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Monday, June 13, 2005
Updated: June 21, 10:53 PM ET
Big Dog learns new trick

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

SAN ANTONIO -- Let Pop tell it.

"I had him set up pretty good, I think. They were expecting a black hole. You know, somebody (who) as soon as he caught the ball, it was gone; never see it again. I said, 'I want you guys to make sure that you give him an opportunity to learn defense and all of that; but trust me, all he's going to do is shoot it every time he touches it. You're going to have to be very patient (with him).' We had him set up that way. He's smart. He came in and it might have taken him, you know, five minutes before he shot (the ball). He took a whole five minutes! In that five minutes, they saw him try to play D, so they accepted it."

*****

He stood at the top of the key, releasing. One after another. While all of the other San Antonio Spurs were finding spots off the court to spend the next 30 minutes with the media, Glenn Robinson stayed on the court, working on a craft he almost perfected a long time ago.

Glenn Robinson
Glenn Robinson's had to adjust to a very different role in San Antonio.
He sticks out his hand. Gives a silent dap. Keeps his eyes on the rim.

"You still shootin' that thing?"

"Yep."

Gregg Popovich's system was not made for him. It's a system not made for anyone like him. Motion offense, transition defense, ball sharing, assigned roles. Of all of the teams in the NBA, this is the one least suited for his game. The Spurs don't have room for any more stars.

Glenn Big Dog Robinson? A non-scoring role player off the bench? Never happen. He'll never accept it. They'll never accept him.

Who knew, four months ago, that he'd be here, playing this role? Who knew, four months ago, that both Robinson and Robinson's team would be happy that his name is on the roster?

Who knew, four days ago, that he'd play in his first Finals game and score only two points, but grab three rebounds, block three shots in six minutes and have an impact on the game?

From superstar in Milwaukee to trying to fit in with AI and Jim O'Brien in Philly to being traded and waived by New Orleans in early March to being damn near out of the league … to this. His journey has taken him from the All-Star Game only four years ago to 42 minutes on the bench and fighting Devin Brown for playing time. A career 20-points-per-game player averaging one point through the first two games of the Finals … and accepting it.

This is not the Glenn Robinson we've grown to know, love or hate in the last 10 years. That Glenn Robinson would never play this role. He was too selfish for that.

That's what we thought.

Another shot leaves his hand and finds nylon. He won't get a chance to do this in the game, yet he leaves the court happy.

Maybe we didn't know Glenn Robinson at all.

*****

He'd just had his best game with the Spurs when he found out. He scored 16 points in 14 minutes off the bench in the first game of the series against the Sonics. Finally, Big Dog got his groove back.

Then the news.

Moms. Lung cancer.

Last breath.

May she rest in peace.

It's impossible to understand what goes through someone when he loses his mother. Even those of us who have been through it don't really understand beyond the numbness. It's an emptiness. But one thing is constant: When it happens to you, you lose part of yourself.

"I found out in October," Glenn said. "It was the day after [former head coach] Jim O'Brien in Philly told me he wasn't going to play me. The next day, I found out that she had cancer. That's why I went home. Everyone thought it was because of what was going on with him. But it wasn't at all. I went home to see her.

"Throughout the year, my mind hasn't been 100 percent on basketball. It's been with my mother, with the family situation. But the blessing is that she did get a chance to see me play here during the regular season before she passed. And that made her feel good to see me back out there on the court with a good team with a chance to win."

You can see it in him as he's speaking that he really shouldn't be talking about her. Not yet. It's too soon. Only one month. The pain isn't evident in his words, but it's written all over his face.

But this is how he deals. By dealing with it. Trying not to lose another part of himself.

"Does it upset you that she's not here to see you being two games away from getting a ring?" I ask.

"Yeah, it upsets me a lot. But this is all for her. And I know somewhere, she's getting a chance to see this. She's watching me, proud of the way I handled everything, this whole season. I know she's looking down on me, happy with the way everything is going on."

Christine's baby. His worst season might end up being his most memorable. From out of the league in the beginning of the season to trophy-hoisting at the end.

Not only is someone looking over him; someone must be looking out for him, too.

*****

The locker room is empty. All of the players are gone. On the white board: "11 a.m. Treatments; 1:15 p.m. Meeting; 2 p.m. Depart to Detroit."

There is a linen summer button-up still hanging in one locker. The only locker that doesn't have kicks underneath it. Just a pair of beige linen drawstring pants at the bottom, and two pairs of Nike sandals with the No. 3 markered on top.

Glenn Robinson
But when given the opportunity, the Big Dog hopes to fly high again.
He didn't play much tonight.

First Q: DNP.

Second Q: 2.5 seconds.

Third Q: DNP.

Fourth Q: With 2:35 left and the Spurs up by 22, he got off the bench. Into the game.

Which explains why he is the last Spur here. Still not dressed. Still working out. Still getting used to the system.

He spent the night in every huddle, during every timeout, looking directly into the eyes of whoever was talking, listening to PJ during the game, sitting next to the last assistant coach on the bench. During pregame warm-ups, he was the one getting the other guys ready – the guys who were going to get playing time ahead of him. A shooting contest with Beno Udrih, another one with Tony Parker. Playing D on Rasho, just in case. Helping Nazr get his post moves down.

I tell you, you all don't know this Dog.

Most other players who've been where Glenn has been, who've seen the elite side of the game, wouldn't accept this. Their egos and pride would block it. They wouldn't understand the circle of basketball's life.

This Dog does.

"Man, I'm happy," he said. "All I have to do is just be available. Just like in Game 1. If I'm needed, just give them a little spark. And leave the rest up to the guys.

"I'm going to get a chance in one of these games," he continues, wiping his face with a towel, removing the sweat he accumulated after the game. "People know what I can do. People understand the things that I've been going through, and I'm still moving. That's why the minutes don't bother me. I'm gearing up for next season."

That season will be the resurrection. The one where Big Dog comes back.

The old Dog with the new tricks.

Before he leaves, Robert Horry makes a joke about Glenn. There are rumors floating that if San An wins the series, Horry will call this one his last. His minutes can be passed on to Dog. A 6-foot-7 jump-shot artist with Horry's range and the gift to score twice as much.

Dog's contract is up the minute the season ends. It's going to be interesting to find out what Pop saw in the minutes he played Glenn.

Or will he be like the other coaches Dog has had in his recent past who just played him?

"That's the one thing you have to love about sports," Jalen Rose said about Robinson before he entered the locker room. "You can't predict the ending. I love him, and we all know that he has a lot of game left in him. But he has to ask himself at this stage: Does he want to end his career averaging four points a game?"

Or does Glenn Robinson want to go out replacing a hero with the intent of becoming the hero he was before he put on a Spurs uniform?

Time will tell.

And until then, we'll sit and watch his life unfold on the bench of a possible championship squad. We'll watch him adjust from being The One of 12 to being one of 12.

We'll watch him rise from a season of hell that allows him – and his Moms – to find heaven in the end.

Scoop Jackson is an award-winning journalist who has covered sports and culture for more than 15 years. He is a former editor of Slam, XXL, Hoop and Inside Stuff magazines and the author of "Sole Provider: 30 Years of NIKE Basketball," "Battlegrounds: America's Street Poets Called Ballers" and "LeBron James: the Chambers of Fear." He resides in Chicago with his wife and two kids. You can e-mail Scoop here.