"It was like working under a favored-nations clause," says Lee Fentress, one of Robinson's agents at Advantage International. "My partner, Jeff Austin, and I were flying down to San Antonio when I said, 'Let's try this and see what they say.' "
"This" was a clause that would be new to NBA contracts. It stated that if two players in the NBA made more than Robinson, the average annual salaries of their long-term contracts would be added together and then divided by two, and this would become Robinson's new salary. If the Spurs did not choose to match that number, Robinson would become a free agent at the end of the season. (The Spurs would, however, have the chance to match whatever offer Robinson received from another team.)
The Spurs management agreed, and the NBA ratified the deal in November 1987. ("David Stern since has told me that someone must have been asleep the day it went through," Fentress says.) What happened was that every year a couple of new megadeals would be struck by other players. The biggest money would be backloaded in each contract, so the average was more than the player was making the first season. Robinson had to be paid more than the average, so each year his old contract would be ripped up, and he would be paid a new salary, among the highest in the league.
"David's big worry during all this, believe it or not, was that the Spurs would invoke their option and he would become a free agent," Fentress says. "He didn't want to leave San Antonio. He and his wife had really gotten to like the place."
That worry disappeared quietly at the beginning of this season. With almost two years left on his contract Robinson signed a new six-year deal for $66 million. There was little hoopla. Robinson could have made even more money if he had waited: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning will be free agents at the end of this season. "But you should remember that this is a very, very good contract," Austin says. "It is the biggest contract in the history of professional sports."
Oh, yes, the special clause was not part of this new contract.
DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS GLUTTONY
Despite these big contracts, he is not and probably never will be the biggest money-earner in the NBA. He does not chase the endorsement dollar hard enough. Given a choice of doing a commercial for a week in New York City or staying home with his family, he usually chooses to stay home. "He's the only guy I've ever told he should be doing more endorsements," Spurs coach Bob Hill says. "I tell him, 'David, you're the role model this league needs. You should be everywhere.' He says he just wants to be with his family. This year he made an appearance on Sesame Street."
"You're away from home so much anyway in this league," Robinson says. "I mean, we played a game this season on Christmas. O.K., we're off on New Year's because we can't compete with the bowl games on TV, but there's a buck to be made, so we play on Christmas? Where are the priorities? This Christmas my whole family was in Aspen, having a great time...everyone except me. They showed it to me on videotape."
He does endorse Nike shoes, Casio products, Franklin sporting goods and Frito-Lay snacks, sticking to brands he likes and situations that demand the least amount of his time. He found the perfect deal this year with Arrow shirts. The ads feature his shirt, not him. He can be home while his shirt makes money.