Wingate welcome to return, Spurs say Guard may get clearance from NBA after meeting today


LANDOVER -- San Antonio Spurs coach Larry Brown said yesterday that he and he and his players are ready to welcome back David Wingate, against whom rape charges were dropped recently in Maryland and Texas.

Wingate, 27, has missed the first 55 games of the season, but can rejoin the Spurs as early as tomorrow, when they play the Philadelphia 76ers at home. But the veteran guard, a graduate of Georgetown University and Dunbar High School in Baltimore, first must get clearance from the National Basketball Association when he meets today with Howard Balmer, the league's director security.

"I met with David privately at our hotel in Washington Friday," Brown said, "and then David joined us a team meeting, and everyone is so thankful that it's over and he can get on with his life."

In September, Wingate was prepared to sign a two-year contract extension with the Spurs worth $1.2 million when he was accused of rape in Howard County by a 17-year-old girl. Shortly after, another rape charge was filed by a woman in San Antonio. Charges in both cases were dropped within the past two weeks.

Wingate's current contract of $450,000 will be prorated over the remainder of the season. Spurs general manager Bob Bass said the club also would honor the contract extension.

"Obviously, David meant a lot to us last season, when we won 56 games," Brown said. "I'm not sure what kind of playing condition he's in, but he'll definitely give us more depth in the backcourt. When we get Rod Strickland back [the point guard is out with a broken bone in his right hand], then we should be near full strength."

Wingate, who still lives in the Baltimore area, was expected to attend the Spurs' game with the Washington Bullets yesterday, but was advised to stay home by his agent, Bill Strickland of ProServ.

"I think it's unfortunate," Bill Strickland said, "but people will make presumptions about him without benefit of the facts.

"He'll be subject to a great deal of scrutiny, but that is just part of being a public figure. He'll have to focus on being a good citizen away from the floor, but I think this process has strengthened him. I'm confident that he'll be able to play through adversity."

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