Glenn Robinson may get overlooked in the annals of Milwaukee Bucks history, but he was the Midwestern hero the franchise deserved.
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from YouTuber extraordinaire, Twitter must-follow and friend of the site, @DavidDunn21.
Glenn Robinson will certainly be forgotten by history. This is equal measures unfortunate and inevitable. Future generations will remember that amongst the greats of the 90’s there was a deadeye small forward named Glen Riceson, or maybe his name was Glenn Rice, or was it Glensen Robinson?
Glenn Robinson should’ve been born a decade earlier. His game would’ve fit right in with Bernard King, Dominique Wilkins, Adrian Dantley and Alex English. He had the perfect distillation of one skill. For Glenn Alan Robinson, Jr. wasn’t born to pass or dribble or certainly not to play defense.
He was born to do one thing: get buckets. He preferred to get open, but it rarely mattered.
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Or maybe it’s the other way around. The Big Dog should’ve been born years later, when the League wasn’t thirsting in the same way for a post-Jordan star, with every game available online, with an NBA Twitter-verse to love him semi-ironically, in a time when The Association allows smaller market teams to win it all.
That’s right, I went there.
Glenn Robinson averaged 23.4 points per game for the Milwaukee Bucks in 1998. He did this when the league average for teams was only 95.9 points per game. This would have been good enough for fourth in the league in scoring (behind only three of the top-20 players of all time, and ahead of such luminaries as Allen Iverson, Chris Webber, Hakeem Olajuwon and Scottie Pippen), but Glenn got injured and played only 58 games, just below the threshold for the history books.
If you search Basketball Reference for the 1997-1998 scoring leaders, his name doesn’t appear. In a way, this is the perfect Big Dog story.
Glenn Robinson never quite achieved Made Guy status. He wasn’t quite marketable enough, he wasn’t well spoken enough. He wasn’t Grant Hill enough.
The coronation of BOTH Grant Hill and Jason Kidd as co-Rookies of the Year was less about the numbers (Bucks improved 14 games and missed the playoffs by a single game, Robinson with 21.9 PPG and 6.4 Rebounds at 45% shooting) and more about which direction the league was going. It was Shaq’s league, with Jordan reclaiming the crown late in the 1995 season, but the future face of the league was definitely not going to be The Big Dog.
For Milwaukee fans, the next few seasons played out like that episode of The Simpsons where the children set up a “NO HOMERS” club. The joke goes like this: In a flashback, the pre-teen neighborhood kids of Springfield are welcomed up into a treehouse. When young Homer Simpson reaches the top, the freckled face kid says:
“Sorry. Not you, Homer.”
“But you let in Homer Glumpet!”
And then the kid says:
“It says: NO HOMERS. We’re allowed to have one.”
And so it went. The league already had a Big Ten stud by the name of Glen, and quickly the career of the other Glenn became defined by both near-misses and overall disrespect.
When he seemed the obvious choice to be the MVP of the winning East squad in the 1995 Rising Stars Game, Eddie Jones was selected from the losing team while Grant Hill led the league in votes and started in the real All-Star game.
When the Bucks were beating the brakes off the 2001 Magic, Tracy McGrady still took solace in the assertion that he was reducing Glenn to a “puppy dog” in a non-competitive series. Soon, even the name itself was under attack as Antoine Carr dubbed himself the OBD, or Original Big Dog.
If he was a contributing member of the 1996 Olympic Basketball team, would that have changed the course of history? If he didn’t hold out in an attempt to be the NBA’s first 100 million dollar man, would the public have been kinder in their perception of him? If he had some different nickname other than Big Dog, would the unburdened weight of hundreds of unmade road announcer puns somehow have allowed him to soar and reach his potential?
Or had he simply made a nine foot shot in Philadelphia in Game 5 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, wouldn’t everything be different?
The “Big 3” era for the Milwaukee Bucks ultimately was a huge disappointment. By this point, the handsome and incredibly talented Ray Allen had become the TRUE face of the Milwaukee Bucks. And yet, for some reason, Glenn Robinson was always my guy.
Rooting for Ray Allen was easy. Rooting for The Big Dog was hard at times. For one thing, you were always scared he was going to turn the ball over. He had to be fed the ball in a way that Sam or Ray did not. Even his Reeboks weren’t as cool as Ray’s Air Jordans.
It would be easy and maudlin to frame this in a “Milwaukee, where nothing is given and everything is hard” kind of way, but what I’ll posit is this: Glenn Robinson was an authentically Midwestern guy in ways that the other Bucks were not.
He carried himself like one of your uncles, even when he was 24. It’s not just that he had a slower manner of speaking, more that his voice slightly drawled up at the end of sentences like a drunken preacher.
He worked as a welder during his time at Purdue, which must be one of the subplots from the movie Hoosiers. He seemed like the kind of guy who would be comfortable playing Spades and Dominos in some smoke filled back room.
On the court, he played an old man’s game. Jab-step and fire. Post-up and spin. Step-back and fire again.
It needs to be said, I was wrong about Glenn Robinson He wasn’t ultimately as impactful as Jason Kidd or Grant Hill or Ray Allen. Years after George Karl traded away Ray Allen for Gary Payton (the same Payton who replaced Glenn on the Olympic team), years after the premature disbanding of the Big 3, Ray Allen was still swinging entire NBA Finals with his incomparable shot, just as Sam Cassell did in Houston. When Glenn won a Title with the San Antonio Spurs, it was as a deep bench player.
Still, the great tragedy of the Big Dog is not that he should’ve been better. The tragedy is that he was good enough to be the second best player on a Championship ensemble, and it just never worked out. The history of NBA Big 3s will start with Ray’s other Big 3, the Celtics, and the history of also-rans who contended with questionable officiating will begin with the 2002 Kings.
Neither those Bucks nor Kings will be remembered as organizations who tried to win running and shooting jumpers because history will give all of that innovation to the Steve Nash led Suns. The Bucks’ improbable lone playoff run is memorable from a national perspective simply because Future Hall of Famer Ray Allen first showed his quality in Milwaukee.
And history repeats itself, as in 2016 Milwaukee is again blessed with a charismatic, talented and handsome star-in-the-making who wears number 34, and is teamed up with a softer spoken defensively challenged Midwesterner with a more elemental and natural talent to get buckets. Really, Jabari should’ve just chosen to wear 13.
As before, I tend to root more for the flawed guy than the guy with the big smile. That says more about me than them.
You don’t choose your favorite player. He chooses you.
So here’s to the Milwaukee Bucks second All-Time leading scorer. You probably won’t have your number retired, and your mid-range game isn’t currently in vogue, but you were the first Buck I ever loved, and I’ll forever remember you in perhaps your finest moment: draining a three to beat the third Quarter buzzer in Game 7 vs. Charlotte, then lumbering back to the bench like Frankenstein’s Monster as the Bradley Center went wild.
@DavidDunn21 is the winner of the prestigious 2nd Place Ribbon in the 1989 Dinosaur Dash (under-12). He enjoys long walks on the beach, hanging out at the barbershop and no look passes. Subscribe to his YouTube Channel here and follow him on Twitter here.