Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood turned I into a most inhospitable place Sunday during the East Regional final at New Jersey's Brendan Byrne Arena. Everywhere Navy's 6'11" junior center, David Robinson, looked, he saw trouble. If he wasn't being fronted by Duke center Jay Bilas, he was turning around and bumping into forward Mark Alarie. If he wasn't getting boxed out by freshman thumper Danny Ferry, he was watching guard Johnny Dawkins come flying in from the rafters to grab another offensive rebound. The Colonial Athletic Association never looked like this, eh, Mr. Robinson?
"We played like girls inside," said Robinson, college basketball's newest superstar. Be that as it may, the Blue Devils scored no fewer than 10 of their 16 field goals off the offensive boards in a first half that all but decided the outcome, and they finished with a 49-29 rebounding advantage. Their 71-50 victory was as decisive as it sounds. Can there be any doubt that 36-2 Duke, with its persistent man-to-man defense, relentless work around the glass (the Devils outrebounded DePaul 45-27 in their 74-67 semifinal victory on Friday night) and two certain NBA first-round draft picks in Dawkins and Alarie, is the best team going into Dallas?
And there is also no doubt that Mr. Robinson astounded the college basketball world the past two weeks. At last the sport has someone who not only is an aircraft carrier in the Al McGuire sense, but who also may someday serve on one. He had 22 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocked shots and scored the winning basket with :06 left in Navy's 71-70 victory over Cleveland State in Friday's semifinal. "Gentlemen," said losing coach Kevin Mackey in his distinctive Bostonese, "that's a supehstah. I salute him."
Robinson started like a supehstah against Duke, too, scoring Navy's first seven points and finishing the first half with 15 and seven rebounds. But he couldn't do it alone. An 18-2 Duke run gave the Blue Devils a 34-22 halftime lead, and Dawkins (28 points, seven rebounds), who beat out Robinson for the tournament's outstanding-player award, scored 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half to snuff out any chance of a Navy miracle. It was then that the ever-creative Duke student section came out with: "A-BAN-DON SHIP! A-BAN-DON SHIP!"
The Blue Devils have been so numbingly consistent over the last two months that they seemed depressed after the ho-hum win over DePaul. But, clearly, they put up their Dukes to play Robinson.
Bilas, for example, had stayed awake most of Saturday night, angered by a television commentator's prediction that he was sure to get into foul trouble in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood. Alarie, Bilas's roommate, couldn't get much sleep with Bilas tossing and turning, so they talked defense. The result? Bilas performed about as well as a 6'8" center can against the towering Robinson, grabbing 10 rebounds and committing only two fouls. Alarie (18 points, eight rebounds, two fouls) not only provided help on Robinson but also played outstanding defense on senior forward Vernon Butler, holding Navy's alltime scoring leader to eight points after he had scored 16 against Cleveland State.
Robinson aside, Navy is a slow, slow team that looks as if it's dragging an anchor when it tries to run, which, wisely, isn't often. Even when Duke pulled into a double-figure lead, Navy didn't come out of its 2-3 zone for fear, as coach Paul Evans said, "that Duke would score a layup on us every time."
But did anyone ever dream that the Middies would go 30-5 and make the final eight? "We give a good image to the public," said point guard Doug Wojcik. "We work hard. We study. We have short hair. Older people like to see us." Sounds like the Lawrence Welk All-Star Band. Football star Napoleon McCallum and now David Robinson in one year—the Navy hasn't had this much positive p.r. since Bull Halsey wiped out the Japanese at Leyte Gulf. Already, America's basketball fans, not to mention its pro basketball owners, are wondering if there is a great loophole that will allow Robinson to skip his five-year service commitment after next season, join the NBA and see the world.
"Loophole?" said Robinson, scrunching up his handsome face. "No, I'm not thinking about any loopholes. I made my decision [to stay at the Academy and with the Navy] last year."
Perhaps Red Auerbach will speak to Caspar Weinberger and get the rules changed.
In any event, next season Robinson won't surprise anybody. His postseason performance sent everyone scurrying for adjectives, CBS-TV commentator Doug Collins going so far as to call him "a Bill Russell who can score." Robinson is a gifted all-around athlete who three years ago completed a five-station gymnastics test required of all plebes faster than anyone except the recruited gymnasts. He can even walk on his hands—unfortunately for Navy, he would have had to be able to walk on water to beat Duke—and he's still developing his game, having gotten serious about basketball only four years ago. All that and he looks great in dress whites.
When Sunday's game ended, there were the Duke players rejoicing, cutting down the nets. And there was Robinson with his mates, standing at attention, shoulders square, heads up, eyes forward, as the Middie band played Navy Blue and Gold. Duke may be America's best, but for a couple of weeks, Navy was America's Team.