Here's to You, Mr. Robinson
Michael Jordan's farewell tour is getting most of the attention,
but the void created by David Robinson's departure may be even
harder for the NBA to fill
It was a June night in 1999, and David Robinson had been an NBA
champion for all of 90 minutes. As he dressed, reporters and TV
crews massed around his stall in the visitors' locker room of
Madison Square Garden, notebooks and cameras at the ready. But
they had to wait while he answered questions from another source.
"How do you tie a tie, Daddy?" asked David Jr., six years old at
the time. "Well, you bring this part around here and tuck this in
here, and then you pull down here," Robinson answered softly, as
he performed each step. "Is it hard?" David Jr. asked. "Not once
you know how to do it," said his father. "Don't worry, I'll teach
They went on like that for a few minutes, a father chatting with
his son as though they were the only two people in the room. On
the night that he reached the peak of his profession, Robinson
was content to be David Jr.'s dad, which should come as no
surprise to anyone who followed him during his four seasons at
the Naval Academy or since he joined the San Antonio Spurs, in
1989. The 7'1" Robinson has often been called an extraordinary
man, but in truth he is an ordinary one, in the best sense. He
values his family and his faith; he tries to do good works and
spread good will. He measures himself by how much he gives, not
by his two Olympic gold medals or his 10 All-Star appearances or
the mind-boggling digits on his paycheck.
"There are other things in my life that validate me beyond
basketball," he says. "Criticism or losing a playoff series never
really crushed me. At the end of the day I knew I'd given my best."
That sense of perspective allows Robinson, 37, to prepare for his
exit from the NBA with such equanimity. He intends to retire at
the end of the Spurs' playoff run, and though his farewell season
has been overshadowed by Michael Jordan's, the Admiral may be as
difficult to replace. There are few athletes in any sport who can
match his combination of talent, dignity and social conscience.
He and his wife of 11 years, Valerie, started Carver Academy for
economically disadvantaged children in San Antonio in 1997, and
they have poured more than $9 million into the school. Robinson's
work at Carver is just one reason that the NBA's community
service award now bears his name.
Although he appreciates such honors, the man who served his
two-year hitch in the Navy as a civil engineer feels uneasy about
being given a hero's send-off while a war rages in Iraq. "For
people to acknowledge my contributions to the league means a
great deal to me," he said. "But honoring my career was already a
little uncomfortable. Now it's really uncomfortable."
Still, the recognition is better than the slings and arrows
Robinson used to take before he finally won his championship,
criticism that would have made a less gracious and grounded man
turn bitter. Some of those barbs came from me. "It is difficult
to believe that a man whose torso bulges with such marblelike
muscle," I wrote in 1994, "could be so squeezably soft when the
playoffs arrive." Robinson no doubt read those words and others
like them, yet a smile and a handshake were always waiting for me
the next time we met.
He gained his revenge on all of his critics when he and Tim
Duncan led the Spurs to that championship in 1999. But Robinson's
real last laugh will echo for years to come, as he devotes
himself to his family, his faith and his charitable works. In an
era of ego-driven athletes to whom the big picture extends no
further than the sidelines, we will miss him far more than he
misses us. --Phil Taylor
Her load lightened by a new coach, Michelle Kwan floated to her
fifth world title
What a difference a year makes. In March 2002 Michelle Kwan was
licking her wounds after a season of disappointment, pondering a
professional career as Olympic champion Sarah Hughes basked in a
golden glow. But last weekend in Washington, D.C., the
22-year-old Kwan completed a year of stunning rebirth by winning
her fifth world title. It was the third time she had reclaimed
the crown, making her the Muhammad Ali of her sport. Only at this
stage of her career Kwan isn't rope-a-doping the judges and fans;
with her passion rekindled, she's still floating like a butterfly
and winging across the ice like a bee.
Hughes? The 17-year-old high school senior had a disastrous
qualifying round on March 26 and played catch-up all weekend,
eventually finishing sixth. Now she must decide which Ivy League
college to attend--she's been accepted at Harvard and hears from
Columbia, Princeton and Yale this month--and how to juggle her
skating career with her academics. "It's not easy being Olympic
champion," she said, looking a trifle shell-shocked. "I'm glad
[the year] is over."
Kwan, who has won Olympic silver and bronze, would love to
discover the burdens of Olympic gold. Few expected her to
continue to compete after her third-place finish in Salt Lake
City, and last season Kwan appeared burned out. Over the summer
she mulled her career options, and last September she called
Scott Williams, 37, a former skater who had stayed involved in
the sport. Kwan asked Williams to coach her. "I knew after the
[post-Olympic] tour that I needed help," says Kwan, who following
her split with longtime mentor Frank Carroll in 2001 had tried to
skate with only her father as coach and adviser. "Scott has an
aura that's relaxing and calming."
Williams, driving in his car when Kwan called, had to pull over
to keep from careering off the road. While he did some coaching,
he considered himself more of an ice-show producer. But the
prospect of guiding Kwan, arguably the greatest female skater
since Sonja Henie (10 world titles between 1927 and '36), was
Insightful and laid-back, Williams has succeeded in getting Kwan
to enjoy her skating again. She still doesn't have a
triple-triple combination, as most of her rivals do. What she has
done is subtract the weight of the world from her shoulders. In
Washington last Saturday it was not Kwan's six triple jumps or
even her elegant signature spiral that drew the 16,116 fans at
the MCI Center to their feet. It was her straight-line footwork,
an exquisite, Astaire-like dance of exuberance that was more like
a scene of great theater than sport. The cheering audience
drowned out the final 30 seconds of her music as she shimmered
across the ice. "I've never felt such energy from myself," said
Kwan, who won the U.S. championship in January. "It tells me I
should put less pressure on myself and just go out and have fun.
That's how it should have been last year."
While Kwan stopped short of promising to compete at the Turin
Olympics in 2006, she sounded ready for the journey: "Why stop
doing what you love doing?" --E.M. Swift
2 Starting lineups used this season by the Warriors, who have
opened with the same five players in 72 of 74 games, including
the first 66 in a row.
29 Starting lineups used in 74 games by the Nuggets, the most in
23 Seasons since the ACC last failed to send a team to the
regional finals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament; Duke and
Maryland, the final two ACC teams in this year's tournament, lost
in the Sweet 16.
$14.3 million Amount the Tigers will pay over the next three
years to second baseman Damion Easley, whom they released last
Friday, the most expensive contract ever eaten by a major league
$23 Amount Denison (Texas) High basketball coach Earl Carson paid
his players, who received a dollar for every charge they took; he
resigned after his 17th season when his athletic director told
him the payments, which were returned to Carson, violated state
7 Winter athletic teams from the University of Indianapolis--men's
basketball, swimming, wrestling and indoor track, and women's
basketball, swimming and indoor track-that reached NCAA
postseason championships, tying the Division II record set by UC
Davis in 1998.
WAR EMBLEM IS A DUD AS A STUD
When it comes to the fairer sex, 4-year-old stallions are usually
not discriminating. Yet for reasons that elude War Emblem's new
owners in Hokkaido, Japan, the 2002 Kentucky Derby champ has been
a cool customer in the shed. Uninterested in most mares presented
to him in his first season at stud, War Emblem has covered only
six of them since mid-February. Other high-profile stallions
easily cover 60 mares in a month. Says Eisuke Tokutake, a
spokesperson for the Yoshida family, which purchased War Emblem
last September for more than $17 million, "Clearly, this is not a
War Emblem's standoffishness isn't unheard of. "We call it
'bird-watching,' because the horse will look away and pretend not
to see the mares," says University of Pennsylvania equine
behavioral scientist Sue McDonnell, who estimates that 5% of new
stallions exhibit similar behavior. "Sometimes the horses prefer
a certain color mare or don't trust a handler. Often they are
affected by the pressure to perform."
That it happens to other horses is small comfort to the Yoshidas.
As they negotiate with Lloyds of London for what compensation
they would receive if the sire doesn't pan out, the family has
called in two veterinarians to help. With more than 200
broodmares booked to him this year--at a reported fee of between
$66,000 and $75,000--this stud will have plenty of chances to
prove himself. --Kelley King
FOR THE RECORD
SMACKED A three-run homer in his first at bat in a major league
uniform, 22-year-old prospect Jonny Gomes. Called up from Tampa
Bay's minor league camp to spell the Devil Rays' outfielders
against the Phillies on March 27, Gomes broke down in tears after
the game. Last Christmas Eve he went to a California hospital
suffering from what he thought was prolonged, severe
indigestion--and found out he'd had a heart attack. Gomes, who has
no family history of heart problems, was treated for several
weeks with blood thinners and cleared to return to action last
week. In addition to the dinger he made two spectacular catches
in left, the second over the shoulder. "Now that one," said
Gomes, who will report to Double A Orlando, "nearly made my heart
COLLECTED A cut of a $194,047.80 Pick Six ticket, by six nuns
from St. Michael's Elementary in Los Angeles while attending a
fund-raiser at Santa Anita Park. One hundred of the school's
patrons chipped in $25 each on one communal ticket-the after-tax
winnings of which were to be split 50-50 with the nuns, who
promised their share to the school in South Central. Tension
mounted as the first five winners galloped home. After 4-1 shot
Apple Juice Tea took the sixth leg, clinching the bet, the nuns
did a victory dance to celebrate their $80,000 windfall. "They
didn't embarrass the Pope or anything," says Stephen Campbell, an
attendee who helped pick the winners, "but there was some jumping
up and down."
INTERVIEWED For the vacant head coaching position at Columbia,
which had its losingest basketball season ever (2-25, including
0-14 in the Ivy League), two of the winningest players in NCAA
history. After firing coach Armond Hill, Columbia brought in
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was 88-2 with three national
championships at UCLA) and Bobby Hurley (who was 119-26 with two
titles at Duke).
ISOLATED From their teammates, Sabres defensemen Rhett Warrener
and Brian Campbell, who might have been exposed to SARS, the
respiratory illness that at week's end had killed more than 50
people worldwide. After one of Campbell's relatives, a hospital
worker from Toronto, came down with SARS symptoms--which include
high fever and difficulty breathing--five days after visiting the
two players, team doctors recommended that Warrener and Campbell
remain isolated for a 10-day period.
Repeated As long- and short-course gold medalist at the World
Cross Country Championships, 20-year-old Kenenisa Bekele. The
Ethiopian became the first man to win both titles last year, and
his repeat double, at Lausanne, Switzerland, came less than a
month after he was stricken by typhoid.
Brooks Kieschnick, 30, tried to make the Brewers as an outfielder
and a pitcher. How'd he do? SI's Kieschometer tells all.
Our tale of two Kieschnicks ended on March 26, when Milwaukee
sent him to Triple A Indianapolis. Kieschnick finished the spring
batting .429 with seven RBIs; in 13 2/3 innings he was 3-0 with
a 3.95 ERA. Though disappointed, Kieschnick hopes to return to
the majors, where he has played 113 games as an outfielder:
"There's no saying I won't get called up a day, a week or a month
FRACTURED The right tibia and fibula of American University
freshman midfielder Freddy Llerena, following an unconscionable
challenge from D.C. United striker Hristo Stoitchkov during a
March 25 scrimmage in Washington. American tied the game at 1 on
a 10th-minute goal that Stoitchkov thought was offside. After
United kicked off, Stoitchkov, 37, ran at Llerena--who was taking
control of the ball in his own end of the pitch with his back to
the United goal--and launched a studs-up tackle that snapped both
the bones in Llerena's lower right leg. (Llerena had played no
part in the disputed goal.) Stoitchkov was red-carded and the
match abandoned. Says American coach Todd West, "It absolutely is
the worst foul I've ever seen."
The game was Llerena's first against pro players, and his family
had come to watch. "I was very excited to play with guys like
Marco Etcheverry, Ben Olsen and Hristo Stoitchkov," says Llerena.
"It was an honor to step on the field." At first Stoitchkov was
dismissive of the incident, but when he realized how severely the
18-year-old Llerena was hurt, he wept. "I want to give a thousand
apologies," Stoitchkov said. At week's end MLS was investigating
A former FIFA player of the year, Stoitchkov earned the nickname
the Mad Bulgarian while playing for CSKA Sofia in the early 1980s
and was banned for life for inciting a brawl during the '85
Bulgarian Cup final. (The ban was later rescinded.) But he has
kept his temper in check since joining MLS in 2000. Llerena, who
had a four-inch plate inserted into his leg, was back on campus
by week's end and optimistic about rejoining the team next fall.
He expressed no bitterness. "Maybe I would have taken more
caution had it been another person," Llerena says, "but being
Stoitchkov, a professional with so much experience, I expected
him to be more like a teacher on the field." --M.B.
A Matter of Degrees
Woeful graduation rates bolster an NCAA initiative on academics
In men's college basketball, graduation rates are controversial,
and not just because they tend to be so low. Some critics of the
NCAA's method of measuring the academic progress of athletes over
a six-year period contend that the figures can be downright
misleading. Small sample sizes and other vagaries, like the
extent to which a program uses junior college players (who don't
count in the calculations) or produces pros (who do count, even
if they leave school early to become millionaires), can in fact
skew the results. Still, the NCAA's latest reports show that
exactly none of the four No. 1 seeds in the current
tournament--Arizona, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas--graduated a
single player who arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1995.
Depressing? Maybe not. Those abysmal figures can be a useful tool
for new NCAA president Myles Brand as he tries to enact
revolutionary reforms over the next year. Brand intends to push
for rules that would cost schools scholarships or postseason
eligibility if their athletes underperform in the classroom,
either by failing to make progress toward a degree or not getting
one. An NCAA committee is weighing another possibility--tying a
school's share of tournament revenue to its graduation rate. That
no doubt would do an even better job of getting the attention of
athletic directors and deans alike.
The reformers won't have it easy. The college basketball
establishment has long scoffed at the idea of considering
nonhoops criteria when choosing or seeding teams for March
Madness. "I don't think Myles Brand knows anything about
basketball," groused Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun in The New
York Times a couple weeks ago, in a foretaste of how the
proposals are likely to be received. Calhoun rightly points out
that many school presidents have stumbled on this issue: Fired
St. Bonaventure president Robert Wickenheiser was implicated in
the academic fraud that led the Bonnies to abandon their season,
and presidents still ensconced at Fresno State and Georgia are
professing shock--shock!--that the disreputable coaches they hired,
Jerry Tarkanian and Jim Harrick, brought shame to those schools.
Yet Brand doesn't have to know a thing about basketball for his
proposal to merit serious consideration. It is no less a
basketball mind than Bob Knight--the coach Brand famously fired
when both were at Indiana--who is credited with being the first to
champion the idea of linking scholarships to graduation rates.
Calhoun (whose Huskies have a 50% graduation rate) need look no
further than his own team for evidence that the NCAA's modest
targets are reachable. If UConn's star center Emeka Okafor can
have a 3.7 grade-point average and be on track to graduate in
three years, as he does and is, it's hardly outrageous to hold
accountable those schools whose players can't get a degree in
six. --Alexander Wolff
Bill Scheft is on vacation.
THE WEEK IN TELEVISION
SATURDAY 4/5 > ESPN 5 PM > Santa Anita Derby
While the Bob Baffert-trained Kafwain and Domestic Dispute have
attracted the attention of railbirds as the Kentucky Derby nears,
the hot topic in Hollywood is fast-rising (and fast-closing)
Atswhatimtalknbout, whose sire is 1992 Horse of the Year A.P.
Indy and whose owners include movie moguls Steven Spielberg,
Frank Marshall and Gary Ross. The Illinois Derby and Aventura
Stakes will also be shown.
SUNDAY 4/6 > ESPN2 8 PM > Angels at A's
The Angels take on the team that finished ahead of them in the AL
West. Tim Hudson (15-9, 2.98 ERA in 2002) and World Series Game 7
winner John Lackey are scheduled to start as Oakland tries to
reassert its divisional supremacy.
MONDAY 4/7 > CBS 9 PM > NCAA Men's Basketball Championship
The previous three title games in New Orleans have given us a
pair of last-minute, game-winning jumpers--from North Carolina's
Michael Jordan in 1982 and Indiana's Keith Smart in '87--as well
as Chris Webber's last-minute technical for calling a timeout his
Michigan team didn't have in North Carolina's '93 victory.
TUESDAY 4/8 > ESPN 8:30 PM > NCAA Women's Basketball Championship
The last time the women's championship was held in Atlanta, in
'93, Texas Tech's Sheryl Swoopes scored a finals record 47 points
in a win over Ohio State. For the first time in the tournament's
22 years, the women's final will be played after the men's.
>> DON'T MISS
SUNDAY 4/6 > FOX NOON
NASCAR Winston Cup Aaron's 499
The Earnhardt clan has a knack for winning at Talladega
Superspeedway. The late Dale Sr. was 10 for 44 in Winston Cup
races at the track; Dale Jr. is gunning for his fourth
consecutive victory on the 2.66-mile tri-oval.
--The Real Seabiscuit
--A New Network
"For a brief moment in America, a little brown racehorse wasn't
just a little brown racehorse: He was a proxy for a nation." So
says author Laura Hillenbrand in a marvelous documentary about
the subject of her best-selling book, Seabiscuit: An American
Legend, that will be aired by PBS at 9 p.m. on April 21. The
53-minute film tells the rags-to-riches story of the thoroughbred
who uplifted a country mired in the Depression. Director Stephen
Ives made Seabiscuit for $500,000--some $120 million less than the
Hollywood feature version, due out on July 25. Ives unearthed
never-seen home movies and newsreels kept by the family of
Charles Howard, the auto magnate who bought Seabiscuit for $8,000
in 1936, as well as photos of jockey Red Pollard (played by Tobey
Maguire in the movie) that were kept by his daughter, Norah
Christianson. Bolstering the interviews with Hillenbrand and
Christianson is footage of the Biscuit's races, including his
1938 match race against 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral,
heard live on radio by one in three Americans. "This is a great
chance for people to get both sides of the coin," says Ives.
"They can see the real story of Seabiscuit as rendered in a
documentary, and they can see Hollywood's version, which I think
is going to be really exciting as well."
The 2003 CSTV College Basketball Honor Roll, featuring Memphis
coach John Calipari and sportscaster Bob Papa will introduce
College Sports Television when the network launches following the
NCAA men's basketball final on April 7. CSTV, which should be in
11 million homes by its starting date, has programming agreements
with 27 Division I conferences, and it will cover an array of
sports, including football, gymnastics and lacrosse. --R.D.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY (KWAN) REBORN The champ isn't ruling out a return to the Olympics.
COLOR PHOTO: HEATHER HALL/AFP NOT TONIGHT.... The horse's apathy is giving his owners a headache.
COLOR PHOTO: MARTY MORROW (GOMES) Gomes
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: RONALD C. MODRA
COLOR PHOTO: ARIEL SKELLEY/CORBIS (FAST-FOOD WORKER) MCDONALD'S
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG (BUS) MINORS
COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA MAJORS
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: RAFAEL CRISOSTOMO FOUL PLAY Stoitchkov wept after injuring Llerena in an exhibition match.
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS CARLSON/AP (BRAND) STUDIOUS SLAMMER Brand (inset) would like to see more NCAA players hit the books like Okafor.
COLOR PHOTO: AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES (OKAFOR) [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"As a kisser and a pitcher, I try to mix it up, depending on the
opposition." -THE BEAT, PAGE 30