March 28, 1993
WEBB'S PAST OFFERS GLIMPSE OF MAN PART BRAT, TEDDY BEAR WAIVED CELTIC TALKS OF PAST, FUTURE
Marcus Webb doesn't mean to brag, but he knows he played ball better than anyone back home. He dressed better, too. And he's sure he can outcook the Boston chef who's just sent over some smothered cabbage and sweet potatoes.
"My self-esteem is high about everything," Webb said in his first interview since he was charged with rape and waived by the Celtics 10 days ago. "I know I'm a beautiful individual. Without anyone telling me, I know that. I have confidence."
Webb's confidence extends to beating the rape charge, fending off at least one paternity suit and playing again in the NBA. The 22-year-old Alabamian swears -- always pardoning his language first -- that he'll do it all. With a smirk that runs from his broad shoulders to his small eyes, Webb insists he loves women and basketball, and would hurt neither.
He says this in a voice as Deep South as his dinner manners. He asks the waitress her name, and never skips a please or thank you. Halfway through a 2 1/2-hour supper at Bob the Chef's, a South End restaurant specializing in southern cooking, Webb excuses himself to call his "mama," Mary, who just flew up from Montgomery, Ala. At 6 feet 9 inches tall, he doesn't stand up so much as unfold from the table.
"To the average woman who's been reading about me, I'm going to be, excuse my language, an (expletive)," he said, sounding equally angry and ashamed over his sudden notoriety. "They're thinkin' I'm a geek, a clown from a bad area. That's not me."
The Marcus Lataives Webb that comes across in person more or less matches the Webb they remember back home. In interviews with 30 Alabamians who knew Webb as a boy in Montgomery and a young man in Tuscaloosa, a picture emerges: part teddy bear, part spoiled brat. As with so many young athletes, those were the characteristics that Webb brought with him to Boston when he was plucked from a poor background and pumped full of money.
"He's so full of life everyone likes him, loves him," said his grandfather, Herbert Webb, an associate pastor at a Baptist church in Montgomery. "When he was 12 or 13, he told me, 'Daddy, I'm going to put away all these childish things because I have a goal and that's to play basketball.' "
That goal led him to the game's most storied team, but also to an unfamiliar life in Boston. The Celtics gambled $140,000 a year that the rookie forward could get by on the court; but few who knew him back home thought he would get by easily away from the game.
"Marcus was someone who wanted you to know he was there if a party was going on," said Gary Waites, who played alongside Webb at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. "Now he's got a lot of pressure on him, and too much freedom. He never did understand how to manage his time and his money."
Like Waites, Webb's teachers and coaches in Alabama describe him as a sweet showboat who has trouble with responsibility. He needs guidance, they say, lots of it. At Sidney Lanier High, when he was winning at basketball but slacking off in algebra and biology, coach John Bricken made Webb join the ROTC, hoping it would teach him to act like a champion.
"He had tremendous magnetism," said retired Col. Charles Scott, who runs the ROTC at Lanier. "But it was tough for him to see the serious side of things."
Webb grew up poor on the black side of Montgomery, and sensed the privilege that accompanies athletic prowess. Although he had a steady girlfriend throughout high school, he got used to being scouted by girls as well as coaches. With college costs covered by scholarships, Webb never had a paying job until the Celtics.
"Sports discovered me in 7th grade," he said. "They didn't ask me to play football; they told me. In football, I was Mr. Everything. Basketball, Mr. Everything. Track, Mr. Everything."
When he wasn't astounding classmates, Webb says he was home cooking. In high school, he mastered both baking and sewing.
During college, Webb was famous for his barbecues featuring chicken, ribs and homemade potato salad. One year, he surprised his former roommate with birthday cupcakes. Last Christmas, he prepared a full dinner for his Celtics teammates -- turkey, collard greens and his family's secret red velvet cake.
Webb says the women at home taught him self-reliance. He lived with his grandmother, mother and half-brother Derrick, now 14, in a simple one-story house on Azalea Drive.
"I'm one independent man," Webb said. "I wash my own clothes. I make my own lunch and I make my own bed."
Webb's family still lives in the house where he grew up, with the windows open but the shades drawn against the sun. Like his grandfather's house on nearby Rosa L. Parks Avenue, the house is filled with bric-a-brac in gold and glass. The better furniture is covered in plastic, as are the newspaper clippings and photos of Webbs' triumphs.
Missing from his childhood was the father he didn't meet until he was a high schooler, and then only by chance. George Pugh, a college football star and former head coach at Alabama A&M University, came around scouting and introduced himself as Marcus' father. His son ran right home with the confusing news.
"He said, 'I met some man who said he was my daddy,' " said Ethelene Webb, the grandmother who helped raise Webb while his mother worked three, sometimes four jobs. "I said, 'Go ask your mama about it.' "
Said Webb: "I held a grudge against him, like I'm supposed to. My son should have a grudge if I'm not there from day one."
But Webb and the women in his family stress that he had plenty of male role models around, including his grandfather Herbert Webb and now-deceased uncle Sam Webb, both big, tall men who didn't take any grief. But young Marcus could talk to them.
Still, Webb never talked much about his troubles. Not when his fiancee, Quientina Brown, broke off their engagement shortly after giving birth to their son. Not when he got kicked off the team in college.
"Here was a young man who came out of nowhere, sits out a year and makes it," Pugh said. "He makes the Boston Celtics. I always told Marcus to be humble."
And there were some humbling moments along the way. Webb's coaches say that as his competition stiffened from one arena to the next, he was less able to cope with the challenge.
"Each step, as he came in contact with people with more ability, he had more problems," said Charles Sikes, Webb's football coach at Lanier until Webb broke his ankle in 10th grade and quit the team. "He can't compete with competition."
Even at Lanier, where he was all-state, Bricken says Webb didn't work for grades until a college scholarship was at stake, and then he made good ones. At Tuscaloosa, where no one remembers him as a standout for the Crimson Tide, Webb cut so many classes that his coach Winfrey Sanderson made him sit out his senior year. So he quit school, right after he became a father.
"I can't agree with everything he did when it came to school, but he was no outlaw," said Kenneth Rice, the Alabama teammate who roomed with Webb throughout college.
Compared with Montgomery, where Webb was a fast-growing boy in a slow-moving town, Tuscaloosa was the big time. But Webb was no big man on the campus of 19,000 students.
Still, no one recalls more than the usual kid trouble. At home in Montgomery, Webb flunked Smilie Tade's English class, flipped the bird to the crowd during a game and set his grandmother's kitchen curtains on fire, a mishap that earned young Marcus six whippings.
A hundred miles away in Tuscaloosa, where he majored in psychology, he found more trouble on the big, antebellum campus. Webb was arrested twice, for bouncing a check and not paying parking tickets. He amassed enough speeding tickets to have his license suspended, then revoked when he was caught speeding again. He also couldn't keep it together academically, despite the tutors and carping from coaches during three seasons from 1988-91.
But little in his Alabama days foreshadowed the magnitude of trouble he's in now.
"All of this is so out of character," said his grandmother. To this day, he calls her mama, too, and she defends his integrity despite a litany of legal and professional woes.
On March 18, the Celtics dropped Webb a few hours before he was arrested and charged with raping a former girlfriend. Three days earlier, the mother of his 13-month-old son, who lives in Alabama, had him arrested for allegedly hitting her during a weekend trip to Boston.
Another ex-girlfriend, LaTangelia Sanderson, is suing for child support, claiming that they agreed to have a baby. Yet another woman, whom Webb admits he "used to mess with," has been going around Montgomery saying the child she is carrying is also his.
"We may have the first class-action paternity suit in the country," said Jay Lewis, the Montgomery lawyer representing LaTangelia Sanderson.
Said a disillusioned Sanderson, 20, who has known Webb for a year: "He was like a knight in shining armor: kind, gentle, he listened. I chose to have a child by him, so obviously I must have felt very secure. I don't know what happened."
Webb denies hurting any woman or fathering any child but his 13-month-old boy, TreDarrius Le Marcus Brown, whom he dotes on and wishes had his last name.
"I was raised by two women and taught I shouldn't hurt women," Webb said. "If anyone touched my mother, I know how I'd react. So why should I treat someone's daughter wrong?"
Through it all, Webb says his confidence has never waned.
The Boston Garden was Webb's biggest arena yet, but as a marginal player he got little notice. What he did get was notoriety.
Before being waived, Webb had been on the injured list since December, when the team says he broke his thumb while cracking his knuckles. In January, he claimed that he missed a doctor's appointment and a team practice because the police stopped him on Route 9. He is sticking by the story, even though there is no record of the episode and the Celtics fined him $250. He still has no driver's license. Lying about that to the Celtics earlier this month got him dropped from a road trip.
Down in Alabama, all these stories have made the rounds. At Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, coaches roll their eyes sadly. They say they are shocked at the allegations, but not surprised that the kid from Montgomery didn't last with the Celtics.
"Marcus didn't set out to get in trouble, but it would just happen, like with not going to classes," said Henry Lyda, an associate athletic trainer with the Crimson Tide.
Back in Montgomery, where Webb hopes one day to raise hogs and chickens, the disappointment is even greater. At Lanier High, where his photo hangs outside the gym with those of other alumni, including quarterback Bart Starr, a Green Bay Packers football Hall of Famer, Webb is a hero.
"He was a swell guy," said Terrell Wright, whose cousin was Webb's steady girlfriend. "Sports-wise, everyone looked up to him."
Then the boys hear that Webb has been charged with rape, that he's been cut from the Celtics. Mouths agape, they come off the court and crowd around. For a good while, the game stops, the heads shake and the ball is quiet.