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Admiral Admirable:

David Robinson Retires a Class Act

Week of June 9, 2003


            As I write this the San Antonio Spurs lead the New Jersey Nets two games to one in the NBA championship finals.  By the end of the week the series may be over, and with it the career of Spurs center David Robinson.

            Not “Dave,” mind you; it is David, though he’ll tolerate “Admiral.” 

            I don’t often write about professional sports, ripe though it is with examples of modern values in action – mostly bad.  Even in the good old days sports figures were largely overblown as role models, propped up by willing media and a self-serving understanding by athletes that scandal was bad for the career. 

            Neither is true today.  Bad boys get good press unless they cross over to a Dennis Rodman-like nether world, a dark province Rodman pretty much has to himself.  Even a legend in the making like the Chicago Cubs’ Sammy Sosa is more firmly planted on his pedestal than ever after getting caught with a corked bat and a lame excuse.  Once he’d have been booed off the field; today he gets standing ovations.

            And then there is Robinson, who could sell baby seals for Saddam Hussein’s dinner table and still be a better man than most in sports, or anywhere else for that matter. 

            “The Admiral” will retire after this year’s NBA finals at age 37.  After playing exactly one season of high school basketball, Robinson entered the United States Naval Academy where he grew seven inches and became a basketball phenomenon.  The Spurs used the number one pick of the 1987 draft to sign him after he graduated with a degree in mathematics, then waited two years for him to fulfill his commitment to the Navy.  Robinson served honorably, resisting any urge he might have felt to whine or sue his way to NBA millions early.

              His career guarantees a greased highway to the Basketball Hall of Fame:  1990 Rookie of the Year, 1995 League Most Valuable Player, 10 years on the NBA All-Star team, two Olympic gold medals and a bronze, the Spurs’ 1999 NBA championship, and so many individual awards this column would be moved to the sports page if I tried to list them. 

            None of this makes a man.  There are plenty of wealthy, accomplished professional athletes you wouldn’t want living next door, but Robinson isn’t one of them.  He and his wife founded the faith-based David Robinson Foundation in 1992 to help with the physical and spiritual needs of San Antonio’s families.  The Robinsons also donated $11 million to help found The Carver Academy, a private school for underprivileged children stressing quality academics and Judeo-Christian values. 

            Robinson, an assistant pastor at the church his family attends while on Hawaiian vacations, is considering attending medical school after basketball.  It’s a safe bet he won’t be doing it for the money. 

            The only gripe I have with David Robinson is the Spurs’ elimination of the Dallas Mavericks from this year’s finals, which remains my second favorite team despite bumping off my beloved Sacramento Kings.  At least Robinson and crew did the same for that squad from Los Angeles, which is known in my home as “They whose name must not be spoken.” 

            In a profession where tattooed, foul-mouthed scofflaws get most of the attention, the rap on David Robinson is that he’s “too nice” and not tough enough on the court.  While the latter might be argued by the poor chumps who’ve had to guard him, the Admiral might take issue with the former. 

            The website for the magazine “Philanthropy in Texas” quotes him:  “Jesus Christ, as my exemplar, reached out to people in His community who had need.  I want to show my love of God.” 

            Some will scoff, but he can handle it.  David Robinson would be a big man if he were 5 feet tall.






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© 2003 Brent Morrison