The All Star game came and went this weekend, but it meant nothing to me. Jordan was the greatest our generation has seen, maybe the greatest any generation has seen, but he was never my idol. I didn?t really care how he played. I’m not even gonna miss him that much.
At the end of this season another guy will be retiring. A 10-time all-star who didn?t make the game this year. I?m not sure if anybody noticed he wasn?t there. I’m not sure if anybody really cared. Throughout his career, it seemed people never paid much attention to David Robinson.
But I did. I was seven, the year was 1987, and he was the No. 1 draft pick. He didn’t go right to the NBA, though. Robinson served his two years in the Navy, fulfilled the commitment to his country, then joined the San Antonio Spurs as an Admiral.
Immediately, he was my favorite player; it only made sense. Robinson played the saxophone. My Grandpa and my dad had played the saxophone and I would start a few years later. Robinson got a 1350 on his SATs. I liked to think of myself as smart. Robinson was a man of values in a world of sex, parties and drugs. In other words, he was a square. I?m a square.
We were the perfect match and a boy in Milwaukee became a San Antonio Spurs fan. I followed their games in the paper and collected all of his cards. Back when the playoffs were primarily on cable, I went to my grandparents’ apartment to watch the Spurs. I had my number 50 jersey, I had his posters on my wall and I took a lot of abuse from everyone else.
“David Robinson is soft.” “He can?t come through in the clutch.” “He sucks.”
I heard them all and hated them all.
“He isn?t soft,” I’d protest. “He just won the scoring title.”
“He can come through in the clutch,” I’d claim. “He just single-handedly carried them to the conference finals.”
“He doesn’t suck,” I’d yell. “You suck.”
But nobody gave him respect. The year he won the MVP, Hakeem Olajuwon abused him in the playoffs. I?ll be the first to admit that Hakeem owned David. But just as Russell owned Chamberlain, you still have to consider Chamberlain a great player. Russell just had his number.
As the years went on, though, I had to be honest. At times, Robinson was soft. It’s true. He wasn?t aggressive enough. He didn’t get angry enough; he lacked that killer instinct. The problem was, as so many people said, he was too nice. But of all the problems for an NBA player to have, I always thought that one wasn’t that bad.
Sometimes we forget that there are 82 games, but 365 days in a year. The way a player conducts himself on those other days is just as important, at least to me. Robinson may have been “too nice,” but he never got busted for drugs, he never had illegitimate children and he never had to pay off a mistress. When it came to charity, he was second to none.
Robinson told a class of middle school kids in a San Antonio ghetto that if they made it to college, he’d pay their full tuition. Years later, Robinson made good on his promise.
He put up $2 million to start a private school in one of San Antonio’s worst areas. The other people involved wanted to name the school after Robinson. He refused though, and it became the Carver Academy, after George Washington Carver. Robinson wasn’t building the school to be remembered. He just wanted to help kids in the community.
So yeah, he was too nice. I’m just fine with that.
I still maintain that Robinson single-handedly carried those Spurs teams of the mid-90s. Sure, Sean Elliot was a good player, and Avery Johnson was a serviceable point guard. But can you name any other players on those teams? It was Robinson having to do just about everything, and that only got them to the conference finals. But name a player who carried a team to a championship by himself. Hakeem had Clyde. Jordan had Pippen. Magic had Worthy and Kareem. Bird had McHale and Parish. Must I go on?
So the lottery balls bounced our way, and Tim Duncan became the star. Robinson willingly took the supporting role an unselfishness not to be overlooked and he finally won his ring. People said he would have never won it without Duncan, and they?re right. But so what? Duncan would have never won it without Robinson.
Robinson won an MVP award. He won a Defensive Player of the Year award. He won a Rookie of the Year award. He also won a scoring title and a rebounding title. No other player can say they accomplished those five things. Naturally, he was named to the 50th anniversary team.
But still, nobody notices anymore. Especially people our age. I’ll bet very few college students know he won an MVP or a scoring title. They’ve seen too much of the old David Robinson, and weren?t paying as much attention during his prime. He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of basketball, except he never complains.
His back started going a few years ago. His hip is also hurting. But he can still put up 15 and 10 when they need him. Unlike Olajuwon and Ewing, Robinson would never play anywhere but San Antonio, and so this is his final season. A farewell tour without much fanfare, it seems.
Many times this year, I’ve wondered, “Are there still kids, like me so many years ago, who are looking for role models in their athletes? Or has Charles Barkley won? Do we expect nothing anymore?”
Half a season remains, and then the Admiral will be gone. I’ll be in San Antonio over spring break to see my favorite player one last time.
I know he had faults; I admit that now. But he was still a great player, a tremendous person and the best role model a kid could ask for.
I can only hope another player comes along who is solid both on the court and off. I’m confident there are little kids right now looking for role models. As for me, I still live in Mr. Robinson?s neighborhood. Can’t imagine ever leaving.