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Top Dog
Bruce Newman
March 14, 1994
Purdue's Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson may be the most complete college player since Larry Bird
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March 14, 1994

Top Dog

Purdue's Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson may be the most complete college player since Larry Bird

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Glenn improved enough to make the junior varsity as a freshman and the varsity as a sophomore, but when he came home with low grades during that second season, Christine marched him into Heflin's office and announced that her son would not be playing again until he improved his grades. She looked as if she would have been holding him by the ear if she could have reached that high. "She looked straight up and said, 'Glenn, do you understand me?' " recalls Heflin. "You couldn't help laughing at how this little woman had control of him."

Robinson's diligence on the court eventually paid off, as he led Roosevelt to a three-year record of 73-7 and a state championship. He also won for himself the Mr. Basketball title that Indiana most often confers on jump-shooting white players from smaller, downstate communities. Bringing the highest basketball honor a Hoosier schoolboy can earn to Gary—a city of smokestacks and refineries in the northwest corner of the state—might have been Robinson's greatest achievement. "When Glenn plays, all the TVs in Gary are on," says family friend Rayfield Fisher, a Gary attorney. "Everybody here owns Glenn; he's our Glenn Robinson."

Robinson represents something to Gary that Michael Jackson, who turned his back on the city the moment he left in 1969, chose not to. "A lot of people are disappointed because the Jacksons didn't do anything for Gary," says Robinson. "I don't care if they don't give any money to the city, but they won't even come back to visit. The impression I get is they're ashamed of it. A person should never forget where he came from."

Statistics paint a grim picture of Gary. The city has an unemployment rate of 13.1%, more than twice the national average, and its crime rate is no less distressing. Last year Gary had the highest per capita murder rate in the nation—102 homicides in a population of 119,000. Still, Robinson stands up for his hometown. "People come to Gary expecting to be shot," he says. "You hear a lot of bad things about Gary, but a lot of people who say those things have never been there."

Robinson's home is just off the central corridor, 25th Avenue, known as the Two-Five to the men who stand along its broad shoulders every day as if opportunity might come riding through on the next bus. There is another Glenn Robinson who is well-known along the Two-Five. That is Glenn Robinson ST., 41, who also goes by the name Red Cap. The elder Robinson has had various scrapes with the law over the years, and the Lake County police currently have an outstanding warrant for his arrest on cocaine and heroin possession charges.

"I didn't get to know him like a son should know a father, because he wasn't really around," says Glenn. "But I'm not ashamed of my father. A lot of people have said that when I see him, I turn away. That's not true. I would never turn away from my own father."

A recent newspaper article detailing the troubled history of Robinson's father suggested that Robinson periodically returns to Gary's streets in search of his dad. "If I want to find my father, I know exactly where he lives," Robinson says. "I don't need to go searching for him."

Similarly, Robinson has been stung by aspersions cast on his academic ability. During the Feb. 19 Indiana game, the Hoosier student hooting section greeted Robinson's brilliant performance by chanting "S-A-T" at him. This was a not terribly subtle reference to the fact that Robinson had to sit out his freshman year as a Proposition 48 student because of his low test scores. Robinson has characterized his year on the sidelines as a welcome opportunity to adjust to college life, but friends say he was embarrassed by the stigmatizing effect of Prop 48. "I think it was harder on him than he'll ever admit," says Purdue guard Matt Waddell.

Feeling depressed, Robinson did little his first month in West Lafayette except eat. "I almost gave up and went home," Robinson says. "I looked in the mirror and I had this big old stomach."

In other words, he was one extremely Big Dog. Strangers approached him after classes and asked him how his grades were. "People would tell me, 'You've got to get eligible so you can play,' " says Robinson. "They never asked me how I was, or how my family was. They weren't concerned about anything like that."

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