The Admiral sails away with NBA championship

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 16, 2003

SAN ANTONIO -- Here's to you, Mr. Robinson, the ultimate retirement gift: an NBA championship.

David Robinson, one of the classiest players in league history, ended his 14-year career with his second title -- and was a big reason for it.

Robinson had 13 points and 17 rebounds in the San Antonio Spurs' 88-77 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Sunday night in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

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The Spurs hadn't led all game when Robinson checked back in with 7:08 left to play. His first rebound led to Stephen Jackson's 3-pointer that put San Antonio ahead for good, and he helped protect it with clutch plays at both ends of the court.

They don't call him the Admiral for nothing.

Robinson left the court for the last time with 35.6 seconds left. Kevin Willis took his place and the pair put up their arms together. They hugged, with Robinson leaning on Willis so hard that his feet came off the ground.

Robinson raised and swung his left arm, hugged several teammates on the bench, then was among the first to hug MVP Tim Duncan when he left the court. Once the game ended, the fireworks sparked and the confetti fell, Robinson got a long hug from Spurs coach Gregg Popovich then ran across the court and pulled one of his sons out of the crowd. Robinson also had his parents in the audience.

''One of the greats we get a chance to say goodbye to, tonight, David Robinson,'' commissioner David Stern said at the start of the presentation ceremony. ''Thank you.''

Even if Robinson hadn't had a big performance, this was still his night.

Fans throughout the SBC Center brought their personal tributes. Among the best signs were ''Tonight The Admiral Sails Into The Sunset'' and a huge banner unfurled after the game ended that read, ''Dear David:

50 Bon Voyage.''

''We hate to see him go,'' Duncan said. ''We're going to try to talk him into coming back another year, but I don't know if that's going to work.''

Robinson held up the championship trophy, while Duncan held up the one for being MVP. That portrait of those big men will be an enduring one in a city that adores both players and the team, their only pro sports franchise.

''I'm ready,'' Robinson said. ''How can you walk away any better than this? This is awesome.''

Both came through when the team needed them most.

While Duncan was wrapping up a rare Finals triple-double, Robinson made his presence felt by grabbing loose balls and making key plays on both ends of the court. Adrenaline alone erased whatever aches and pains he might have felt in the balky back and knee that are sending him into retirement two months shy of his 38th birthday.

His fabulous finish began with the rebound that led to the lead, then he scored the next basket, a vintage left-handed layup after faking out Dikembe Mutombo. The final two points of his career came after he'd hurried Jason Kidd into a miss on defense, then snatched an offensive rebound.

Robinson got another defensive rebound that the Spurs scored off, prompting a New Jersey timeout. As Robinson walked to the bench, he smiled wide, slapped hands with Willis and said, ''Five more minutes.''

Soon after, he assisted Speedy Claxton on the jumper that made it 82-72, capping a 19-0 run.

Robinson later missed two free throws, but it didn't matter. Fans still found any excuse to cheer his name and scream ''5-0'' one last time.

''To finish my career in the NBA Finals and to win the championship is a play written only by God,'' Robinson said.

Robinson won his way into their hearts as soon as he arrived in 1989. The Spurs made him the top pick two years earlier even though he had to spend two years in the Navy. When he got out, he could've gone back into the draft instead of joining a moribund team. He wouldn't hear of it.

Robinson was named rookie of the year and led the Spurs all the way to the conference semifinals, a tremendous accomplishment for a team that had not won a playoff series in seven years.

It was the start of many big things to come. Among his achievements and honors: league MVP in 1995, defensive player of the year in 1992, 10-time All-Star, three-time Olympian and a spot among the NBA's 50 greatest players.

In various seasons he led the league in scoring, rebounding and blocks. He once had a quadruple-double and another time scored 71 points -- two things fellow retiree Michael Jordan never did.

Robinson's legacy is secure off the court, too. He's given more than $9 million to start the Carver Academy, a school in San Antonio, and the NBA showed its appreciation for all his good deeds by putting his name on its community assist plaque.