As the final buzzer sounded in Milwaukee on Sunday, Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson embraced Hornets forward Jamal Mashburn, then tilted back his head to revel in the sight of 18,717 whooping admirers at the Bradley Center. The Bucks had made Robinson the top pick in the 1994 draft in hopes that he would turn them into a contender. Seven seasons later he had finally delivered them to the Eastern Conference finals. "I've looked at Jordan, Magic and Bird, knowing they played their whole careers for one team," Robinson said after Milwaukee's 104-95 win in Game 7 of the conference semis. "They took their team to the next level, and that's what I've always wanted to do."
For years the 6'7" Robinson has been dismissed as a one-dimensional player whose leadership didn't extend beyond the scoring column. He has also suffered in comparisons with Jason Kidd (chosen No. 2 in '94) and Grant Hill (No. 3), who quickly earned praise for their all-around games. As the cast surrounding Robinson improved—new teammates such as Ray Allen and Sam Cassell, a new coach in George Karl, a new management team led by G.M. Ernie Grunfeld—Robinson improved with it, helping Milwaukee reach the postseason in each of the past three years. Still, when some experts dismissed the Bucks before the playoffs as jump shooters disdainful of defense and lacking in mental toughness, it was easy to see their indictment as a big dig at the Big Dog.
That toughness was put to the test last week. After their fans booed them in a 94-86 Game 5 loss at home, the Bucks teetered toward elimination in Game 6 at Charlotte, falling behind by 15 points in the first half. Robinson then began his campaign to change public opinion once and for all, pouring in a career-playoff-high 29 points in a 104-97 victory. After two quarters on Sunday, Milwaukee trailed 47-44 in part because Allen, Cassell and Robinson had reverted to one-on-one basketball. The Big Three started rotating the ball and turned up the heat defensively in the second half, with Robinson staying tight on Mashburn. In addition to finishing with 29 points, Big Dog held Mashburn to 7-of-25 shooting from the field, and the Bucks set a team playoff record with 13 blocked shots. "All series we were better defensively than we were shooting the ball," said Karl, who seemed rather amazed by that.
On his way out of the arena on Sunday night, Robinson ran into Senator Herb Kohl, who has owned the Bucks for 16 years. As they spoke, Kohl looked up at the Big Dog as if looking upon a son. He told Robinson that he had shaken hands after the game with Milwaukee forward Darvin Ham. "Do you know the first thing Darvin said?" the senator asked with a big smile. "He said, 'I am really happy for Glenn.' "
"That makes me feel so good," Robinson said as he headed toward the playoffs' penultimate round—which, by the way, is a level that neither Kidd nor Hill has reached.