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TRIALS OF DAVID
Leigh Montville
April 29, 1996
SAN ANTONIO SPURS CENTER AND BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN DAVID ROBINSON IS TRYING TO LEAD HIS TEAM TO AN NBA TITLE AND REMAIN PURE IN A WORLD BESET BY THE SEVEN DEADLEY SINS
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April 29, 1996

Trials Of David

SAN ANTONIO SPURS CENTER AND BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN DAVID ROBINSON IS TRYING TO LEAD HIS TEAM TO AN NBA TITLE AND REMAIN PURE IN A WORLD BESET BY THE SEVEN DEADLEY SINS

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The silver dancers come onto the court during a timeout, and David Robinson does not watch. He sits at the end of the San Antonio Spurs' bench with his perfect posture, drinking a cup of water, looking down at coach Bob Hill diagramming a play. The Silver Dancers are the Spurs' version of the Laker Girls, choreographed for the maximum number of jiggles and pelvic thrusts. Their uniform tonight is hot pants and tight silver shirts. The predominant lyric in the heavy-beat music is "Do that thing." Do that thing. Do that thing. Do that thing.

Do that thing?

No, David Robinson does not watch. No.

Assorted other Spurs, especially at the outer reaches of the huddle, can be seen sneaking peeks, uh-huh, and second looks. Last season's Most Valuable Player somehow removes himself from this part of the show. He says he never looks at the Silver Dancers. Not on purpose. He will not allow his mind to wander down the mildly carnal paths that are offered to the Alamodome crowd of 23,883. Why open himself to the possibility of impure thoughts? Why look at this possible form of the devil, these jiggling and wiggling bodies, these pretty young faces with mascara and eyeliner and lipstick? Why, if he is a Christian?

"Say you go to a strip club," Robinson says later. "Guys do that. They say there's nothing wrong with it. Nothing happens. Maybe not. But if I'm sitting in a strip club, I'm putting myself in a bad situation. Something could happen. It's a bad door to open up. That's why I don't do it."

The idea is that temptation should be avoided; the irony is that Robinson works where he does. He sometimes seems a stranger in the very environment he rules. While he earns more per game than anyone else on the floor, with his $66 million contract for the next six years, and while he is playing as well this season as he did last year as the MVP, he is conspicuous first as the straightest arrow in a twisty, curvy neon world. From the national anthem (during which he stands, braced at attention, while the rest of the Spurs fidget and rock) through the introductions (during which he hurries onto the court and off before announcer Stan Kelly finishes gargling words fit for a potentate: "The man in the middle, 71" center, from the U.S. Naval Academy, the NBA's MVP, number 50, Dayyyyyyyyvid Robinson!"), through the standing ovations (which he seldom acknowledges) and even through the game itself (which he plays in a stiff and fundamental fashion against the jukes and jives and head fakes of the majority), he is different. Definitely different.

His heart went to Jesus almost five years ago, he proudly notes, on "June 8, 1991, my second birthday," and yet he is caught in this most secular of modern creations, professional sport, with its instant gratification and easy adulation and flowing beer taps. Money? It's paid for a rebound, for a jump shot, for a simple smile. Fame? Instant. Sex? Easy. Drugs? Certainly available. Rock-and-roll? Every timeout.

The door that is open here can lead to a level of hedonism that wasn't even invented when the Old Testament prophets went to their typewriters, an expansion of ego that pharaohs couldn't have imagined. Do something well, and it will be replayed on a megascreen, then shown later on the local news. Do something extremely well, and your picture eventually will be stitched onto a 30-foot-tall banner and hung from the giant blue Alamodome curtain next to the banners for George Gervin and James Silas, the two former Spurs whose numbers have been retired. Thirty feet tall! Yes, that's me. Reason blurs. Hubris walks hand in fleshy hand with self-indulgence.

"People read about things that professional athletes do, problems they have, and say, 'What happened to that guy?' " Robinson says. "Well, 90 percent of people placed in this situation would be running into those same problems."

Better not to watch. Better not to listen.

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