It was a sight few expected to see this summer: Chris Webber wearing his infectious grin while eagerly anticipating a long future with the Sacramento Kings.
Webber signed the second-biggest contract in NBA history Saturday, agreeing to a seven-year deal worth $122.7 million to return to Sacramento. Minnesota's Kevin Garnett has the largest contract, a six-year, $126 million deal.
''I looked at all my options, and after all the pluses and minuses, there was nothing better than being here,'' Webber said. ''I had every option open to me. This is where I needed to be. That's why I'm back.''
The deal's completion ended a year of speculation on the future of the All-NBA power forward, who told nearly everyone that after three years in small-town Sacramento, he longed for the brighter lights of bigger cities.
But after admitting he ''really considered other places'' -- most prominently Indiana and Detroit -- Webber decided to sign the largest possible contract under league rules in an unlikely return to Sacramento, where his fans love him and his teammates stand ready to help him make a serious championship run.
''I'm relieved I did the right thing,'' Webber said. ''A few years ago, I might not always have done the right thing. Staying here was a sign to myself that I'm mature.''
Webber maintained near-total silence during the 18-day free agency negotiating period, even failing to return the calls of several teams interested in his services.
Continuing that theme, Webber kept reporters in Sacramento waiting for nearly an hour while he showered and changed after a physical examination by team doctors.
When he finally appeared at the Kings' training complex, he was all smiles.
''I was hiding from you all,'' Webber said, laughing. ''I didn't feel I needed to share this with everyone. It was the biggest decision of my life. I was able to be by myself and make the decision.''
On Saturday, he had plenty to say about the Kings' suddenly sparkling future. Webber called the news conference announcing his signing ''the biggest moment in my career, besides being drafted (No. 1 overall in 1993).''
Geoff Petrie, the Kings' vice president of basketball operations, waited patiently in line with 12 to 15 teams when the free agency period opened in July. The Kings' exhaustive, patient courtship of their star finally paid off when very few attractive alternatives to Sacramento's powerful roster proved available.
''This is a great, great day in the history of the Sacramento Kings,'' Petrie said. ''Everyone knew going in we would either be playing 'The Band Played On' or 'Thanks for the Memories.' I'm overjoyed to tell you that the music is going to keep on playing here, folks.''
Webber will have no problems with his Kings teammates, who said they understood his desire to check out the free agent market. But Webber might face a bit of lingering resentment from Sacramento's fans, who poured their hearts out to Webber, only to watch him remain silent while they wondered about his intentions.
Webber began the healing process in earnest on Saturday. After his news conference, he traveled to downtown Sacramento to meet and greet hundreds of fans at a team-organized rally.
Webber's return secures the Kings, who finished last season with the NBA's fourth-best record at 55-27, in a spot among the league's elite teams.
Every significant member of last season's roster will return next season -- except for erratic point guard Jason Williams, who was dealt to Memphis for rising star Mike Bibby.
''I feel this is the best place I have for a chance to win a championship,'' Webber said.
Last season, Webber became the first Kings player in a quarter-century to make the All-NBA team. He finished sixth in scoring (27.1), seventh in rebounding (11.1) and 10th in minutes per game (40.5), shooting 48 percent from the field as the first option on the NBA's highest-scoring team.
Webber said his free agency caused him to reflect on his time in Sacramento, which began with a trade from Washington in 1998. Webber nearly didn't report to his new team in Northern California, then cried on the plane ride out.
But once Webber arrived, he immediately became the biggest part of a phenomenal turnaround in Sacramento, helping the exciting, fast-breaking Kings make the playoffs in the 1999 lockout season. With subsequent improvements the last two years, Webber feels the future can only get brighter.
''At the time (of the trade), it was probably the worst time of my life,'' Webber said. ''But this turned out to be the best place for me. Being sent here was a blessing, not a punishment.''
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