OAKLAND -- It ended where it began, without all the drama. Wearing a gray suit, light blue dress shirt and yellow tie, Chris Webber walked into a press room near the Warriors' locker room, smiled at his small audience and made it official.
The left knee buckled for a final time. This was it.
The best player in the history of the Sacramento Kings' franchise retired Wednesday at the age of 35. But in a soft, wistful admission, he suggested that his career ended five years earlier when he stretched for a lob pass in Dallas, came down with the ball and felt someone driving a knife into his leg.
"I remember turning to Vlade (Divac) and saying, 'I'm done,' " Webber recalled. "My knees had been bothering me for a long time, and when I hit the ground that night in Dallas, I knew something was really wrong. After that ... "
He was 30 years old, and he was never the same. Nor were the Kings. The process of stitching the roster back together resulted, in part, in the firing of two coaches, the acquisition of overpaid role players and a grudging, belated recognition that team chemistry can be as fragile as china and as volatile as the Balkans.
Yet as turbulent as these last five seasons have been for the organization, Webber got the worst of the deal. The Kings will rebuild and recover, regain their youth and ability to excite and, presumably, rejoin the Western Conference elite. Their one-time franchise player shuffles into retirement -- to television commentating or coaching or whatever other opportunities present themselves -- deprived of both a basketball future and a smashing grand finale.
He instead limps away from the game, having been stripped of the chance to avenge the devastating 2002 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, to re-establish himself as an MVP candidate, to win a championship, to alter the perception that he was as self-destructive as he was talented.
The feuds with coaches. The scandal at Michigan. The suspension for substance abuse. The unfulfilled expectations in Oakland, Washington, Sacramento, Philadelphia, Detroit, and to a lesser extent, back in Oakland again.
These last five years were particularly unkind, and mostly, they were unflattering: A wounded Webber, whose abilities diminished significantly after he underwent microfracture knee surgery in June 2003, was an irritable, divisive figure, seemingly incapable of sublimating his ego for the benefit of his teams. He returned in March 2004 and, despite his poor conditioning and obvious physical limitations, demanded the ball and starter's minutes, disrupting a stunningly cohesive Kings team that held the league's best record.
A year later -- and because of the injury and the massive salary -- he was swapped to the Philadelphia 76ers for far lesser talents Kenny Thomas, Corliss Williamson and Brian Skinner.
"I think back to the night in Dallas when I got hurt," Webber said, "and another night in Dallas when Geoff (Petrie) called and asked if I would approve the trade, which I had the right to do under my contract.
"What if I had told Geoff no? With the players and system we had, it would have been a lot easier for me to get healthier the next year or so if I was still with the Kings. I wonder if maybe I should have sat out that year (2003-04)?
"But if I erred, it was in having the passion to come back and play. We had lost to the Lakers in the playoffs, and I wanted to get back as fast as I could."
Instead, he was thrust into a 76ers lineup that featured Allen Iverson, joining another team that failed to mesh. Then it was on to Detroit, where he disappointed during the 2006-07 playoffs, dooming prospects for a contract extension with his hometown Pistons. Then, finally, after receiving minimal interest elsewhere, it was back to the beginning, back to Oakland for an ill-fated reunion with the Warriors and Don Nelson, the coach who acquired the rights to Webber, the No. 1 overall pick in 1993, in a draft-day trade with Orlando.
"I don't want to stay around and not be able to move," said Webber, who appeared in only nine games. "I want to remember the player I was."
Remember that Chris Webber? Yes, remember that Chris Webber. He passed like a point guard, caught balls with the dexterity of a center fielder, flashed the explosiveness of a sprinter. He was blessed with uncanny anticipation, terrific vision and a powerful 6-foot-10-inch frame matched only by a charismatic, at times overpowering, personality.
If the combination wasn't enough to propel the Kings to a title, he noted rightfully, "We still had good times in Sacramento, and I think the world really liked the way we played."
CHRIS WEBBER CAREER NUMBERS
That will have to be enough for Webber and, for the immediate future, for the Kings.