Monday, December 8, 2008

David Robinson: 2009 Hall of Fame Nominee

David Robinson is a certain inductee into 2009's Basketball Hall of Fame class. I'll leave reflections about his measurable, on-the-court contributions to basketball for a later post. Those who do measurables well think The Admiral was the best center of the last 20 years. But, again, I'll leave that for later.

When I read that Robinson was up for Hall induction, my mind did not immediately run to scoring titles and defensive prowess. I thought of qualities before quantities.

I spend a lot of time, too much really, thinking about Spurs Culture. How does Popovich's "get over yourself" refrain help produce wins? The whole rock pounding thing, does it actually resonate with players? Is Tim Duncan's diminished celebrity a silent blessing?

When the Spurs signed Roger Mason, GM R.C. Buford said the front office evaluated each free agent, in part, by whether or not he was a Spur. They can apparently peer into the soul to make these sort of ontological assessments. I'm being playful, but you know Spurs Culture matters to those running the show in Alamo City. They really do care if such and such player "is a Spur." It's part of their skill set. It factors in.

Typically, Tim Duncan is said to epitomize Spurness. And it's true, he does. But the attention he receives on this front has a lot to do with the fact that he's current. To my mind, Spurs Culture is forever indebted to David Robinson. Specifically, it's indebted to David Robinson's humility.

The David Robinson-Tim Duncan twin towers tandem that eventuated into two titles could have gone badly. Professionals or not, ego always rears its ugly head. In other environments, Tim Duncan's arrival could have meant a alpha-male showdown, with dominant rookie and veteran stalwart locked to the death in a stat-obsessed duel. But that's not how things went in San Antonio. Things, as they say, could not have gone differently.

While it's true that Tim Duncan never demanded the spotlight, it's also the case that Robinson was happy to cede his franchise center status to Duncan. Rarely does a last generation to this generation baton pass happen with such seamless grace. In passing the baton, Robinson did more than recognize the obvious. He set a precedent. He left a legacy.

From that time forward, Spurs Culture, however one defines it, would include humility and selflessness. Whether or not one "is a Spur" has much to do with a willingness to play in the shadows of others, to relish a role. The David Robinson precedent ripple continues to ring out. On his last contract extension, Tim Duncan took less money at precisely the moment in the franchise's history when his successor might be named. He's still standing in Robinson's shadow while everyone else, I would argue, stands in his.

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