LANDOVER -- San Antonio center David Robinson is all of 25 years old, but to the midshipmen at Navy he has already become a storied icon of the past.
As Robinson dressed and answered post-game questions in the locker room, Peter Malecha, Naval Academy class of 1991, and Scott Switzer, class of 1992, waited politely outside the door.
"We're here to escort Mr. Robinson to a reception upstairs," said Malecha of Addison, Ill. "It's a reception for old middies."
Robinson certainly didn't seem old during the Spurs' 107-85 victory over the Washington Bullets yesterday. But to the 600 midshipmen among the crowd of 17,902 on hand at the Capital Centre, Robinson is nothing short of a legend and legends, as everyone knows, are usually old.
"We've heard about him," said Malecha. "Everybody talks about how great he was as a midshipman. But he graduated in 1987, before any of us arrived at the Academy. This was our first chance to see for ourselves."
"He's better than anyone said he was," said Switzer of Klamath Falls, Ore. "He's the one who made the difference in this game."
While Bullets centers Charles Jones and Pervis Ellison did what they could, Robinson demonstrated what he can do.
He began by showing great adeptness at using Willie Anderson as interference and continually lost Jones and Ellison in the paint, to set up the inside slam. And he ended with 10 field goals, five of them on slam dunks, two others on layups, and one of them so wide open he actually slowed down to look for a defender, before completing the stroll for the last of his 26 points.
"He's such an active player," said Jones, who at 6 feet 9 gave up four inches to Robinson. "He's a 7-footer, he moves well and he's quick. You have to always keep a body on him, but that's tough to do. Most guys you can predict what they're going to do, but with him you have to try to react to what he does, because you never know what he's going to do."
There were only two things anyone could count on yesterday, that Robinson would put on a good show and that he'd be swamped with questions.
Would he play in the Olympics if called? "I'm leaning that way. Yes. I think I will, I'd love to bring the gold medal home."
Has the war in the Persian Gulf affected him? "It has definitely crossed my mind. It's hard to imagine, guys my age with the same background risking their lives. It's a pretty sobering thought. They did a fantastic job and no matter what homecoming they receive, it won't be big enough."
While the question of war touched his heart, there was little doubt Robinson also found some joy in playing in front of midshipmen from his alma mater.
"David loves playing here," said Spurs coach Larry Brown. "He gets a good feeling, seeing all those midshipmen up there. And people just like him here. He was up before the game, and he played relaxed and looked like he was having fun. And, we passed well to him at the post."
The Bullets couldn't stop that pass. In fact, except for the second quarter, they couldn't stop much at all. The Spurs' Terry Cummings finished with 22 points, Sean Elliott with 21.
Turnovers, bad passes and poor rebounding, not to mention 33 of 80 field-goal shooting, added up to perhaps one of the least inspired performances of the season. The Bullets have played badly before, but at least they had played with emotion.
Aside from one flare-up by Harvey Grant that drew a technical, and an eruption from coach Wes Unseld, in which he actually asked referee Bob Delaney to toss him out (a request Delaney denied), the Spurs had their own way.
Only once did the Spurs feel any heat from the Bullets. That came in the second quarter, when Washington cut a 35-17 deficit to 51-47 with 2:01 left in the half, as John Williams contributed 10 of his high 12 points, one shy of his season high.
"When they closed in it made us think a little," Robinson said. "Little breaks are what turn games. The last two nights, they turned against us. We weren't really worried, but it's an 'Uh-oh!' feeling, because when it gets close a little luck comes into play then."
Maybe, but if you ask those 600 midshipmen, who came to see the legend for themselves, luck had nothing to do with it.
"Mr. Robinson pulled them through," said Malecha, ending all discussion.