Robinson, Stern and the NBA: A Wasted Opportunity


“David Robinson represents for us the commitment to team, the principle and to community that we in the NBA find emblematic of what our players strive to be.”  NBA Commissioner David Stern, May 1995.

These words were spoken by David Stern when he presented David Robinson the 1995 NBA MVP trophy. While those words ring true for Robinson, nothing could be further than the truth when speaking about the NBA at that time.  During Robinson’s career, the NBA was suffering from an image problem and Stern, the NBA and sports companies failed to put Robinson at the forefront to cure this and to promote the right image not just for the NBA but for the entire world.

What was promoted and marketed during his time in the NBA flew in the face of Stern’s quote.  Stern mentions Robinson is emblematic of what the NBA players strive to be but instead we saw the Portland “Jail Blazers” and how they stole the spotlight because of the drama on and off the court.  Ruben Patterson pled no contest to a felony sexual assault charge and had to register as a sex offender.  Rasheed Wallace threw a towel in Arvydas Sabonis’ face.  Rasheed Wallace, Damon Stoudamire, and Qyntel Woods were arrested for marijuana possession.  Rasheed Wallace threatened a referee, Zach Randolph and Ruben Patterson fought in practice, and Bonzi Wells said in a Sports Illustrated interview that the fans don’t matter to them.

In addition, Charles Barkley famously stated on a Nike commercial that he wasn’t a role model, which is true when he tossed a guy out of a window, had a gambling problem, got in numerous on-court altercations and spat on a little girl.  If Barkley didn’t want to be a role model then why would Nike play on this?  Simple, he was controversial and to sell shoes. Once again Robinson was there and would have gladly embraced the role but since he wasn’t controversial, his Nike commercials were “jokey” and a play on Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  If Nike was interested in promoting a product parents and the community would approve of and to avoid backlash, why not use Robinson as the ultimate role model?

Robinson is a family man, devoted to his wife, and puts his kids first.  He was a positive reflection of what a man should be but this was never promoted during his playing career. Instead you had “Father of the Century” Shawn Kemp.  Though a beast on the court during his early years, he is also known for fathering several kids with several different women.

There are many more examples of how Stern, the NBA, and sports companies failed to capitalize on Robinson’s positive example during his playing career.  From Magic Johnson and Nick Van Exel shoving referees, Michael Jordan’s gambling troubles and him cheating on his wife, or Allen Iverson’s antics. Again David Robinson was sitting there as a shining example for the NBA to promote and the NBA and Stern failed.

In Robinson, the league had what they needed to show it wasn’t made up of unsavory characters.  But because he wasn’t controversial, going in and out of jail, dealing in drugs, refused to embrace the position of a role-model,  or disrespected the game, he was labeled as soft, boring, and not marketable.

Stern should be reminded what he said back in 1995.  David Robinson was and still is the NBA’s dream player when it comes to commitment to team, community, and emblematic of what current players should strive to be on and off the court.