- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The decency of David Robinson was lost amid the petty bombast of Michael Jordan last weekend.

That is how it always has been with Robinson, and how it came to be on the night Robinson, Jordan, John Stockton, Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer delivered their Hall of Fame induction speeches in Springfield, Mass.

Robinson never was a star’s star in the NBA. He was too gracious to be that, too straight-laced, too much the friendly next-door neighbor.

Robinson never worried about keeping it real because of his comfort with who he was. He never felt compelled to project an image, to win converts to his side, to be a contrivance.

He was the accidental elite player, after all. His destiny was not the NBA, not when he was in the final year of high school in Manassas, Va. His destiny was the military. The experience shaped his attitude and grounded him.

He grew five inches after arriving at the Naval Academy. He became a 7-footer, which is no way to be if you plan to spend part of your life on a submarine. He met his two-year military obligation after graduating from the Naval Academy and soon became the face of the Spurs.

He was not flashy or controversial or edgy. He sometimes played with a smile, which runs counter to Flip Saunders’ directive to the ever-grinning Nick Young. Yet he was a competitor. He did not have to dream up imaginary slights to turn on the emotional fires, as Jordan did.

Robinson’s ability to see beyond the basketball floor mostly escaped the NBA chroniclers of his time, perhaps because they were obsessed with all things Jordan.

Robinson raised money to start a school for underprivileged children in San Antonio. He gave back to the community in a profound way, not in a meet-and-greet, photo-op, five-minute way intended to burnish the “We Care” program of the NBA.

Robinson seemingly always knew there was life after basketball. And he was ready to embrace it with the gusto that defined his career. He did not need a farewell tour, which was a good thing. His last season corresponded with Jordan’s last season with the Wizards.

While Jordan’s final go-around was discussed in redundant detail, Robinson’s went largely unnoticed. By then, Robinson was subservient to Tim Duncan on the court.

He took a hit to the ego for the team, one of the overlooked aspects of his career. And Robinson had an ego - but one with a rein on it. In his final seasons, he was the former franchise player nurturing his replacement.

Robinson was appreciative in his speech, the tight-lipped Stockton showed he had a wit, Sloan noted the perspective that came his way after the Evansville basketball plane crash and Stringer talked about losing the love of her life, her husband.

Jordan dumped the names and notes that he took throughout his career on the audience, from the high school varsity player who was selected over him to Jerry Krause to the time he was left off the cover of Sports Illustrated because of Dean Smith.

It was an odd, almost uncomfortable spiel that left you thinking this one-time basketball wonder never will be as satisfied in life as he was on the court.

Robinson left no such impression. He walked away from the NBA knowing it was time. There was no angst then, no thought of a comeback.

Jordan has a rage in him that no front-office position can satisfy. He could not resist suggesting that he could have another comeback in him at age 50. That was not intended to elicit a laugh.

So, just as he did as a player, Jordan claimed the headlines, along with the evaluations of the arm-chair psychoanalysts.

The message, intended or not, lent a twist to the one-time “Be Like Mike” Gatorade campaign, which was: Don’t be like Mike.

Instead, be like David: content, well-adjusted, at peace.

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