MAY 22, 1978
For most of the 1977-78 NBA season, 7'1" Marvin Webster was a pretty decent center for the pretty decent Seattle SuperSonics. He blocked shots, rebounded and scored a bit. He was the type of player who fit in and played hard. "Then," he says, "something happened."
That something was stardom. During Seattle's '78 playoff run, Webster emerged as a defensive monster, frustrating the likes of Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Denver Nugget Dan Issel and Washington Bullet Wes Unseld with 58 blocks and 289 rebounds. Though his team fell in the Finals to the Bullets in seven games, Webster had lived up to his moniker: the Human Eraser.
Now 45 and living in Metuchen, N.J., where he buys and sells properties, Webster sees that 1978 drive as the best—and worst—thing that could have happened to him. "Even though we lost, it's a great memory, getting that far," he says. "I remember the locker room after the final game—how the champagne was on ice, guys with tears in their eyes. I loved being on that team. I had no idea I'd be gone so shortly."
That's where the worst comes in. Soon after that championship series Webster, who was a free agent, and Sonics president Samuel Schulman started haggling about a new deal, but they could not reach an agreement. Webster ended up signing a five-year, $3 million contract with the New York Knicks, and in October 1978 he again made SI's cover, under the headline CAN MARVIN WEBSTER TURN THE KNICKS AROUND? Answer: He couldn't. During his six seasons on some laughable New York teams, Webster suffered not only fan abuse but also hepatitis and low spirits. "Those were tough times," he says. "In New York, there's a lot of pressure no matter what. I don't think the public knew what I was going through."
After a brief stint in the CBA in 1986 and 15 games with the Milwaukee Bucks in '87, Webster retired, citing damaged knees and a bruised psyche. He spent three years doing "nothing really—just living," he says, then taught physical education at a church and sold big-and-tall men's clothing. While he no longer plays competitively ("At the Y," he laughs, "guys always ask me to be on their teams"), Webster lives vicariously through his son Marvin II, a 6'10" freshman at Temple who redshirted last season. "They call him Eraser Jr.," he says. "One day he calls me up, says, 'Dad, everybody here knows who you are.' I smiled. Not all former athletes admit it, but I will. It's nice to be remembered."