Glenn Robinson sat at a table at an inner-city youth center in
Milwaukee one day last week, signing autographs and handing out
holiday food baskets he had bought for needy families, when a
woman who had already received her gifts approached him again.
"Could I have just one more autograph?" she asked. Robinson
signed a poster and gave it to the woman.
"And could you make it out to my son?" she asked. "His name is
Parish." Robinson took the poster back, scribbled "To Parish,"
and started to hand it to the woman again.
"Junior," she said. Robinson smiled and made the addition. The
woman leaned across the table to give him a hug, but Robinson
took her hand and shook it instead. "What, no love?" she said,
offended. "Everybody needs some love, Glenn Robinson."
"Yes, ma'am, I know that," Robinson said, letting her hug him.
December 30, 1996
"And I want to see the Bucks finally do something this year,"
she said. "It's up to you and Vin."
"Yes, ma'am," Robinson said. "I know that, too."
The Milwaukee Bucks are already doing something this year.
Through Sunday they had a 14-11 record--quite an improvement
considering their pitiful 25-57 showing last year--and Robinson
and his fellow forward and close friend Vin Baker are the main
reasons for the turnaround. At week's end the 6'7" Robinson was
sixth in the NBA in scoring with a 23.1 average, and the 6'10"
Baker was tied for eighth at 22.2, making Milwaukee the league's
only team with two players among the top 10 scorers. The only
teammates with a higher combined average than Baker and
Robinson's were guard Michael Jordan and forward Scottie Pippen
of the Chicago Bulls (box, page 57). Add Baker's rebounding
(10.9 per game, tied for ninth in the NBA) and Robinson's
improved defense, and clearly no forward tandem is having a
better season than the Bucks'.
Milwaukee also has a new coach, Chris Ford, and a better
supporting cast than it has had in years, including impressive
rookie guard Ray Allen. But it is fourth-year pro Baker and
third-year man Robinson who may turn out to be, to borrow from
an old beer slogan, the pair that makes Milwaukee famous.
"They're Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," says Toronto Raptors
forward Popeye Jones. "If Baker's not killing you down low,
Robinson's killing you with his little jumper. That's the
toughest combination there is."
Actually, their roles are not so sharply delineated. Robinson is
known for his smooth jump shot, but he's capable of scoring in
the low post as well. Baker is at his best near the basket, but
he can hit the midrange jumper. It's their personalities that
are distinct. Baker is the outgoing one, a smile never far from
his lips. Robinson is more guarded, still bearing wounds from
his difficult first two years in the league.
Baker was the only member of the Bucks to play in each of the
last two NBA All-Star Games, and he was easily the player
Milwaukee opponents were most concerned about. But Robinson has
started this season so impressively that it's getting harder for
a defense to choose which forward to concentrate on. The twosome
was particularly devastating in the Bucks' 126-118 win over the
Washington Bullets on Dec. 7, when Robinson had 44 points, seven
rebounds and six assists, and Baker had 36 points and 12
rebounds against another pair of good young forwards, Juwan
Howard and Chris Webber. "They were just spectacular in that
game," says Ford. "But you know what? They weren't that much
more sensational than they've been all season."
When Ford arrived in Milwaukee last June, he told Baker, 25, and
Robinson, 23, basically the same thing the woman in the youth
center said: It's up to you. To emphasize that point, one of
Ford's first acts was to appoint them co-captains. That was
appropriate because Baker and Robinson constantly strive to keep
everything about their relationship equal. Robinson will admit
that he's the better video-game player but is quick to add that
Baker is dominant at the pool table. Baker acknowledges that he
has the better singing voice but only after pointing out that
Robinson is the superior rapper. The same principle applies on
the court. "If we've gone to Glenn three or four times in a row
on offense, he'll make sure to tell me to go down on the blocks
because the ball is coming to me," Baker says. "We'll call his
favorite inbounds play, but he'll say, 'No, let's run yours.' We
try to make sure that everything stays in balance, because then
it's harder to stop either one of us. One of the reasons we've
been so successful this year is that we have an even better
understanding than in the past that we're both at our best when
we're sharing the load."
The one thing they haven't been able to share is the love of the
Milwaukee fans. Affection has been showered on Baker almost from
the time he arrived from the University of Hartford as the
little-known eighth pick of the 1993 draft, but plaudits have
not been given so freely to Robinson, who was the college Player
of the Year as a Purdue junior and then left school to become
the first player taken in the '94 lottery. Baker quickly proved
to be a draft-day steal, and he also won fans with his engaging
personality. "If you met them both for five minutes, you'd
probably come away with more of a liking for Vin," says
Milwaukee forward Armon Gilliam. "Glenn takes a little bit
longer to get to know, because he keeps things inside a little
Baker, the son of a minister, is unfailingly cheerful and so
polite that he even thanks reporters for interviewing him. "He's
humble, honest, caring, hardworking, and he has a deep faith in
God," says Milwaukee center Andrew Lang. "How can you not like
him? He's not just a good guy, he's one of the great people in
Vin grew up singing in the choir at the Full Tabernacle Church
in Old Saybrook, Conn., where his father, James, is pastor, and
his full, rich baritone can sometimes be heard on the Bucks'
buses and planes. Baker can be vocal in other ways as well.
"Everybody thinks because V is a minister's son that he's a nice
boy," says Robinson. "He is nice, but he's got a mean streak in
him, too." That has been most apparent under the boards, where
Baker has used his wingspan and increasing bulk (he has gained
20 pounds, to 244, since his rookie year) to become one of the
better rebounding power forwards in the league, and in the
locker room, where he unleashed a few tirades against the poor
performances of his teammates last season. "Vin is a little
high-strung," says Ford, "and if something's bothering him you
know it right away; you can see it in his face. With Glenn, his
expression gives nothing away. You have to ask him, maybe
several times, before you find out that something's wrong."
Nearly everything went wrong during Robinson's first season,
beginning with his contract negotiations, which opened with
Robinson's agent, Charles Tucker, asking for a then
unprecedented $100 million deal. Robinson and the Bucks
eventually agreed on a 10-year, $68.15 million pact--but not
until after he had missed all of training camp plus the first
regular-season game, in the process becoming the latest example
of the greedy athlete. No one needs to tell Robinson that
everybody needs love.
"People saw that $100 million figure and decided right away that
I was this money-hungry rookie," Robinson says. "That was just a
number to start negotiations with. I never thought I deserved
$100 million before I had played one game in the pros, but
nobody seemed to understand that." Certainly no one who saw
Robinson delivering food baskets to three community centers one
evening last week would have considered him a selfish athlete.
Even though Robinson averaged 21.9 and 20.2 points his first two
seasons, he was a disappointment. His shot selection was
questionable, he led the league in turnovers his first year (3.9
per game) and his defense was so poor that then-coach Mike
Dunleavy, now the Bucks' general manager, was forced to pull him
late in games. Robinson's nickname, Big Dog, began to take on a
whole new meaning.
It didn't help that Robinson continually sulked about his bad
press, which led only to more criticism from the media. During
his first season he skipped a news conference before the rookie
all-star game, and he made no secret of his displeasure when
Jason Kidd of the Dallas Mavericks and Grant Hill of the Detroit
Pistons, the players drafted immediately after him, were
co-winners of the Rookie of the Year award. Hill's golden
reputation, in particular, seems to gnaw at Robinson: They play
the same position, and Hill has gotten the recognition and
endorsements that Robinson hasn't.
Baker kept the last two seasons from being even worse for the
beleaguered Robinson. When Robinson felt slighted at not being
chosen for the All-Star team his rookie year and considered not
playing in the rookie game, it was Baker who encouraged him to
make the trip to Phoenix for All-Star weekend. "And when I was
sitting on the bench at the start of that game, Glenn was
sitting right behind me, telling me I better go out and show
them what I can do," Baker says. "In any kind of important
situation each of us knows he can depend on the other for
But no one--except himself--could help Robinson improve his
game, and he set about doing that last summer. Though he had
been selected for Dream Team III, Robinson withdrew from the
U.S. Olympic squad, citing Achilles tendinitis. Now he admits
that his ailment was only one of the reasons he didn't play. "I
just felt that I wasn't really going to be able to work on my
game the way I needed to if I played in the Olympics," he says.
"I'm not a pure shooter. I'm not a natural ball handler. I'm not
a great rebounder. It's not like everything comes easily to me.
I have to work."
After overseeing Robinson's summer workout regimen, Milwaukee
scout Butch Carter has been watching during the season to make
sure Robinson doesn't fall back into his bad habits, especially
on defense. Before a November game against the Phoenix Suns, in
which Robinson was to be matched up against forward Robert
Horry, Carter slipped Robinson a note reading, "Didn't Horry
come in here and score 40 on you last year?" Robinson held Horry
to nine points that night.
"Is Glenn a great defender? Not yet," says Ford. "But his effort
is maybe a little bit greater than it has been in the past. He
seems to realize now that going out and scoring 25 is not the
only thing he can do to make a contribution."
Ford has reduced Robinson's ball handling by putting him in more
situations where he can catch and shoot as he comes off screens.
Also, Ford has all but eliminated references to Robinson as Big
Dog at Milwaukee's Bradley Center. Robinson's baskets are no
longer punctuated by canned barking, and the P.A. announcer now
refers to him by name rather than nickname. "I don't need to
play that character," Robinson says. "I want the fans to get to
know me: Glenn Robinson."
In time the fans may develop the same affection for him as they
have for Baker. Until then, Robinson will gladly settle for
gaining added respect from his opponents and appreciation from
his teammates, especially Baker. "We're partners," says Baker.
"Glenn's putting in a recording studio in his house, and as soon
as it's finished we're going to team up in there, too." It may
be hard to imagine their brand of gospel rap, but keep the
faith. Baker and Robinson have a way of producing remarkable
Among the NBA's top offensive tandems, Bucks forwards Vin Baker
and Glenn Robinson have a combined scoring average second only
to that of the Bulls' Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Here
are the five highest-scoring twosomes through Sunday's games.
TANDEM, TEAM COMBINED AVG.
1 Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bulls 50.4
2 Glenn Robinson, Vin Baker, Bucks 45.3
3 Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, Sonics 44.0
4 Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, Rockets 43.2
5 Latrell Sprewell, Joe Smith, Warriors 42.7
Source: Elias Sports Bureau