David Robinson: The best has all the goods

JOHN EISENBERG

March 04, 1991|By JOHN EISENBERG

LANDOVER -- There are a few people in this world for whom life seems to bend. They don't get stuck in traffic. They find hundred-dollar bills in the street. They guess right on the multiple-choice questions. Their clothes always look pressed. They use the right adjectives. Good things happen. Always, always.

They are the fortunate. The blessed. Their lives take on a powerful, unsubstantiated momentum. Their obstacles melt away. They float, not walk. They dance, not stumble. How else do we explain Ed Sullivan? Dan Quayle? The kid who plays quarterback, dates the doll, and still gets straight A's?

Or David Robinson. Here is a fine example. Here is one of the blessed. Here is a young man who, four years removed from college, has taken on such an upward sweep that the results already are in. You can almost hear him as he passes you going up and up and up. Whooosh. There goes Mister Robinson.

He is pro basketball's next great center. He has a $26 million contract. His celebrity is growing wildly; a post-game autograph session turned into a stampede yesterday at the Capital Centre. He is out front. He has won, won big. The only unsolved mystery is how many championships he wins.

Whooosh. There goes Mister Robinson. Did you know he got 1,300 on his SATs? Do you know he can play concert piano, and the saxophone? Take apart a television? Do you know he is leading the NBA in rebounding? That he is ninth in scoring? Do you know he hasn't forgotten how to be polite? Do you know he would have been happy to serve in the Middle East?

What is wrong with this picture? Nothing. Not one thing. Sorry. This is no place for cynics. There is no seam in the fabric. No pimple on the face. No steam-gathering fissure beneath the surface. The story of David Robinson is clean and swift, a fast break that leads to a dunk. Life has bent for him.

He didn't even need basketball. That's the joke. He was just a bright, curious kid from a military family in the Virginia suburbs of Washington. He didn't care that much for sports. He would have been happy to go through the Naval Academy, do his five years and become an engineer. His legs would not let him. His legs kept sprouting.

The millions of kids who grow up hoping, praying, that basketball becomes their life, that it carries them out of untoward circumstances -- their legs didn't sprout. No. No sir. They weren't among the fortunate, the blessed. They had to make do looking up at the rim and fighting through the hordes.

Not David Robinson. Seven-feet fell on him. He didn't ask for it, or even want it. But he got it. Seven-feet grabbed him and carried him up and over everyone. Whooosh. He needed years to adjust. There were times at Navy when the game bored him. Just like that, he was taller and better than everyone. He didn't appreciate the gift yet. He would.

It is almost as if he was born with an offensive line in front of him, clearing a path. After Annapolis came his five-year hitch. We were told there were no exceptions to the rule. One was made. The Navy agreed, this once, to hang up an asterisk and set him free after two years. A million-to-one shot. It was his private lottery, and he won.

The blessed. The fortunate. He was drafted by the foundering San Antonio Spurs. Most make-a-franchise centers are drafted by foundering teams. Patrick Ewing's Knicks are still foundering. Akeem Olajuwon's Rockets are knee-deep settled in mediocrity. The Spurs have rebuilt in two years, surrounding their center with a 50-win contender.

The Spurs took apart the Bullets yesterday, and those who came to see David Robinson were not left without. His totals were 26 points and 13 rebounds, but it was the details that shone. The left-handed 18-footers. Stealing a pass and dribbling in for a dunk as surely as a guard. Eleven strides from baseline to baseline. Muscles on muscles, no longer the boyish Mid.

The people at Navy always said he would be different if he got this chance, that he wouldn't get lost in himself, that he would come to define what it means to carry yourself the proper way in such circumstances. They knew him. They were right.

tTC They tell David Robinson stories in San Antonio these days. They can barely believe their center, who respects others, gives the best interviews, reads the front page, thinks for himself. Soon he probably will be translating Latin texts, playing with the London Symphony, building very tall buildings. Always was a dabbler.

Whooosh. There goes Mister Robinson. He got a thunderous ovation yesterday. People cheer him in every arena in the league. He is hard to boo. No seam in the fabric. Hundreds of people surrounded him on his way out of the Capital Centre. They beckoned. They shouted. They clapped. They shoved pens and pictures in his face.

It happens to Michael and Magic. It is happening to David Robinson now. We should recognize these changes in the balance, these arrivals. The people cornered him yesterday. It got a little hairy. He had to duck down a hallway. People want a piece of him. He is floating, not walking. He is out front. There is nothing wrong with the picture.

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