SAN ANTONIO -- David Wingate formally returned to the San && Antonio Spurs yesterday, saying at a morning news conference that he plans to perform extensive community service in the wake of his recent legal problems.
A Howard County rape charge against Wingate, a former Dunbar star, was placed on a "stet" docket last week, meaning the case will be dropped if he has no other trouble with the law in the next year. That allows him to resume his professional career.
Another rape charge, in San Antonio, also has been dropped, and a civil suit filed by the alleged victim has been settled out of court.
Wingate said he plans to use the Spurs' charity organization, the Spurs Foundation, to reach children in the community.
His message? "Don't make yourself available to get in a situation like I did. I want to share that with a lot of people," Wingate said. "The things I went through, I don't want them to go through."
Spurs owner B. J. "Red" McCombs, who also attended the morning briefing, announced that Wingate has signed a contract covering the remainder of this season and the next two seasons. McCombs did not reveal the terms of the deal, but it is thought that Wingate will get $150,000 this season, $500,000 next season and $600,000 in 1992-93.
McCombs said the decision to bring Wingate back to the Spurs was "a very easy decision. It was so easy I wanted to make sure there wasn't some element I was missing. When the decision came last Thursday, I was really surprised. Knowing the way the court system works, I would have expected a delay. But the court system worked, and there was a decision."
Wingate, who refused to discuss details of the cases in Maryland San Antonio, hopes to move back into his role as one of the Spurs' key reserves.
"I basically don't want to get into a discussion of the pros and cons of this issue," he said. "I want to step in as smoothly as possible."
Wingate practiced with the Spurs yesterday morning and played 19 minutes against the Philadelphia 76ers last night, scoring six points in a 104-99 victory.
He was greeted with an ovation when he was introduced before the game, and when he checked into the game for the first time, with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in the opening period, another roar erupted and hundreds of fans stood to applaud.
"The fans were behind me a lot," Wingate said. "That made me feel at ease. I was surprised at that."
David Robinson praised Wingate's efforts. "You've got to give him a lot of credit. He's been through a lot. He means a great deal to this team. He's going to be the missing link for us defensively," Robinson said.
While awaiting the legal decisions, Wingate said, he experienced a wide range of emotions.
"There were a lot of mental ups and downs, but I had a lot of good people around me," he said.
Some of those people are his Spurs teammates. Though Wingate, who said he is in pretty good shape, does not expect an abundance of playing time immediately, he does hope to eventually fill the role he played last season, when the Spurs took the Portland Trail Blazers to seven games in the Western Conference semifinals.
Wingate, 28, averaged nearly 24 minutes in 78 games a year ago and 6.8 points. He also was the Spurs' top defensive guard, contributing 89 steals and 195 rebounds, 133 at the defensive end.
But he had not played a National Basketball Association game since May 19, a layoff of nearly 10 months.
It's just like when you learn to ride a bicycle," Wingate said. "You never forget. Just because I haven't played in nine months doesn't mean I forgot how to run and jump."