- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

David Robinson always has offended the keep-it-real element of the NBA, as if packing heat or roughing up a spouse or girlfriend is somehow a poetic function of life.

Robinson is a noble man, a military man, a man of unwavering religious faith, who seemingly wakes up each day with a smile on his face and with a heart just busting to do good. He is a quality citizen who just happened to spend his last 14 years in the high-profile workplace of the NBA.

It never was solely about basketball with Robinson. He was too smart for that. His upbringing was too rich in purpose. He spent four years at the Naval Academy and another two years in the military before landing in San Antonio as the savior of a franchise coming off a 21-61 season in 1989.

Now Robinson leaves the game as a champion, with the second ring of his career, and it was the perfect ending to an otherwise flawed NBA Finals.

It was a wonderful antidote to the upside-down thought process that too often celebrates the ignorant, the barely literate, the thugs, the posers.

A nice guy finished first, although Robinson is more than a nice guy.

He is a classy guy, a giver, a thinker, the best of what his profession has to offer.

Robinson showed that a player did not have to be cheap or dirty to be effective. He did not have to clutter his body with tattoos or litter the NBA cities with illegitimate children. Robinson never felt a need to bring attention to himself, to shimmy after a good play or point to the crowd, as if to say, “Look at me. Aren’t I something special?”

Robinson was secure enough in who he was to let his actions reveal the depth of his game and character. He possibly is the last of his kind, in a way, the accidental 7-footer from a service academy who understood that respect is a two-way courtesy, as opposed to something earned with a threat.

There was nothing not to like with Robinson, as an athlete or person, although there were too many who disliked his goody-two-shoes manner.

Robinson, it seems, was too real for his own good. His was no act or pose. He did not pretend to be at one with the street code, however contrived that is if you are a multimillionaire in short pants. That is real? No, that is absurd. But that is the thinking, shallow as it is.

Unlike Michael Jordan, who could not tame his massive ego in Washington, Robinson bequeathed the Spurs to Tim Duncan in 1999, in the team’s first run to the NBA championship.

This could not have been easy for a player coming off a 20-10 season in 1998, Duncan’s rookie season. Yet you never heard a hint of discord in Robinson, because he actually believed it was the best move for the team. And he was a team man. He did not just say the words. He lived them.

The NBA should have made a bigger fuss during Robinson’s farewell season. The NBA should have put him on the same pedestal as Jordan and held him up as a person to emulate for reasons that extend beyond the court.

If any NBA player deserved the one-year anniversary flag of September 11 from Donald H. Rumsfeld, it was Robinson, not Jordan. If any NBA player was a role model, both as a competitor and a person, it was Robinson. He is a bigger man than athlete, no small accomplishment in his case.

“How could you write a better script than this?” Robinson said after the Spurs vanquished the Nets in six games.

It was almost too good, like Robinson himself. The aptly nicknamed Admiral was no spare part in his send-off game, demonstrating anew the cat-like qualities that distinguished him from other 7-footers.

He took three charges in Game 6, beating younger men to spots on the floor around the basket. He also was all over the backboard in the fourth quarter. The 37-year-old Robinson was young again, finishing with 13 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots in 31 minutes.

It was the ideal complement to Duncan’s stirring performance: 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocked shots. How can anyone not be captivated by Duncan’s impeccable skills? How can it be said that he somehow lacks flair? Duncan’s stuff is straight out of a how-to basketball book: the footwork, the fundamentals, the smarts, the deft shooting touch. Perfection should be a joy to watch, not a chore.

Yet the vanilla-like perception of Robinson, Duncan and the Spurs persisted to the end, which only revealed the emptiness of the vanilla-minded.

Robinson and the Spurs conducted themselves as strong men, as professionals, and weaved an uplifting tale. The basketball was not pretty. But that is quibbling.

The good guys won. Robinson won. Decency won. We all won.

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