How do you know a young player is in the midst of a breakout NBA
season? Is it when a) he is asked about his 51-point game and
responds, "Which one?"; b) he shakes his head dejectedly in
front of his locker and is almost apologetic after pouring in a
mere 28 points; or c) he is scoring with such apparent ease
against the defending world champions that Shaquille O'Neal
angrily yells to his Los Angeles Lakers teammates, "Somebody
guard his ass!"?
The answer is d) all of the above, which is what Antawn Jamison,
the Golden State Warriors' explosive power forward, did in a week
that featured almost as many fiftysomethings as show up for a
Neil Diamond concert. Jamison rang up 51 in a 118-102 road loss
to the Seattle SuperSonics on Dec. 4, then scorched the Lakers
two days later with another 51 in a 125-122 overtime win at home.
The first outburst was impressive enough, as Jamison shot 23 of
36 from the floor, but the follow-up was a masterpiece of
efficiency and clutch shooting. Jamison made 21 of 29
shots--including his last 10 on an assortment of layups, runners
and 20-footers--in a memorable duel with Los Angeles swingman Kobe
Bryant, who matched his 51. Their shootout generated more
positive buzz than the long-woeful Warriors have heard in the Bay
Area since they traded Chris Webber six years ago. "The first one
was a thrill," Jamison says, "but the second one was much sweeter
because of what the game meant for this franchise."
With a previous high of 37 points in his 107 games as a pro, the
24-year-old Jamison became the first player to score 50 or more
points in consecutive games since Michael Jordan had three in a
row 13 years ago; Jamison and Bryant became the first opponents
to top 50 in the same game since the San Francisco Warriors' Wilt
Chamberlain (63) and the Lakers' Elgin Baylor (51) did it on Dec.
14, 1962. Nice company for Jamison, indeed, but the star to whom
he is most often compared is of more recent vintage: Toronto
Raptors swingman Vince Carter, his former suitemate at North
In the 1998 draft Golden State chose Carter with the No. 5 pick,
then traded him to Toronto for Jamison, whom the Raptors had
selected fourth. Jamison and the Warriors have been haunted by
the deal, though some of the flak they have taken is based on the
mistaken belief that the team could have wound up with Carter.
After hearing that the Dallas Mavericks, who had the sixth
choice, were going to trade up to No. 4 to get Jamison, the
Warriors kept that from happening by paying the Raptors $500,000
to select him for Golden State. In return the Warriors selected
the player Toronto wanted--Carter--then made the swap. If Golden
State hadn't arranged the deal, the Raptors would have probably
taken Carter one pick ahead of the Warriors.
Carter has since won the 1998-99 Rookie of the Year award, the
2000 Slam Dunk contest and an Olympic gold medal in Sydney.
Jamison, meanwhile, has been trying to overcome a
confidence-shattering rookie year, in which he did nothing to
erase the doubts of critics who thought he was too slight to play
power forward at 6'9" and 223 pounds, and too poor a shooter to
play small forward. "I remember my first game. I didn't get in
until the third quarter, and I couldn't do much of anything," he
says. "I went home and just cried. I still have the tape of that
game, and I have a lot of the newspaper clippings that said I
couldn't play in this league. Some guys might want to put all
that behind them, but I want to make sure I remember that game
and that year the rest of my career."
Weekly phone calls from Carter helped prop up Jamison's spirits
during that rookie season, in which he started half the time and
averaged 9.6 points and 22.5 minutes. "I tried to help him stay
positive," Carter says. "I knew what he was capable of. It just
so happened that I got a chance to show what I could do before he
Jamison remembers the conversations as being somewhat awkward for
both men, especially because their roles had once been reversed.
When they were freshmen at Chapel Hill, in 1995-96, Carter
struggled while Jamison thrived. "I knew Vince was trying not to
make me feel bad because things were going so much better for him
than they were for me," he says.
Jamison responded to his disappointing start with the
industriousness that has become his trademark. He credits his
parents, Albert and Kathy, for instilling in him a willingness to
work. "My mom was a doctor's assistant, and after work she would
go and clean an office building," says Antawn, who grew up in
Shreveport, La., and in Charlotte. "My dad was in construction.
He'd work until five or six in the evening, come home and sleep
for a few hours, then work a second shift from 10 at night to
four in the morning. If they could do that, I can go in the gym
and work on my jump shot."
The off-season toil paid off in a much more promising second
year in which Jamison averaged 19.6 points and 8.3 rebounds,
including 4.0 on the offensive end. Though a left-knee injury
ended his season after 43 games, his 10.0-point jump in scoring
was the largest in four years by an NBA player appearing in more
than 25 games. It helped that general manager Garry St. Jean, who
had worked out the trade for Jamison, fired P.J. Carlesimo after
27 games and finished the year as coach. "A lot of credit has to
go to St. Jean," Jamison says. "He wasn't afraid to put me in and
let me sink or swim. He had more confidence in me than I had in
After another summer of hard work, spent strengthening his knee
and his game ("He was in here every day," says Dave Cowens, whom
St. Jean hired as coach after last season, "not most days, every
day"), Jamison is now a bona fide matchup nightmare. He began the
season at small forward but moved to power forward after Danny
Fortson, who was leading the league in rebounding, was sidelined
by a stress fracture in his right foot on Nov. 12. Jamison has
become especially skilled at beating opposing power forwards with
one or two dribbles and getting into the lane for an assortment
of runners, flips and high-arcing shots, which he developed as a
kid playing on an 11-foot basket in his driveway. A post-up
player in college, Jamison is also effective down low, though
he's not bulky enough to hold his position consistently.
"My rookie year I'd get the ball and just go," he says. "I was
doing everything 100 miles an hour. Now I'm reading my defender.
I'm deciding what move to make by the way he's playing me."
At week's end Jamison was averaging 24.1 points, which ranked
him 10th in the league, along with 8.1 rebounds (3.1 on the
offensive boards). Though he was making 48.9% of his shots,
there was plenty of room for improvement in his free throw
(61.8%) and three-point (32.7%) shooting. After converting only
five threes in 17 attempts in his first two seasons, he had 17
in 52 tries through Sunday. "He's tough to defend against now
because he's got so many ways to score," says Toronto forward
Corliss Williamson. "I saw him a lot when I played in
Sacramento, and you have to be happy for a guy who's worked so
hard. He's earned everything he's gotten."
However, he still doesn't have bragging rights over Carter, whose
Raptors have defeated Jamison and the Warriors both times they
have faced each other, including last Friday's 108-92 win in
which Carter outscored Jamison 29 to 28. "I've got to beat him
soon," Jamison said with a half-smile after the game. "I can't
take another summer of him talking smack."
Though they were rarely matched against each other, they did go
head-to-head in an intense sequence in the fourth quarter, when
Carter hit a jumper over Jamison. "He started talking," Jamison
says. "I said, 'Please come guard me.' He fouled me, just like at
practice in college. Vince knows he can't guard me in the post."
After the game Jamison was the last Warrior to leave the locker
room. The team bus was idling outside the Oakland Coliseum Arena,
ready to take the players to the airport, but he had one last
postgame obligation to fulfill. He walked back out to the court,
where about 40 fellow North Carolina alumni were the only people
still in the stands, waiting to have their picture taken with
him. Carter had already made an appearance, but the Tar Heels
fans weren't leaving until they had posed with Jamison.
Which is another way to know how a young player is approaching
NBA stardom: when he's the headliner and Vince Carter is his
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY ROCKY WIDNER/NBA ENTERTAINMENT THE DAWN OF ANTAWNAfter torching the Sonics, the 6'9" Jamison lit up Horace Grant and the Lakers on 21-of-29 shooting.