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Lessons from half a year of covering Antawn Jamison

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When it comes to Antawn Jamison, we hear reporters toss around terms like "true professional," "leader" and "stand-up guy."  A part of me was bugged by this for two reasons.  One was that there's too often a conflation of being a good guy to the media and being a good leader.  There's often a connection between the two, but it shouldn't be assumed.  The second reason was that it almost denigrated Jamison's on-court contributions.  He was more than just "The Captain" or "the leader," he was also among the most effective, if idiosyncratic, "power" forwards in the game.  I'd rather he be remembered for that than for being a spokesperson for the team.

However, as you all know, I've actually been able to get press credentials this season, giving me a little more insight into why Jamison keeps getting all this attention for off-court stuff.  So it goes without saying that I should share some thoughts on what I've learned about the guy from that experience.

Jamison really is a true professional in the best sense of the word.  What does a "true professional" mean?  I'm not sure, but there are a couple components.  One is that you're prepared and setting a good example.  For what it's worth, Jamison was always a good example.  When there was all this hoopla in training camp over Flip Saunders' decision to give every player an ITouch with all his plays, it was Jamison that told us about it.  Whenever I saw him walking around, whether it was before games in the locker room or during training camp, that ITouch was always around his neck. Jamison should not have fit Saunders' offense well, because it requires the power forward to be a top-notch passer, but he studied the plays, worked very hard to understand it and picked it up right away.  The same cannot be said for many other players on the team (*cough Caron cough).

Another part of being a "true professional" is facing the music no matter what.  During my time covering the team, I never saw Jamison decline an interview request or skip out the back way to avoid the press.  When he talked, he talked for a very long time no matter what.  The running joke around the pressroom all season was that you better be prepared to stand around for a while when Jamison was talking, because he's complete and long-winded, but it was remarkable to see the kind of grace Jamison had in these situations.  He was patient, answering tough questions for every out-of-town reporter coming in looking for a fresh angle on the team.  Even if he was asked the same question a thousand times, he never got distressed.  

To the last point -- I'm not really sure what the tangible value of Jamison's demeanor is, but I am sure the rest of the team appreciated it.  Jamison's ability to act as the spokesperson for all the serious issues surrounding the team relieved the responsibility from other guys.  Caron Butler's one person in particular, but it's not just him, it's also the young guys and the new additions.  During a trying season filled with distractions, my guess is that helped a lot.

However, is this the same thing as saying Jamison is a great leader?  That's tough.  Great leaders are the kind that lift others up directly rather than simply being good citizens themselves and expecting everyone else to pick that up by osmosis.  I never really got the sense that Jamison was ever that guy.  He seemed like more of a calming presence, a guy to keep Gilbert Arenas in line and set an example of good behavior.  There's no shame in that, but to me, a real  leader can't just lead by example, he has to lead actively.  Steve Nash, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett lead actively.  Kobe Bryant, now, is leading actively.  Antawn Jamison doesn't lead actively.  That's not a negative at all, because every locker room needs a guy like Antawn Jamison who goes about his business, handles public attention with remarkable grace and sets an example, but it's only to say Jamison isn't the kind of guy who can lead a team.

That seems like a good segue to something Flip Saunders said after the Minnesota game. Someone asked him about the effect of losing Antawn in the locker room, and I found Saunders' answer to be very interesting. 

"He's been one of the most professional players I've ever been around, but what happens [is that] sometimes players can use that as a crutch. 'Go talk to Antawn, because he's the mature guy.' So now, what has to happen is that all the other players have to mature. ... Since we made the trade with Caron, we've had a different locker room.  Our younger players -- Nick and those guys -- they're different right now.  They've had a different sense of urgency on the court."

Saunders often does this when-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade routine, especially after wins, but I think that says a lot about Jamison's leadership.  A professional is mature.  A leader makes others around him mature.  Jamison's the former, not the latter.  He allowed other players to not have to worry about answering the tough questions facing the team and the franchise, which has a ton of value, but he didn't make them more equipped to become more mature, at least not beyond setting an example for how it's done.  

So anyway, those are my impressions of Jamison from covering the team.  I prefer to remember him for what he did on the court, but I at least learned something new about the type of off-court effect he had on the team.  It's not leadership, but being a professional still isn't something to be taken for granted.  I'm happy for him in that he can now go to Cleveland and just be a professional instead of also having to be a leader.