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Art Garcia

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David Robinson averaged 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds in the 2000-01 season.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

How The Admiral almost jumped ship in 2001

By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Sep 9 2009 9:55AM

SAN ANTONIO -- David Robinson suiting up in anything other than Silver & Black? That unnatural sounding idea not only crossed his mind, it could have been a reality.

"There was a time I thought maybe I wouldn't finish my career here and it was towards the end," Robinson told NBA.com recently.

The Hall of Fame center who retired a San Antonio Spur wondered if he would actually get to retire a San Antonio Spur. Robinson wasn't so sure his final NBA game would be played with the franchise he helped save from relocation and lead to its first championship.

A decision had to be made in the summer of 2001. The Spurs had completed a superb regular season with the league's best record only to end it with a resounding thud. A sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals signaled changes around the corner.

Franchise mainstay Avery Johnson signed with Denver. Derek Anderson, a hit during his one season in San Antonio, was surprisingly dealt to Portland after he couldn't agree on a new contract. Free agents Bruce Bowen and Stephen Jackson were among the newcomers that offseason.

The free-agent Admiral turned 36 that summer and wasn't navigating the franchise anymore. The Spurs, once unquestionably his, were now built around Tim Duncan.

"I knew the Spurs were looking to reshape their team, kind of like they did this year, and go in a different direction," said Robinson, part of the 2009 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame set for induction Friday. "I felt like we still had some gas left in our tank, but there was a very real possibility there they wouldn't bring me back.

"That was towards the end of my career, so I knew it was a very real possibility of having to go somewhere else and do something else. I didn't like the idea, but I know it's a business."

Robinson, even with a dozen years in the league, wasn't ready to hang up his No. 50 jersey. He began to take a look-see around the league. If Spurs management, fronted by Gregg Popovich and Peter Holt, wasn't committed to bring him back, Robinson would have signed somewhere else.

Really?

"Yeah, absolutely," Robinson admitted. "At that time I wasn't ready to retire. I really felt good and I felt like there was a lot more I could do. I would not have retired at that point."

He didn't have to retire or move on. Even with the retooling that summer, smarter heads prevailed. The Spurs signed the 7-foot-1 anchor to a two-year deal for $20 million. The investment, as most with Robinson, paid off. San Antonio won its second title in 2003 to close out Robinson's storybook run. Closing out on top, Robinson didn't exactly slip into the background. In addition to his various philanthropic endeavors, including The Carver Academy, Robinson took minority ownership in the Spurs.

"I don't try to stay real active right now," Robinson said of his role with the franchise. "They have great management. It's not like they need me to make any decisions. I just love being part of the team. It's been such a part of my life. As much as I can, as long as I can, I'll probably stay involved at that level."

Not that Robinson isn't close to the team and the players or has an opinion on what's going on. A fixture at games seated in the second row across from the Spurs bench, Robinson is a big fan of this offseason overhaul.

"It's pretty exciting," he said. "I hate to lose a guy like Bruce Bowen, a great locker room guy, but you bring in a young and athletic guy like Richard Jefferson who can play both sides. I think our key is getting back to that defensive end. If we're dominant defensively, we're going to be the best. I think [Antonio] McDyess and Jefferson can add to that. Those guys can help us be solid again.

"Bringing in the young kid [second-round pick DeJuan Blair] is exciting, too. We're looking like we can be really deep. We have a nice looking team on paper, but they've got to get the concepts and they've got to get back to that defensively philosophy. If they don't make stops, they're not going to win. Making stops is about chemistry. That's what we're going to have to build on."

Robinson is beginning to sounds like Pop.

"No, no, no," he said with a laugh. "I was there for a long time. But it's really about trust and if these guys can come in and trust one another right away. It's not hard to trust a Tim Duncan. If he's behind you, you can play aggressive. But you have to execute.

"We'll get it. It won't be there right away, but when you have four or five guys who can score 20 points on any give night that's not bad."

If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an email.

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