WASHINGTON - Freed from the 76ers, Chris Webber wants this to be clear: He is happy playing basketball again now that he is with the Detroit Pistons.
But the mere mention of his former team wiped the smile off his face as the forward prepared for last night's game with the Washington Wizards.
He called his stay with the Sixers the most difficult part of his 14-year career.
"It was probably the first time I didn't enjoy basketball," Webber said, standing by the locker room at the Verizon Center.
Webber said he appreciated that Sixers president and general manager Billy King finally bought out his contract earlier this month and gave him his release.
"I'm really happy they let me go," Webber said. "I was really used to winning, and being in a situation where a lot is going on besides winning is tough."
Apparently it was not just the lack of winning that bothered Webber.
"When I was there, I definitely wanted to be away," he said. ". . . I definitely had to get away for my sanity."
Webber, 33, said he was frustrated even before the beginning of this season.
"I actually talked to some people this summer about not playing basketball again, about retiring, just because of how it was inside the situation there," he said. "It was tough and I am glad I made it out of there."
Webber did not specify what made things so tough, but it was clear that he did not like the fact that many in the organization thought his skills had suddenly diminished. He said before this season he was told that his minutes would be cut so the Sixers' younger players could play more.
Last night might have reminded Webber of his Sixers days. He had six points and six rebounds in nearly 28 minutes in a 104-99 loss to the Wizards. Webber did not play the final 4 minutes, 52 seconds as Detroit attempted to make a comeback.
He averaged 20.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 38.6 minutes per game last season. His critics pointed out that he allowed even more points than he scored.
In 18 games this season for the Sixers, he averaged 11.0 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting 38.7 percent from the field.
Webber was acquired by the Sixers in a blockbuster trade with Sacramento on Feb. 23, 2005. The Sixers made the playoffs that season, losing to Detroit in the first round.
Last year the Sixers did not make the playoffs. They are 14-32 this season, with the third-worst record in the NBA.
Webber said he enjoyed playing with Allen Iverson, but wished the combination could have produced more wins.
"That is the sad part: that we led the league in scoring duo last year, and we lost," he said. "That kind of hurt us because our goal was to have a great individual season together, but to win. . . . We didn't win, and I have to blame myself first."
Entering last night, Webber had played six games for his new team and the Pistons were 4-2. He said he signed with Detroit instead of Miami because he wanted to play on a team that he felt had a chance to win a championship.
"He makes everybody dangerous and that is what good passers do," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. "He is going to fit in very well with that team."
In his first six games with Detroit, Webber averaged 11.8 points and 8.0 rebounds, shooting 55.4 percent from the field.
In Detroit, he will be expected to do less but win more. The bottom line is that Webber is playing with a better supporting cast, allowing him to recapture his passion for the game.
"I can't even explain the feeling I have," Webber said. "It's a great feeling, and I'm happy."
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.