Deadspin NBA Shit List: Antawn Jamison, Captain Of Failure

A celebration of the NBA's most infuriating players, both past and present. Read other NBA Shit List entries here.

What happened to the Lakers this year? The would-be superteam lurched out to a 1-4 start, trampled its coach, and is frantically preparing to reverse its entire offensive philosophy. It's still possible for Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant to win 70 games—they just need to win 26 in a row to get on pace.

Yes, in retrospect, it makes sense that a newly assembled collection of veteran stars wouldn't figure out how to mesh right away—particularly in an unfamiliar and demanding offense. But there's an even simpler explanation for how a spectacularly talented roster turned out to be a disjointed, disappointing, coach-killing shitshow: The Lakers signed Antawn Jamison.

Antawn Jamison is basketball death. Not everyone understands this, because there are two Antawn Jamisons in the NBA. The more famous one, the image in the public eye, is a gentleman athlete—an elder statesman since his 20s—who upholds the truest values of the game. He's a leader, a sometime high scorer without unseemly swagger or flash. He is, by popular consensus, a class act.

The other Antawn Jamison is less well known, though he's been in plain sight. That Jamison is a loser. He is a persistent, pernicious, chronic, insufferable loser, an itinerant franchise-breaker, a man who has spread failure and misery coast to coast and back again, from his rookie year with the depressing 21-29 Golden State Warriors through his current employment with the flailing 3-5 Lakers.

Remember young Shaq's weird, callow, inscrutable-as-to-irony-level boast that he had "won at every level, except college and pro"? That is Antawn Jamison's actual resume. He took two loaded North Carolina teams to the Final Four, and lost in the semis both times—the second one to Utah. (But he was, to be sure, the Naismith Player of the Year.) In his 14 previous pro seasons, his teams have won a total of 15 playoff games. On the world stage, he won a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2006 FIBA championship.

Some players are so great, they can raise even a terrible team to adequacy all on their own. When Jamison is the best player on a terrible team, it stays terrible. Three different franchises have gone 19-63 with him leading the way: the 1999-2000 Warriors (his first midseason coach-firing), the 2008-09 Wizards (another midseason coach-firing), and the 2010-11 Cavs.

But as the Lakers are discovering, it's with the talented teams that Jamison truly has built his legacy. In 2003-04, he went to the upwardly mobile Dallas Mavericks, accepted a bench role, and won Sixth Man of the Year. Yet that team—with Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, and Michael Finley—washed out of the first round in five games. He moved on to Washington, for the brief, incandescent peak of Gilbert Arenas. His teams made it out of the first round once in four tries.

Then Arenas and the Wizards fell apart, and Jamison was sent to Cleveland for the stretch run in 2010, the Cavs' last shot at a title with LeBron James. Remember LeBron's final playoff series as a Cavalier, the stinkbomb that lives on in mystery? In the closeout loss to Boston, James did put up a triple-double—while Jamison went 2 for 10 with five rebounds, no assists, and two free-throw attempts.

None of this was ever Jamison's fault. Certainly you can't blame Jamison for Arenas blowing out his knee, bringing guns to the locker room, and getting suspended for a year. He just happened to be there, the way he happened to be there for LeBron's meltdown, the way he happened to be there when Team USA lost to Greece.

That is to say, the way Typhoid Mary always happened to be in the kitchen when people got sick. Hey, she was perfectly healthy! Nothing wrong with Mary! How could it be her fault that the people who ate her food kept dying?

And how could Antawn Jamison be a loser? He's so passionate about winning that he once smashed a fruit plate in the locker room while bawling out his Wizards teammates for their lack of effort. The press could hear his tirade from outside. It was impressive. The Wizards kept losing.

The puzzle is why this is a puzzle at all. If you peel away the team-captain rhetoric, the audience-pleasing curmudgeonly complaints about the underachieving young pups around him, you are left with Antawn Jamison as a pure basketball type—the type who heaves up a ton of low-value shots, pumps up his numbers, shies away from contact, and categorically refuses to play defense. He is, in plain basketball terms, the living caricature of what fans are supposed to hate about the pro game.

Here's Cavs: The Blog, reviewing Jamison's second-to-last* season in Cleveland:

[T]here is a reason why nobody's mid-post game looks like Jamison's —those shots don't go in very often, and he's prone to forcing them at inopportune times. Jamison made 46.2% of his shots from the 3-9 foot area, and his free-throw rate was miserably low.

As an outside shooter, Jamison is overrated as well.... [H]e's a ball-stopper with those outside shots and not nearly as effective of a shooter as he thinks he is. Oh, and he finished 59th among power forwards in assist rate.

...

He's not a post defender, he can't stop guys off the dribble, and he's horrifyingly bad in the pick-and-roll....[H]e'd glide over the screen like he was thinking about showing, allow the ball-handler to go past him without offering resistance, and jog back to his man, creating a four-on-five situation.... How is a team supposed to play defense when their supposed best player clearly couldn't care less about it?

But this is a rarity. Carmelo Anthony—who singlehandedly did win an NCAA title and who has never missed the NBA playoffs—is reckoned a selfish, team-killing knucklehead. Antawn Jamison is a model citizen, who by some 14-year-long string of unbroken coincidence keeps finding himself on the scene of basketball's greatest disasters.

Jamison is an active participant in this theater of dissociation. Consider his emotional on-court apology—which didn't, technically, contain the words "sorry" or "apologize"—after the Wizards were photographed laughing with a finger-gun-wielding Arenas in their huddle in the midst of the gun scandal:

Now there's been a picture that's been shown of us taking this event very lightly. This is a serious situation, it's something that we take to heart. We never meant to make light of the situation, and we're going to do everything in our power—as long as I'm your captain, as long as these guys right here are my teammates—to make this one of the most respectable organizations in the league.

There's been a picture of us taking this event very lightly. We never meant to make light of the situation. Do not trouble yourself with the facts, people. I don't like the facts any more than you do. Let us move beyond the facts, to agree we would both prefer other facts. It's almost as if those other facts are true!

Part of what makes this possible is that Jamison exists in a liminal zone of basketball analysis. On Basketball-Reference.com, the list of players whose career statistics most closely resemble his includes both Dennis Rodman and Shareef Abdur-Rahim—the greatest role player in NBA history, paired with one of the all-time emptiest number-getters. The stats can't tell the difference, any more than Typhoid Mary and her employers could see the Salmonella typhi on the salad course.

Thus the list also includes Clifford Robinson, the definitive anti-Jamison, who quietly made all of his teams better, year after year after year, going to the playoffs in 17 out of his 18 seasons. What did Robinson do? A little bit of everything, when it was needed: sometimes crashing the boards, sometimes shooting threes, always playing defense. He went to one All-Star game and was 5-for-8 with five assists in 18 minutes (Jamison, a two-time All-Star, put up a combined line of 3-for-8 with one assist in 25 minutes).

What does Jamison do, now? Here were the Lakers, losing to the Spurs on Tuesday. Our recap of the last two possessions didn't mention Jamison, because there was little to say. During the Spurs' go-ahead play, Jamison chased Kawhi Leonard to the top of the circle, sagged off him as Leonard dished to an open Danny Green, and slowly drifted down the lane, all by himself, on the off chance that Green's shot might carom that way.

Then came the Lakers' last chance. Jamison set up in the far corner on the inbounds play, hands on knees. The whistle sounded. His teammates went into motion, trying to get open. Jamison's hands stayed on his knees. The ball came in to Pau Gasol. After another second, Jamison lifted his hands off his knees. He stayed in the corner, shuffling his feet a little. Danny Green, his nominal defender, stopped looking at Jamison entirely and headed for the lane.

You could say that Jamison was wide open. He was also inert, not waving an arm to signal his openness, and separated from the action by every other player on the court. As Gasol hoisted a heavily guarded shot, Green—freed from caring about Jamison and already in the paint—leaned into Dwight Howard, helping to shove him out of rebounding position. Slowly, behind him, Jamison jogged in the general direction of where a weak-side rebound would be. He arrived in time to swipe at the ball, pointlessly, as the clock expired.