The man of God and the tattooed hedonist with green hair. The humble and the outrageous. The conservative and the eccentric. Hill's wife, Pam, told him once that he was coaching a team from the Old Testament, with both the devil and God on the same roster. It wasn't far from the truth. Robinson was an on-time constant. Rodman missed practices. Robinson did his job. Rodman was suspended. Robinson talked about the Lord. Rodman posed in hot pants, with a parrot on his hand, for...well, for the cover of this magazine...and talked about the idea of playing basketball in the nude. "Every game was like The Ricki Lake Show," Hill says. "Here we had the MVP, and all everyone's talking about is what Dennis was going to do. We, the coaches, were talking about it. We were having meetings trying to anticipate what crazy thing he would do next."
"It's human nature." Robinson says simply. "Everybody likes to gossip."
He says he never had problems with Rodman. He liked Rodman's energy, his toughness. Rodman was a rallying point. What's this guy going to do? Everyone on the team was watching him. Rodman certainly could rebound. Robinson says he wondered about some of the things Rodman did but never disrespected him. "I had conversations with him." Robinson says. "I guess they were conversations. He listened. Dennis doesn't talk much. It's hard to keep conversations going with someone who doesn't talk much."
Robinson was much more bothered by the Spurs' playoff loss to Houston in six games than by anything Rodman did. The Spurs had beaten the Rockets five out of six times during the regular season. The playoffs were a shock. Hill points out that the Spurs played Olajuwon man-to-man, while Houston double-teamed Robinson most of the time, and Robinson says that "anyone who thinks Hakeem Olajuwon won that series by himself is a fool, because he had a lot of help," but the easy story was that Hakeem beat the Admiral. The final numbers certainly said that. Robinson felt lower than he ever had as a player.
"I don't think there's any worse feeling for an athlete than to feel inadequate," he says. "These are the times when you really have to love the game, when you realize you were six games away from a title, and now you have to start all over again. I just stayed at home for a few days. The kids give you perspective."
Now he is back. Rodman, of course, is gone, traded to the Chicago Bulls for backup center Will Perdue. The Spurs are chugging along at close to last year's pace, with the second-best record in the Western Conference. Robinson also is chugging at close to the same pace.
He says he will be "very disappointed" if he does not win a championship before he is finished. Is this the year? He wonders sometimes about the absence of Rodman, the absence of turmoil, wonders if without all that, the team's character is being forged. The question will be answered in the playoffs. Hill says the Spurs arc trying a new approach, "winning with a bunch of Boy Scouts."
He describes the scene before a typical Spurs home game. The last thing the team does is stand in a circle in the center of its locker room. The players hold hands and pray. Robinson leads the prayers sometimes. Point guard Avery Johnson, another evangelical Christian, leads other times, in a more feisty manner. One of Johnson's prayers, Hill recalls, involved comparisons of M.C. Hammer and other rap stars to the prophets, ending with the words, "and now we're going to throw that mother down." Everyone cheered. "It was a moment," the coach says.
DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS ENVY
What is there for him to envy? "He look my wife and me on a tour of his house one night," Hill says. "This was a special thing. He's a very private person and doesn't bring a lot of people to his house. The tour began with him sitting down at the piano and playing a classical piece. I think it was Mozart. We went through the whole house-he showed us how all his computers worked-and then, at the end, he took out a keyboard and played some jazz and rap. He's like a character in a fairy tale. He doesn't smoke, drink. He's a great husband, great father. He's a good golfer!"