There will be two numbers that I will always consider to be numbers that basketball players should resist wearing; 23 and 50. I understand why people would want to don these golden numbers, but I, personally, would never feel that I could live up to the great expectations that come with wearing those numbers.
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Today I have the distinct pleasure of writing about my two favorite basketball players of all time. David Robinson and Michael Jordan represented everything great about sports during my childhood. The days they retired were the days that I cared a little bit less about basketball. Yesterday was an amazing day for my heroes. They both finally got their due. Well, Robinson finally got his due, MJ has been considered the best ever since he retired the first time and solidified it by the time he retired the second time.
Yesterday two all-time greats, men who redefined how people played their positions, if not the sport in general. When people talk about MJ, they think about his six NBA titles, they think about his attempt to play in Major League Baseball during his first retirement (something that some say was the only thing that kept the Bulls from winning eight-straight). They can list a series of moments that helped define Jordan's epic career; The Flu Game, The Shot, The Shot Part Two, The Final Shot in a Bulls Jersey, etc. They talk about the shoes. "It's gotta be the shoes," that's what Mars, or should I say Spike, always said. They talk about the rivalries. In Chicago we still debate who was Jordan's bigger rival, Malone or Miller (I say Miller). They talk about everything that would make Mike larger than life, something he definitely seems to be.
And then they talk about some of the skeletons in the MJ closet. The constant high-stakes gambling. The conspiracy theory that people have, saying that Jordan's first retirement was actually a secret suspension handed down by David Stern for Jordan's gambling. They talk about the divorce. Not many people realize how bad it really was. I live a few minutes away from the Jordan house in Highland Park, IL. I went trick or treating at the house that Nike paid for. I played JCC basketball with the Jordan kids. There was not a story more juicy than the Jordan's breaking up. No one in town has seen the ex-misses Jordan around town since. We barely ever saw His Airness, but these days, people don't even know if he still lives in that giant house with the 23 on the gates.
And on the other side of Jordan sits Robinson. One of the most humble people to ever play a professional sport. Robinson, the man who actually quit playing basketball because he was too short to compete. The man who grew a foot from junior high to the end of high school. The guy who grew three inches in college. He served his country. Attended the Naval Academy. Preached education over athletics. One of the smartest to play the game (he scored a 1320 on his SAT). Was drafted by the Spurs in 1987 with the first pick in the draft, and he actually waited two years to take the court in San Antonio so that he could fulfill his commitment to his country.
By the time he took the court, San Antonio was in horrible shape. There was speculation that we wouldn't even play with them, that he'd sign a big free agent contract before ever playing a minute in the Alamo City. And then something amazing happened. The Admiral took control of the sinking ship that was the Spurs, and generated the Spurs first record-breaking turn around. The 1989 Rookie of the year took his team from a 21-61 laughing stock to the playoffs following a 56-26 season. They would make it to the second round before loosing a seven-game set to the eventual conference champs, the Portland Trail Blazers.
Then in 1997 another miracle occurred. Tim Duncan, a 6-11 defensive monster from Wake Forest was drafted by the Spurs. On Friday Robinson said to the crowd at his induction "Have any of you guys ever gotten on your knees and prayed really hard for something? That was my answer to prayer right there." The combination of the two "Twin Towers" as they were dubbed was all the Spurs would need to win games, and following a lockout shortened 1999 season, the Spurs were rewarded for the time they had put in. They finished with the best record in the league. Losing just one game in the playoffs the Spurs cruised to the NBA finals where they would take on the New York Knicks, eventually winning the series in five games. Duncan would be named MVP of that series. That June night ushered in a new era for basketball in San Antonio, and presented an heir-apparent for Robinson.
Before the start of the 2002-2003 NBA season, Robinson announced that the season would be the last of his NBA career. He had won two MVP awards (1995 and 1996), and NBA title, Defensive Player of the Year (1992), Rookie of the Year (1990) A four time first team All-NBAer ('91, '92, '95, '96), became one of four players to ever register a quadruple double and had become the only player in NBA history to win the rebounding, blocked shots, and scoring titles as well as Rookie of the Year and league MVP. And yet, he still wasn't done. The 2002-2003 campaign was bittersweet for fans of both Robinson and the Spurs. June 15th 2003 marked the end of an era in both San Antonio and the NBA. The Spurs locked up their second championship following an 88-77 win over the New Jersey Nets. Robinson scored 13 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in his final game and, along with NBA and Finals MVP Duncan, was named 2003 Sportsmen of the Year by Sports Illustrated. That June night signaled the end of one of the greatest careers the NBA had ever seen, and yet until last night, barely anybody realized it.
So here's to Michael Jordan and David Robinson, two very different people that share one very special trait, they should both considered the best at what they did.
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