Robinson takes command of Spurs Star becomes leader in quest for NBA title

December 30, 1991|By Alan Goldstein

There is no longer any doubt who's in charge in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood.

Call him Admiral, Mister or just Boss, but David Robinson has become the unquestioned leader on and off the court for the San Antonio Spurs, who play the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre tonight.

Since he first arrived in San Antonio in 1989 with an eight-year contract worth $26 million, the 7-foot-1 All-American center has been pushed and prodded by Spurs coach Larry Brown to be more assertive in the pivot and in stimulating his teammates to play to their potential.

As a rookie, Robinson was reluctant to become the Spurs leader, playing a subordinate role to veterans Terry Cummings and Maurice Cheeks.

But all that changed this season. Robinson is performing and speaking like the team general, challenging the Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon and New York Knicks' Patrick Ewing for recognition as the NBA's premier center.

Robinson ranks among the NBA leaders in scoring (24.5), rebounding (12.6) and blocks (5.12).

Last Thursday, he dominated Ewing in New York, outscoring him, 31-17, in the Spurs' 118-89 rout.

"I'd put Robinson right up there with Ewing and Olajuwon," said Bullets center Pervis Ellison. "He runs the floor so well, and he's a great leaper and shot-blocker. But what a lot of people don't realize is that he's also very strong. You've got to be aware of where he is on the floor all the time."

Robinson has been as strong vocally as physically this season.

He first took on team owner Red McCombs for failing to provide charter flights on road trips. He also criticized general manager Bob Bass and Brown for releasing aggressive role players such as Avery Johnson and Jud Buechler.

And, more recently, when Rod Strickland rejoined the Spurs after a two-month contract stalemate, Robinson warned the point guard that he would not abide any off-the-court nonsense or sulking that might distract the team's mission to win its first NBA title.

"There is no question that this is now David's team," said Brown. "He is its heart and soul. And the more he grows into that role, the better he'll become and the team will become."

Brown and Robinson have clashed in the past, but the player readily will admit that his coach's persistent goading to be more intense has helped lift his game to a higher level.

"The most difficult thing about this job is to get up emotionally every night," Robinson said. "I know I'm a better competitor now than I used to be. But I still thank God every morning for having the best job in the world."

Most of all, Robinson prefers challengers, and admits he needs no motivation on the nights he goes one-on-one against Olajuwon or Ewing, who will be his teammate in the 1992 Olympic Games. He acknowledges that he borrows moves from both.

"Hakeem has real good footwork and posts up real strong," he said. "Ewing has a lot of offensive moves. He has a very effective jumper from the baseline and that strong move down the middle."

Observing Ewing and Olajuwon take charge of games in crunch time, Robinson also has learned the value of being more selfish.

"You have to want the ball and believe you're the only guy who can do it," he said. "I'll get more selfish in time, too, because I want to be the best. That's true of whatever I've done in life, and now I want to do it in basketball."

The last time he faced the Bullets in San Antonio, Dec. 18, Robinson engaged in a fourth-quarter scuffle with Harvey Grant. Both players were ejected with six minutes remaining. Washington, leading by 11 at that point, held on to win, 99-96.

Grant, who punched Robinson, received the heavier penalty -- a $7,500 fine and a one-game suspension. But the Bullets' power forward, hampered earlier in the season by tendinitis and a sore back, slowly has regained his shooting touch.

Saturday night, before a sellout crowd at the Baltimore Arena, Grant scored a team-high 25 points as the Bullets beat the Charlotte Hornets, 129-124.

The game had a decidedly local flavor. Rookie forward Larry Stewart of Coppin State chipped in with 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Dunbar High graduate David Wingate made two free throws in the final minute to hold off the Hornets.

The Bullets (10-18) shot a season-high 61 percent from the field in ending a four-game home losing streak.

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