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"Robinson turned things around almost single-handedly," said Denver coach Paul Westhead following the 14-point rout. "He was certainly in the middle of a dunkathon. On a couple of plays, he blocked a shot, outletted, filled the lane and then finished off with a dunk. Most guys just block and outlet, but he's double jeopardy."
"He's different from any center," says Brown. "He has unbelievable speed. I remember when Kareem would dribble to half court and everybody in the Forum would stand up. I've seen this kid dribble the length of the floor as if he were a guard. We take it for granted, because sometimes when you're watching him he looks like he's six feet tall."
Robinson never stood taller than he did during the war in the Persian Gulf, when, by dint of his degree from Annapolis and his two years of active service in the Navy, he became the sports world's unofficial—and uneager—spokesman on all matters relating to the military. "It was kind of weird," he says. "I didn't feel like I was real qualified to be talking about it. I felt more like the average citizen who was concerned about a war."
No NBA city has a greater concentration of military than San Antonio. Fort Sam Houston, headquarters of the Fifth Army, and the Brooke Army Medical Center are there; Randolph, Lackland, and Kelly Air Force bases are nearby. Robinson, whose active-duty service commitment of five years was reduced, upon his graduation from Annapolis, to two years because of his height, was designated by the Navy two years ago as an Individual Mobilizations Augmentee, which basically means he would be called up only if a slam-dunk competition were to break out. Everywhere he went, reporters wanted to know how he felt about the war (he felt badly), whether he would be willing to serve his country if called (of course) and if he was concerned about his friends.
It was that last question that affected him most. "It was pretty intense for me," he says. "I turned on the news, and the announcer said the guys on the first planes had left that morning for a bombing run over Baghdad, and my stomach just dropped because I imagined those guys must be scared to death. That made playing basketball seem insignificant."
Getting Robinson to think of basketball as significant has sometimes been difficult, even in peacetime. He used to tell friends he didn't like the game, and he concedes now that "basketball had to really grow to get to the top of my list of priorities, because it wasn't before." Even in this season of his ascendancy there have been questions raised in San Antonio about whether he is exerting enough leadership, but Robinson remains typically unconcerned. "You look at a guy like Magic, who's been all basketball for such a long time, and now he's starting to do other things," he says. "People pat him on the back for that and say, 'That's so great, you're starting to expand your horizons.' One of the main criticisms of me coming out of college was that I had too many interests. Coach Brown wasn't sure I'd be able to focus and become one of the best players. It's funny, most of the time they want people to take a little bit more interest in the rest of their life."
Brown still seems uncertain of Robinson's resolve and knows the Spurs can go only as far in the playoffs as he is determined to carry them. "He can be in the Hall of Fame," Brown says. "When I see Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon play, David isn't there yet. He's got to decide how badly he wants it, how good he wants to be. He's trying, but I don't know if it will ever happen."
"I don't care who people compare me to, I really don't care about that at all," Robinson says. "People know you need a surrounding cast. They always gave Hakeem Olajuwon all the benefit of the doubt, you know, when I always thought the Rockets had a pretty good squad around him, even though they've just started playing great."
The Spurs have rarely played up to their capabilities this season, and, despite a one-game lead in the Midwest Division, they continued to suffer troubling setbacks last week, losing to the Portland Trail Blazers 105-100 at home and to the SuperSonics 100-99 at Seattle before winning at Phoenix 109-101 on Sunday. The defeat at the hands of Portland was particularly vexing, because it was the Blazers who eliminated San Antonio from the playoffs last year in a seventh game decided in overtime.
"I figured we'd be more stable this year," Robinson says. "The thing we're lacking is cohesiveness and confidence. We should be a lot better team this year, but I don't think we are."