, John Wooden Award Winner and the Naismith Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year during his final season of 1997-98. He was drafted fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors, then dealt to the Golden State Warriors during the labor-impasse-shortened season. It was the beginning of an NBA career that has seen him score 19,246 points (19.5 PPG) and grab 7.9 rebounds per game. He’s been named to the All-Star team twice and has never scored fewer than 15.3 points per game; that was during his rookie season of 1998-99. So, why is it when you ask Jamison about his accomplishments that he smiles for a moment, then gets a wistful look in his eyes?
Playoffs. Specifically missing them for most of his career. And the diamond ring that signifies an ultimate pro sports winner missing from his finger.
“It’s been tough,” said the 6-foot-9 Louisiana native. “There are times when you don’t know how you’re going to react (to the frustration). You try not to let it get you out of character, but it’s been difficult for me, especially with the last trade (to Cleveland in 2009-10). I thought (playing with LeBron James) that I was going to have the opportunity to be part of something special. But it didn’t happen.”
With James trying to play through a shoulder injury, the Cavs were knocked out of the playoffs in the second round by Boston; head coach Mike Brown lost his job in spite of a brilliant coaching tenure in Cleveland; and Antawn was stuck in another rebuilding scenario. It was something he wanted no part of at that point in his career.
“That’s not what I thought I signed up for,” he said. “You have to find a way to deal with those kinds of (situations) though. I think I’ve done a great job as far as realizing that I still had a job to do. It’s not easy, but it’s made me stronger and made me a better teammate.
“But the only thing that matters to me — and the way I was raised to play this game — is to win; to have an opportunity to win a championship. But maybe all I’ve been through set the stage for me to come (to the Lakers).”
Which explains why he turned down much more lucrative offers from other teams to play for the Lakers at the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million — a decrease of $13.7 million from his salary in Cleveland. However, you could tell by the broad grin on his face Wednesday during a news conference at the Lakers’ training facility, that he might have played for free in order to have a real shot at an NBA title.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am right now for this season to get started,” Jamison said. “It’s a great opportunity for (me) to win a championship with a great organization.
“(With the Lakers) it’s not just about making the playoffs — it’s about winning championships and bringing another trophy to this organization. I’m very grateful to the Lakers, who felt that I was a piece of the puzzle and that I could help make this happen.”
Jamison strengthens the Lakers’ current weakest link: the bench. He provides the instant offense that they lacked during their playoff struggles last season, and the versatile forward can score from just about any spot on the court. Even though he’s started nearly 80 percent of the games he’s played in during the last 14 years, he’s accepted his role as the Lakers’ key reserve.
“I’m going to add some firepower,” said the .451 career shooter. “Also scoring and leadership. I can play the three or four positions, and help out all over the floor.
“This is like the perfect fit for me. I can come in and not have everything totally on my shoulders. You have Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau (Gasol) and Andrew Bynum and Metta (World Peace), so I’m here to help us win — not do it all myself.
“I plan to pretty much just play my game, compete and play at a high level, which is what I’ve done all through my career.
“It’s going to be a great fit.”
Jamison also played for Coach Brown right after his trade to Cleveland and has a lot of respect for his new/old coach.
“Coach Brown is amazing as far as how prepared he is,” Antawn recalled. “He is always working, breaking down tape and getting the players ready. No team is any better prepared than his team.”
Jamison is hoping that his new, supremely talented teammates, his well-prepared coach and his own contributions will bring him his first World Championship.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said. “Winning a championship is the only thing I haven’t accomplished in my career. I’ve done a lot of things, but the one thing that keeps me going is wanting my name to be associated with a championship. (Coming to the Lakers) was a no- brainer.
“I had other options, but once I sat back and clearly thought about the opportunity I had here with the Lakers and what could present itself, it (wasn’t a tough choice). I want to win a championship.
“That’s all this organization strives for and that’s all I want to do.”