Commentary

League catches up to farewell tour

David Robinson is finally getting what he deserves: thank yous for a HOF career

Updated: August 7, 2009, 10:13 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- He doesn't want the hoopla. He doesn't want the fuss of a protracted farewell tour. He doesn't want the Jordan Treatment.

He doesn't get a choice anymore, for the rest of the season.

David Robinson is retiring, and the overdue recognition is finally building. On Thursday night, in a moving ceremony, Robinson was honored by the Dallas Mavericks with a heartfelt sermon/sendoff from longtime former teammate Avery Johnson. On Sunday afternoon, NBA commissioner David Stern came to SBC Center to announce that the league is renaming its monthly Community Assist Award in honor of the future Hall of Famer, an award now known as the "David Robinson Plaque." On Tuesday evening, after the Spurs play Milwaukee, the home team will fete No. 50 with some postgame festivities.

David Robinson
The Mavericks honored David Robinson in an emotional halftime ceremony.
"It's very nice to be recognized, but it's not the ideal thing for me," Robinson said with a nervous chuckle, still not grasping that we've stopped asking.

Until now, even though Robinson announced very clearly over the summer that his 14th season would be his last, the hoopla has been mostly muted, just as he prefers. The Cavaliers, when John Lucas was still coaching them, honored Robinson when he made his final Cleveland appearance in November. Days before that, the 76ers presented Robinson with a framed piece of their court. The Celtics had a tribute planned last month, but Robinson was injured and didn't make the Boston trip.

There have been other nice gestures, like the night in Indiana when he got a loud ovation after being introduced as a "fine person and a true professional," but nothing to compare to the hubbub surrounding Michael Jordan's (alleged) last season. MJ's latest retirement vow had the masses baying for the creation of a 13th roster spot on the East All-Star squad had Jordan not been voted in by the coaches. Public pressure forced Vince Carter to give his starting spot to His Airness, when neither wanted to make the switch.

"Jordan is Jordan," Robinson said. "I'm different in a lot of ways. I'm more low-key. I really wouldn't have wanted to (join the West All-Stars as a 13th man). Especially if I had to stand there next to Jordan, with his six rings and my one. It kind of pales in comparison."

As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says, Robinson is "a pretty self-deprecating individual." Ceremonies or parting gifts? "It's not something he needs every night," Popovich said.

Of course, as Magic coach and former teammate Doc Rivers noted earlier this season, Robinson is the "closest thing the NBA has to Arthur Ashe" as a playing ambassador. Which is why it wouldn't be right to let these last weeks of a great career pass quietly.

And the end, sadly, is clearly near, because Robinson's body won't allow him to continue beyond the forthcoming playoffs. With Robinson freshly activated from the injured list, his movement is labored. Robinson still grabbed eight rebounds in 17 minutes against the Lakers on Sunday and rose for one follow dunk, but he plays on bent slightly at the waist, as if the 37-year-old can't fully uncoil.

"I think he'd keep playing as long as he's healthy, but he realizes that his back just can't hold up anymore," Spurs owner Peter Holt said. "I think he really came to that conclusion when his back went out right before the playoffs last year.

"But if David had said, 'I want to keep playing,' we would have kept him playing. I want David to retire a Spur. I don't want him to go through what Hakeem (Olajuwon) went through and what Patrick (Ewing) went through. He means everything to this franchise."

Robinson instead has a shot to go out as a champion, with the only team he has ever known, although it remains to be seen how much he'll be able to contribute in the playoffs. Not that he needs anything to spruce up the legacy, as argued -- with the usual conviction -- by Johnson.

I'm not usually one for a lot of big fanfare, but when I go to different arenas, I look around and soak it up a little bit.
David Robinson

"David has pretty much done more than we've asked of him," Johnson said. "Fans want you to play hard and win a championship, but he went far beyond what fans or coaches or management can ask. He has been a model citizen, in a society where we tend to reward villains more than the good guys.

"Some basketball people will remember him as a gentle giant who had other interests, not just basketball, and who should have played more physical or whatever. But some people are going to see a man of integrity, a man of honesty and a man of passion. To win an MVP and a scoring title, you've got to be passionate, which is something he doesn't get a lot of credit for."

Yet credit, remember, is not Robinson's concern. The Spurs advised teams around the league before the season started that Robinson preferred donations to the school he founded in one of San Antonio's lower-income neighborhoods to the idea of ceremonies or presents. He was clearly uncomfortable as the center of appreciation at midcourt Thursday night in Dallas, until Avery gushed with so much praise that Robinson said it "just kind of lightened things up for me."

"It was beautiful," Tim Duncan said. "It was above and beyond anything we've seen all year."

Said Popovich, when asked if he wished there had been more Dallas-style hoopla: "Not really, because that's not really his style. I think he's been very comfortable with what's gone on and very thankful for what's gone on."

Well, Mister Robinson?

"I'm not usually one for a lot of big fanfare, but when I go to different arenas, I look around and soak it up a little bit," he admits. "In my mind, it's like graduating from college. I've been in this great fraternity of brothers who have played in the NBA, and now I'm going to the next stage. It's time to go to the next place."

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics

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