- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
DALLAS -- On this night, even though this was pre-arranged to be his night, it didn't seem quite right, addressing David Robinson as we usually do.
"I wouldn't want to have the responsibility some of those admirals have right now," Robinson said.
A reluctant Robinson was expected Thursday in Dallas, no matter the circumstances. The Mavericks planned a halftime tribute for the future Hall of Famer to commemorate his last regular-season appearance in town, replete with a sendoff speech from longtime teammate Avery Johnson, and Robinson has never relished spotlight moments.
On this particular Thursday, though, the unsettling part wasn't retirement or the thank-you speech or the fact he'd have to sit out another big game because of back spasms, with the Spurs attempting to slice into Dallas' 3½-game lead for the valuable No. 1 seed in the West playoffs.
"For them to take the time out to say it was important I was ever here means a great deal to me," Robinson said. "It's a nice thing -- it's something I'll remember forever. ... But it also seems really insignificant. It was already a little uncomfortable. Now it's really uncomfortable."
Robinson was not alone in that sentiment, on the team that is following military operations in Iraq as intently as any professional sports team is. Besides Robinson, perhaps the most famous Naval officer on the planet, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich played, coached, graduated and served his country at the Air Force Academy.
Steve Kerr, meanwhile, is a full-fledged expert on the Middle East, unlikely as it sounds and as a result of the most painful possible circumstances. Kerr, a member of the U.S. team at the 1986 World Championships, was actually born in Lebanon. That's where Kerr's father Malcolm, president of American University in Beirut, was assassinated by terrorists in 1984.
"We talk about these things quite a bit," Robinson confirmed.
Not surprisingly, then, there wasn't much talk about how big the game was, at least not beforehand.
Yet what you heard from the Spurs, conflicted as they were, was loud protest against the suggestion that the games should stop because war has begun. To the contrary, all of the above Spurs insisted in the strongest terms that playing on is a must, for themselves and the fans and troops everywhere.
"There's no question," Robinson said. "It's a big morale booster. It's something for them to kind of take their mind off what's going on. When they get a chance to sit down and watch some television ... obviously you want to watch something else. When your best friend next to you is getting shot, anything that can take your mind off that is a good thing."
Asked at the morning shootaround to share his emotions from Wednesday night, watching war unfold on a hotel-room TV, Popovich countered in a serious tone.
"You don't have enough time to get a decent answer to that question," Pop said. "I think it's best to say, at this point, that I just hope the casualties are minimal."
The coach, though, was just as convinced as Robinson that American military personnel, no matter the affiliation, would have been profoundly disappointed had they heard that Spurs vs. Mavericks was being postponed.
"Absolutely," Popovich said. "I have no doubt about that."
Kerr neither. He recalled where he was in 1984, at the University of Arizona, when the phone rang with news of his father's murder.
Kerr played in a game for the Wildcats a few days later.
"It was the first time I could take my mind off it," Kerr said. "If anything, (playing is) the best for me. Playing basketball is a great outlet for any kind of stress or tension."
Kerr then urged his NBA colleagues and the collegians to book a minute of silence or prayer -- of recognition, basically -- for as long as military operations in Iraq last.
"I would like to see time taken before every game ... where we recognize the people over there," Kerr said. "Our troops. Iraqi civilians. People who are in danger."
That's more the sort of recognition Robinson, insisting you called him David on this night, would embrace.
Honored by Dallas, David Robinson felt like fans were paying tribute to the wrong cadet.