He has had five coaches in his six-plus seasons. He has had coaches who wanted defense from him, coaches who wanted offense, coaches who wanted rebounds. In Hill he finally has a coach who wants balance, the package. The package includes leadership. "I used to have the idea that I just had to come here and take care of my job," Robinson says. "I thought that was what professional basketball was all about. I do my job. You do your job. If we all do our jobs, we win. I know now that I have to do more than that. My energy level fuels half the team. I tell these guys that if you prepare yourself physically, you'll be able to do well. If you don't, you won't."
A traditional knock against born-again athletes is that they don't have a win-or-else passion for their games (I gave up that gopher ball because it was God's will, not my mistake), but Robinson says his faith has helped him. He has realized that playing basketball is his gift. His duty is to make the most of this gift that he can.
"I'm not playing for the fans or the money, but to honor God," he says. "I know my motivation. I know where I'm headed. Every night I try to go out there to honor Him and play great."
"David is developing late," Popovich says. "Look how many players led a team to an NBA title in their first six years. David's closest to Hakeem Olajuwon, who also developed late. How many years did it take Hakeem to win a title? Ten?"
Hakeem. Ah, Hakeem.
DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS ANGER
Any mention of Hakeem brings back bad memories of a year ago. If ever there was a year in which Robinson might have grown grumpy, frustrated, flat-out mad, it was last year.
He won that MVP award, but almost before the press releases announcing it had been thrown into wastebaskets, Robinson and the Spurs were out of the playoffs, bounced by Olajuwon and the eventual champion Houston Rockets. The best record in the NBA (the Spurs went 62-20 in the regular season), plus the MVP trophy, were devalued in an instant.
"It felt like falling off a cliff," Robinson says. "To go from something so high to something so low in such a short time." He had worked so hard through a chaotic, maddening season. That was the pity. Had any player in the league been asked to carry a bigger load nightly? He was third in the league in scoring, fourth in blocked shots, seventh in rebounding, 15th in steals and 15th in field goal percentage. He averaged almost 38 minutes per game, many of them playing next to Dennis Rodman. Dennis Rodman! If that wasn't a test of resisting anger, nothing is.
"Dennis was talking about David all season, complaining about all the money David makes," Hill says. "I was just waiting for David to turn around and kill him. But he never did."