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TRIALS OF DAVID SAN ANTONIO SPURS CENTER AND BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN DAVID ROBINSON IS TRYING TO LEAD HIS TEAM TO AN NBA TITLE AND REMAIN PURE IN A WORLD BESET BY THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS

April 29, 1996
April 29, 1996

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April 29, 1996

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TRIALS OF DAVID SAN ANTONIO SPURS CENTER AND BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN DAVID ROBINSON IS TRYING TO LEAD HIS TEAM TO AN NBA TITLE AND REMAIN PURE IN A WORLD BESET BY THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS

The Silver Dancers come onto the court during a timeout, and
David Robinson does not watch. He sits at the end of the San
Antonio Spurs' bench with his perfect posture, drinking a cup of
water, looking down at coach Bob Hill diagramming a play. The
Silver Dancers are the Spurs' version of the Laker Girls,
choreographed for the maximum number of jiggles and pelvic
thrusts. Their uniform tonight is hot pants and tight silver
shirts. The predominant lyric in the heavy-beat music is "Do
that thing." Do that thing. Do that thing. Do that thing.

This is an article from the April 29, 1996 issue Original Layout

Do that thing?

No, David Robinson does not watch. No.

Assorted other Spurs, especially at the outer reaches of the
huddle, can be seen sneaking peeks, uh-huh, and second looks.
Last season's Most Valuable Player somehow removes himself from
this part of the show. He says he never looks at the Silver
Dancers. Not on purpose. He will not allow his mind to wander
down the mildly carnal paths that are offered to the Alamodome
crowd of 23,883. Why open himself to the possibility of impure
thoughts? Why look at this possible form of the devil, these
jiggling and wiggling bodies, these pretty young faces with
mascara and eyeliner and lipstick? Why, if he is a Christian?

"Say you go to a strip club," Robinson says later. "Guys do
that. They say there's nothing wrong with it. Nothing happens.
Maybe not. But if I'm sitting in a strip club, I'm putting
myself in a bad situation. Something could happen. It's a bad
door to open up. That's why I don't do it."

The idea is that temptation should be avoided; the irony is that
Robinson works where he does. He sometimes seems a stranger in
the very environment he rules. While he earns more per game than
anyone else on the floor, with his $66 million contract for the
next six years, and while he is playing as well this season as
he did last year as the MVP, he is conspicuous first as the
straightest arrow in a twisty, curvy neon world. From the
national anthem (during which he stands, braced at attention,
while the rest of the Spurs fidget and rock) through the
introductions (during which he hurries onto the court and off
before announcer Stan Kelly finishes gargling words fit for a
potentate: "The man in the middle, 7'1" center, from the U.S.
Naval Academy, the NBA's MVP, number 50, Dayyyyyyyyvid
Robinson!"), through the standing ovations (which he seldom
acknowledges) and even through the game itself (which he plays
in a stiff and fundamental fashion against the jukes and jives
and head fakes of the majority), he is different. Definitely
different.

His heart went to Jesus almost five years ago, he proudly notes,
on "June 8, 1991, my second birthday," and yet he is caught in
this most secular of modern creations, professional sport, with
its instant gratification and easy adulation and flowing beer
taps. Money? It's paid for a rebound, for a jump shot, for a
simple smile. Fame? Instant. Sex? Easy. Drugs? Certainly
available. Rock-and-roll? Every timeout.

The door that is open here can lead to a level of hedonism that
wasn't even invented when the Old Testament prophets went to
their typewriters, an expansion of ego that pharaohs couldn't
have imagined. Do something well, and it will be replayed on a
megascreen, then shown later on the local news. Do something
extremely well, and your picture eventually will be stitched
onto a 30-foot-tall banner and hung from the giant blue
Alamodome curtain next to the banners for George Gervin and
James Silas, the two former Spurs whose numbers have been
retired. Thirty feet tall! Yes, that's me. Reason blurs. Hubris
walks hand in fleshy hand with self-indulgence.

"People read about things that professional athletes do,
problems they have, and say, 'What happened to that guy?'"
Robinson says. "Well, 90 percent of people placed in this
situation would be running into those same problems."

Better not to watch. Better not to listen.

He has felt himself taken by these NBA tides toward perdition,
felt a loss of control. Nobody else might have noticed, but he
did. He has found the answer that works for him. He is a
Christian.

The opponent every day and night on the schedule is sin. David
Robinson versus sin. David Robinson versus all the seven deadly
sins: pride, lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, anger and envy. Every
day. Every night. It is a never-ending season.

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS PRIDE

He was not prepared for this NBA life. Maybe no one but the
children of rock stars and Washington politicians could have had
any idea of what to expect, but Robinson was less prepared than
most of the tall young men who rise from their seats on draft
day in June, place team baseball caps on their heads and walk in
newly purchased, routinely ill-fitting suits toward a grand
future. He did not know he would receive around-the-clock
attention.

"This league changes everyone who comes into it," Robinson's San
Antonio teammate Sean Elliott says. "I don't care who you
are--you come here, you're going to change somehow. Usually it's
not a good change, either. David was no different from anyone
else."

The typical NBA No. 1 draft choice at least has been through a
minor league training program for stardom, starting as early as
seventh or eighth grade. Taller, quicker, better than everyone
else his age at playing this game, he has been romanced first by
high school coaches, then taken to high-powered summer camps,
then cheered in big-time college arenas. He has had experience
with sycophants working in sync, boosters quick with compliments.

Robinson had little of this. He played only one year of high
school basketball, went to no camp, went to the Naval Academy as
only a 6'6", 175-pound future sailor. He never gave pro
basketball a thought. His sister, Kimberly, always said she was
going to be famous. She practiced signing her autograph so it
would look good when the moment came and people asked. He never
thought about that. He says he only wanted "a nice life."
Whatever that was.

His circumstances changed forever when he grew seven inches
while he was in college. Who would have figured that? It was as
if he had won some bizarre biological lottery. His body grew
much larger, but his coordination remained the same. Suddenly he
could do things on a basketball floor he never had imagined.
Always faster than almost everyone else, now he was also bigger
than almost everyone else. "I didn't even notice how fast I was
growing," he says. "It just seemed that more and more people
were looking at me and saying, 'Man, you must play basketball.'"

One success led to another--the NBA was knocking at his door by
his senior year, making him the No. 1 draft choice in the
country in 1987--but his environment still was quiet. At the
Naval Academy he didn't have a car, didn't have any of the perks
of the famous. He had to have permission to go see a movie. He
was like everyone else. Quieter, in fact.

"Even when I graduated, I didn't go right into the NBA life," he
says. "I had my two-year service commitment, and I was living a
normal life on a base. It was strange. I would go to NBA
things--go to the All-Star Game, for instance, where everyone was
treated special--then come back to the base, where guys were
going to the supermarket with their families, working jobs,
doing all the normal things that people do. I had a foot in both
worlds."

"Tell me one thing," he would say to his normal friends after
these trips to the star scene. "Tell me if I ever change, if my
head ever starts to get bigger."

Two years into his career his head was getting bigger. His
friends didn't see it--no one said he was becoming a jerk--but he
felt it. He was hanging around with people who told him only
things he wanted to hear, mostly how great he was. He easily won
the NBA Rookie of the Year award in '90. He was an All-Star
already. He was rich. He was surely great. He believed that.

In a way.

"What surprised me was that I wasn't happy," he says. "Here I
had everything I ever wanted--I had graduated from a good school,
had a good family behind me, was doing things I never dreamed
I'd do--and I wasn't happy at all. I looked at myself, and I
didn't like the person I was becoming. I felt I was so
important. I had a selfishness and arrogance. It was that thing:
'Oh, I'm 30 minutes late, but that doesn't matter, because they
can't start without me. I'm the one who counts.' I found myself
doing that more and more, and there were people encouraging me."

He was neither a smoker nor a drinker, but he found himself in
clubs on the road, vaguely searching for a "nice girl." (What's
a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?) He wanted
more, yet he had everything. So what was more? He didn't know.
He had felt in college that he always was learning and growing.
He felt in the NBA that he was regressing, forgetting lessons he
had learned.

Religion never had been a big part of his life. He had been a
nominal Christian, forced to go to church on Sunday by his
mother, Freda, but he had never shown great interest in the
faith. He was cordial with Joe Sahl, the Spurs' chaplain, but
never paid much attention to him. When Greg Ball, a locker-room
evangelist from the group Champions for Christ, showed up,
Robinson put him off for several months. Talk about Jesus? Talk
about the Bible? Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the day after. Ball
persisted.

"What do you want from me?" Robinson asked.

"Just some of your time," Ball said.

Their conversation was supposed to last a few minutes, but it
stretched to five hours. Robinson always had been a tinkerer, a
gadget guy, interested in learning how to use the latest
computer and programs. He had taught himself how to play several
musical instruments in his spare time. His idea of reading for
fun was to read a manual, to see how some product really worked.
Ball handed him a Bible. He told Robinson it was "the manual for
life."

"His purpose, his life focus, wasn't established," Ball says.
"Here was this wonderful person, this superstar, but he was
unhappy. He was a god of his own life. All these guys in the NBA
are gods of their own lives. I told him it doesn't matter if you
get all the Ferraris and Mercedes that are made--if you don't
have a focus, you're still an empty Coke bottle rolling around
the backseat of a '57 Chevy. It's like you're standing in front
of a painted fire, trying to keep warm."

All this was new and exciting information to Robinson. The Bible
was a manual? He never had thought of this. He jumped into the
Bible as if it had been written by Bill Gates, describing the
latest Microsoft wonders. Robinson became, according to Ball, "a
sponge." He was so excited he called his younger brother, Chuck,
to tell him the news. He was reading the Bible!

"David," Chuck replied, "you're scaring me."

A week after his conversation with Ball, Robinson was baptized
in a private ceremony. He had always had this dignified public
image as the Admiral, but now he was able to wear it more
easily. He had his foundation. He knew where he was going. The
sycophants still appeared, but he didn't listen. He was making
his own judgments. "I'd always told myself I was a good guy, no
matter what I'd done," he says. "I think everybody tells himself
that. I'm sure Jeffrey Dahmer, if you'd asked him, would have
said, 'I might have done some bad things, but underneath, I'm a
good guy.' The question is, whose definition of a good guy are
you using? Your own?"

He now had a different definition. He had found it in the manual.

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS LUST

There was a woman involved in all of this. Her name was Valerie
Hoggatt, and she had been introduced to him by a friend in 1988,
while he was in the Navy on temporary duty in Port Hueneme,
Calif. David and Valerie dated for a couple of months, and when
he returned to Kings Bay (Ga.) Naval Submarine Base, the
relationship continued by long distance. She visited him. He
visited her. She became his girlfriend. Now, in 1991, she was
his ex-girlfriend.

"I had broken up with her," he says. "I told her that she loved
me too much. I said that I could never have the love for her,
the passion for her, that she had for me. I had to find someone
I could love as much as she loved me."

There certainly were options. Handsome, with Popeye-sized
muscles on public display, with his financial worth spread
across the sports pages, he was an obvious attraction. Women he
would have considered too beautiful to ask for a date to the
senior prom were now chasing him. He didn't have to do a thing,
didn't have to be sophisticated, warm, intelligent, loving,
didn't even have to carry a conversation. This was another
amazing thing about pro basketball life. "These are the women
you've been looking at from a distance ... and now they're
calling your room," he says.

He met some of these women, had some dates. The dates were
pleasant enough, but they seemed to add to his general lack of
fulfillment. He was with the most beautiful women on the planet.
He still wasn't happy. What was the deal? After he found
religion, his mind went back to Valerie.

How could he have said what he said to her? How could he have
rejected her love so easily? He replayed their relationship in
his mind. It had been based entirely on her loving him. He
hadn't even tried to love her. His effort had been the minimum.
Her effort had been the maximum. He hadn't even noticed. How
could he have turned down that kind of love? "I called her and
told her how I'd been reading the Bible," he says. "She said she
also had been reading the Bible. We got back together. We read
the Bible together. She was the same sweet, wonderful person she
had been before and is now. I just hadn't been paying attention."

Three months later, in September 1991, he asked her to marry
him. She was stunned. It was the preseason, no time for a
honeymoon, a rush. He said he knew what he wanted and, just as
important, what he didn't want. This was the time to start a
marriage, start a family. He wanted a partner for life. She
accepted.

"Before, I was worried about a million things," he says. "I said
that any woman I married would have to sign a prenuptial
agreement. Now I didn't care about that. If my wife left the
next day, whatever money she got wouldn't matter to me at all.
What would break my heart would be that she would be leaving a
marriage put together by God. She would be rejecting God."

The honeymoon they missed they have taken at the end of every
season since. Last year it was in Hawaii. Valerie and David now
have two sons, David and Corey; a house in the exclusive
Dominion section of San Antonio; and an off-season home in
Aspen, Colo. They plan to build a new, larger house in San
Antonio. "Everything changed so much for me," Robinson says. "I
had all these doubts, didn't like who I was, and then I moved
into this storybook life."

He hears other men talking about "ways to get out of the house."
He wonders at that. He says his approach is to find "ways to get
back to the house." That is where his true life is. He hears
stories about the free-love life that he rejected and notices
that often they are followed by postscripts about domestic
abuse, paternity suits, divorce and sexually transmitted
diseases.

Sex sometimes seems to be everywhere. Robinson calls it "the
oldest trick in the book, the naked lady offering an apple."
Most television distresses him. What are these producers
thinking? Where is their sense of responsibility? The Spurs'
media guide lists each player's favorite movie. Robinson's is
The Little Mermaid.

"I made a rule when I got married," he says, talking about women
who still come around to flirt. "I decided that if anyone's
feelings are going to be hurt, they're not going to be my
wife's. If I think someone is acting inappropriately, I say so.
It may sound harsh, but that's the way it is. My wife is not
going to be the one to suffer."

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS GREED

If he were a bachelor, he would be one of the biggest catches of
all, because he is one of the highest-paid players in the NBA.
That is another amazing thing. How did all of this money arrive?
He is not a gun-to-the-head negotiator but rather a traveler
with the flow of market forces. Market forces have flowed very
well.

"I never wanted to be wealthy, just happy," he says. "I think
I'm the luckiest guy in the world. If I was in this league
making $250,000 a year, I'd still think I was the luckiest guy
in the world. I hear guys who sit at the end of the bench gripe
about making $250,000. What are they talking about? They're
still in ... what, the top five percent of people in this
country? They have three months off every summer. What's the
problem? If I was making $250,000 to sit at the end of the bench
and wave a towel, I'd be the best towel waver you ever saw."

When Robinson came out of the Naval Academy with two years to
serve on active duty, his advisers found that he had a curious
advantage. NBA regulations included a seldom-invoked "military
clause." If a player drafted by the league had to serve military
time before playing, he could reenter the draft when he returned
from the service if he had not previously signed a contract.
This put the Spurs, who drafted Robinson as their obvious hope
for the future, in a bind. This gave Robinson substantial
leverage.

"It was like working under a favored-nations clause," says Lee
Fentress, one of Robinson's agents at Advantage International.
"My partner, Jeff Austin, and I were flying down to San Antonio
when I said, 'Let's try this and see what they say.'"

"This" was a clause that would be new to NBA contracts. It
stated that if two players in the NBA made more than Robinson,
the average annual salaries of their long-term contracts would
be added together and then divided by two, and this would become
Robinson's new salary. If the Spurs did not choose to match that
number, Robinson would become a free agent at the end of the
season. (The Spurs would, however, have the chance to match
whatever offer Robinson received from another team.)

The Spurs management agreed, and the NBA ratified the deal in
November 1987. ("David Stern since has told me that someone must
have been asleep the day it went through," Fentress says.) What
happened was that every year a couple of new megadeals would be
struck by other players. The biggest money would be backloaded
in each contract, so the average was more than the player was
making the first season. Robinson had to be paid more than the
average, so each year his old contract would be ripped up, and
he would be paid a new salary, among the highest in the league.

"David's big worry during all this, believe it or not, was that
the Spurs would invoke their option and he would become a free
agent," Fentress says. "He didn't want to leave San Antonio. He
and his wife had really gotten to like the place."

That worry disappeared quietly at the beginning of this season.
With almost two years left on his contract Robinson signed a new
six-year deal for $66 million. There was little hoopla. Robinson
could have made even more money if he had waited: Michael
Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning will be free agents
at the end of this season. "But you should remember that this is
a very, very good contract," Austin says. "It is the biggest
contract in the history of professional sports."

Oh, yes, the special clause was not part of this new contract.

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS GLUTTONY

Despite these big contracts, he is not and probably never will
be the biggest money-earner in the NBA. He does not chase the
endorsement dollar hard enough. Given a choice of doing a
commercial for a week in New York City or staying home with his
family, he usually chooses to stay home. "He's the only guy I've
ever told he should be doing more endorsements," Spurs coach Bob
Hill says. "I tell him, 'David, you're the role model this
league needs. You should be everywhere.' He says he just wants
to be with his family. This year he made an appearance on Sesame
Street."

"You're away from home so much anyway in this league," Robinson
says. "I mean, we played a game this season on Christmas. O.K.,
we're off on New Year's because we can't compete with the bowl
games on TV, but there's a buck to be made, so we play on
Christmas? Where are the priorities? This Christmas my whole
family was in Aspen, having a great time ... everyone except me.
They showed it to me on videotape."

He does endorse Nike shoes, Casio products, Franklin sporting
goods and Frito-Lay snacks, sticking to brands he likes and
situations that demand the least amount of his time. He found
the perfect deal this year with Arrow shirts. The ads feature
his shirt, not him. He can be home while his shirt makes money.

Some of his endorsement money goes to the David Robinson
Foundation, which administers cash grants, provides game tickets
and gives items for auction to charities that serve young people
in South Texas. Over the last four years the foundation has
given more than $1 million to these organizations. Robinson also
has sponsored a fifth-grade class at San Antonio's Gates
Elementary School, vowing to provide a $2,000 scholarship for
the college education of every kid who wants one. That class has
now reached the 10th grade.

The speeches Robinson makes are mostly to youth groups. He does
no autograph shows, but he signs forever for free. He writes his
name, No. 50 and a reference to a favorite Biblical verse. On
the road he usually is the last Spur on the team bus, signing
while his teammates snake past the crowd around him.

"It's a joke, the money that's available in this position,"
Robinson says. "The things people want to give you--I can't
remember when I last paid for a set of golf clubs." He has a
little deal under which a San Antonio television station
contributes money to his foundation every time he answers a
letter from a kid on a filmed weekly segment called "Dear
David." Today's letter is from Raymond. He wants to know how
fast Dave can dribble a basketball.

"Hi, Raymond," Robinson says into the camera with a smile. "Good
question. I say dribbling a basketball is like swimming with a
shark chasing you. The closer the shark gets, the faster you
swim. It's a grand chase. I dribble as fast as I have to." Two
hundred bucks to the foundation. Just like that. It's a joke.

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS SLOTH

He is just now learning the game of basketball. That might be
the most unsettling news about him, the biggest joke of all. He
is just now loving the game. He has made all this money, has
been named the best player in the game, and only now is he
discovering what it is all about. He is 30 years old and still
improving.

"He didn't play a lot of basketball before he came to us," Spurs
general manager Gregg Popovich says. "When he came here he was
an athletic phenomenon, not really a basketball player.
Remember, one year of high school, four years at a college that
wasn't playing big games all the time--he did not have the same
basketball background as most NBA players. Never played all that
time on the playgrounds. You can still see it sometimes.
Situations will arise where he looks awkward. He won't know what
to do. Those situations, though, are becoming fewer and fewer."

"I came into this league with almost no offense," Robinson
admits. "I could use my height and speed to get away from
people, and I could dunk. That was my offense."

He has worked to put together a package. He has a solid jump
shot. He has a strong drive from the left side. He has a
dance-studio drop step. He has bulked up to 250 pounds, heading
toward 275 to withstand the Shaquille O'Neals in the middle. He
presses 325 pounds, good for a big man whose long arms force him
to bring weights such a long way. He still is one of the fastest
players and highest leapers on the Spurs.

The biggest changes probably have occurred in his head. He has
learned where to go, what to do, how to react to situations. He
also has acquired a passion for work. "I came here, I didn't
have that," he says. "Larry Brown, the coach then, used to yell
at me, and I'd never react. I'd just sit there. I didn't know
what he wanted from me. It took me four years to become the
player they expected me to be."

He has had five coaches in his six-plus seasons. He has had
coaches who wanted defense from him, coaches who wanted offense,
coaches who wanted rebounds. In Hill he finally has a coach who
wants balance, the package. The package includes leadership. "I
used to have the idea that I just had to come here and take care
of my job," Robinson says. "I thought that was what professional
basketball was all about. I do my job. You do your job. If we
all do our jobs, we win. I know now that I have to do more than
that. My energy level fuels half the team. I tell these guys
that if you prepare yourself physically, you'll be able to do
well. If you don't, you won't."

A traditional knock against born-again athletes is that they
don't have a win-or-else passion for their games (I gave up that
gopher ball because it was God's will, not my mistake), but
Robinson says his faith has helped him. He has realized that
playing basketball is his gift. His duty is to make the most of
this gift that he can.

"I'm not playing for the fans or the money, but to honor God,"
he says. "I know my motivation. I know where I'm headed. Every
night I try to go out there to honor Him and play great."

"David is developing late," Popovich says. "Look how many
players led a team to an NBA title in their first six years.
David's closest to Hakeem Olajuwon, who also developed late. How
many years did it take Hakeem to win a title? Ten?"

Hakeem. Ah, Hakeem.

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS ANGER

Any mention of Hakeem brings back bad memories of a year ago. If
ever there was a year in which Robinson might have grown grumpy,
frustrated, flat-out mad, it was last year.

He won that MVP award, but almost before the press releases
announcing it had been thrown into wastebaskets, Robinson and
the Spurs were out of the playoffs, bounced by Olajuwon and the
eventual champion Houston Rockets. The best record in the NBA
(the Spurs went 62-20 in the regular season), plus the MVP
trophy, were devalued in an instant.

"It felt like falling off a cliff," Robinson says. "To go from
something so high to something so low in such a short time." He
had worked so hard through a chaotic, maddening season. That was
the pity. Had any player in the league been asked to carry a
bigger load nightly? He was third in the league in scoring,
fourth in blocked shots, seventh in rebounding, 15th in steals
and 15th in field goal percentage. He averaged almost 38 minutes
per game, many of them playing next to Dennis Rodman. Dennis
Rodman! If that wasn't a test of resisting anger, nothing is.

"Dennis was talking about David all season, complaining about
all the money David makes," Hill says. "I was just waiting for
David to turn around and kill him. But he never did."

The man of God and the tattooed hedonist with green hair. The
humble and the outrageous. The conservative and the eccentric.
Hill's wife, Pam, told him once that he was coaching a team from
the Old Testament, with both the devil and God on the same
roster. It wasn't far from the truth. Robinson was an on-time
constant. Rodman missed practices. Robinson did his job. Rodman
was suspended. Robinson talked about the Lord. Rodman posed in
hot pants, with a parrot on his hand, for ... well, for the
cover of this magazine ... and talked about the idea of playing
basketball in the nude. "Every game was like The Ricki Lake
Show," Hill says. "Here we had the MVP, and all everyone's
talking about is what Dennis was going to do. We, the coaches,
were talking about it. We were having meetings trying to
anticipate what crazy thing he would do next."

"It's human nature," Robinson says simply. "Everybody likes to
gossip."

He says he never had problems with Rodman. He liked Rodman's
energy, his toughness. Rodman was a rallying point. What's this
guy going to do? Everyone on the team was watching him. Rodman
certainly could rebound. Robinson says he wondered about some of
the things Rodman did but never disrespected him. "I had
conversations with him," Robinson says. "I guess they were
conversations. He listened. Dennis doesn't talk much. It's hard
to keep conversations going with someone who doesn't talk much."

Robinson was much more bothered by the Spurs' playoff loss to
Houston in six games than by anything Rodman did. The Spurs had
beaten the Rockets five out of six times during the regular
season. The playoffs were a shock. Hill points out that the
Spurs played Olajuwon man-to-man, while Houston double-teamed
Robinson most of the time, and Robinson says that "anyone who
thinks Hakeem Olajuwon won that series by himself is a fool,
because he had a lot of help," but the easy story was that
Hakeem beat the Admiral. The final numbers certainly said that.
Robinson felt lower than he ever had as a player.

"I don't think there's any worse feeling for an athlete than to
feel inadequate," he says. "These are the times when you really
have to love the game, when you realize you were six games away
from a title, and now you have to start all over again. I just
stayed at home for a few days. The kids give you perspective."

Now he is back. Rodman, of course, is gone, traded to the
Chicago Bulls for backup center Will Perdue. The Spurs are
chugging along at close to last year's pace, with the
second-best record in the Western Conference. Robinson also is
chugging at close to the same pace.

He says he will be "very disappointed" if he does not win a
championship before he is finished. Is this the year? He wonders
sometimes about the absence of Rodman, the absence of turmoil,
wonders if without all that, the team's character is being
forged. The question will be answered in the playoffs. Hill says
the Spurs are trying a new approach, "winning with a bunch of
Boy Scouts."

He describes the scene before a typical Spurs home game. The
last thing the team does is stand in a circle in the center of
its locker room. The players hold hands and pray. Robinson leads
the prayers sometimes. Point guard Avery Johnson, another
evangelical Christian, leads other times, in a more feisty
manner. One of Johnson's prayers, Hill recalls, involved
comparisons of M.C. Hammer and other rap stars to the prophets,
ending with the words, "and now we're going to throw that mother
down." Everyone cheered. "It was a moment," the coach says.

DAVID ROBINSON VERSUS ENVY

What is there for him to envy? "He took my wife and me on a tour
of his house one night," Hill says. "This was a special thing.
He's a very private person and doesn't bring a lot of people to
his house. The tour began with him sitting down at the piano and
playing a classical piece. I think it was Mozart. We went
through the whole house--he showed us how all his computers
worked--and then, at the end, he took out a keyboard and played
some jazz and rap. He's like a character in a fairy tale. He
doesn't smoke, drink. He's a great husband, great father. He's a
good golfer!"

"I didn't know him at all when I came here," Perdue says. "I'd
played against him, but he never talks when he's playing. I
wondered about that. Was he stuck up? He can seem aloof, but I
think that's because he's always thinking about so many things.
When you get here and see how he is, how he acts, how can you
not like him? He doesn't push anything on anyone, but you know
where he stands."

"He's different from how he was at the beginning," Elliott says.
"But he's still human. He used to swear like everyone else, and
it still creeps out once in a while. He'll miss a putt and say,
'Jeeeez.' We'll get all over him."

Those around him might disagree with his beliefs and his words
sometimes--one friend remembers tuning out conversations about
AIDS, which Robinson has said is a plague sent by God, and about
fires in California and floods in the Midwest, which he thought
were signs of God's wrath--but can there be disagreement with the
way he lives his life? He walks through all the commercial
hellfires that man has invented and comes out just fine. He
prospers.

His mother and father, Freda and Ambrose, live in San Antonio
and help administer his foundation. They have just cowritten a
book, How to Raise an MVP--Most Valuable Person and Player.
David's brother, Chuck, also a Christian now, is in the Air
Force in Mississippi and studying to become a minister.
Kimberly, their sister, is in Virginia, studying for her
doctorate in adult education. David is in San Antonio, studying
to be the best basketball player he can be.

Would he want to be Michael Jordan?

"I don't understand what Michael's doing," Robinson says. "Why
did he come back? He has a beautiful wife and three kids. What's
he trying to prove that he hasn't proved already? Is it that
he's the best we've ever seen? We know that. It seems to me he's
just chasing his own tail. Why isn't he enjoying this time with
his family?"

Would Robinson want to be Charles Barkley?

"I love Charles to death," he says. "We've had many, many great
conversations. You can just see the goodness inside him. It just
wants to come out. Sometimes, though, he just can't help
himself. He goes down that other path."

Is Robinson just happy to be himself?

"It's funny," he says. "I found the Lord, and since then
everything has been like a magic walk."

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER READ MILLER COVER PHOTO SAINT DAVID DAVID ROBINSON AND THE TEMPTATIONS OF NBA STARDOMCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER COLLAGE ILLUSTRATION BY JENNY LYNN [David Robinson appears to be looking at collage of drawings depicting Seven Deadly Sins] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER GLUTTONY [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting gluttony] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER ENVY [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting envy]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER GREED [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting greed]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER PRIDE [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting pride]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER SLOTH [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting sloth]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER LUST [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting lust]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER READ MILLER ANGER [David Robinson appears to be looking at drawing depicting anger]
IT'S A JOKE, THE THINGS THAT PEOPLE WANT TO GIVE YOU IN THIS
POSITION.
I DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT JORDAN IS DOING. IT SEEMS HE'S JUST
CHASING HIS OWN TAIL.
I HEAR GUYS ON THE BENCH GRIPE ABOUT MAKING $250,000.
I DIDN'T LIKE THE PERSON I WAS BECOMING. I FELT I WAS SO
IMPORTANT. I HAD ARROGANCE.
I KNOW I HAVE TO DO MORE THAN JUST MY JOB. MY ENERGY LEVEL FUELS
HALF THE TEAM.
IT'S THE OLDEST TRICK IN THE BOOK, THE NAKED LADY OFFERING YOU
AN APPLE.
IT FELT LIKE FALLING OFF A CLIFF. TO GO FROM SO HIGH TO SO LOW
IN SUCH A SHORT TIME.