Lt.(j.g.) David M. Robinson, U.S. Navy reserve, stands tall during the national anthem, hands draped along his side, white sneakers angled slightly outward. This is his connection to a life he knows as well as running the pick and roll.
Robinson, who had 30 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots in the San Antonio Spurs’ 106-100 victory over the Clippers Tuesday night, has managed to make it business as usual in a most unusual time in his life.
Classmates from the Naval Academy are in the Persian Gulf, and he is playing basketball. He can be called up, but the chances are unlikely, and even then, as someone who specializes in building runways, he wouldn’t go farther than Washington, D.C.
“It’s been really tough,” he said. “It made my playing so insignificant. I felt the games the first couple of days should have been canceled. I know they should have for me, as well as I was playing.”
As small a consolation as it may be compared to the events of the real world, the importance of which can easily be gauged in this town of five military installations, Robinson has been encouraged by his play in his last couple games.
Tuesday night, he flashed signs of brilliance before 15,645 at HemisFair Arena in addition to his run-of-the-mill domination.
Robinson’s last game, Saturday at Denver, resulted in 28 points and 19 rebounds. This time, the biggest contributions were the blocks.
During an 18-2 run in the fourth quarter that turned the game in the Spurs’ favor for good, he snuffed Benoit Benjamin’s slam dunk attempt, finishing the play with a one-handed dunk at the other end. One possession later, when Danny Manning sneaked underneath alone, Robinson left Benjamin unguarded on the right side and streaked across the key to block Manning’s shot.
“He did things everyone else only talks about doing,” said Clipper Charles Smith, casting his vote for Robinson, a teammate at the 1988 Olympics, as the best center in the league.
“It’s like Bill Russell used to dominate games defensively. That’s what he did down the stretch--dominate the game defensively.”
Even on a night when Benjamin grabbed 20 rebounds, the third time he has had that many in eight games, picking one center of attention was no contest.
“We don’t judge Dave on his scoring and rebounding,” said Spur David Greenwood, who had 10 points on five-of-six shooting.
“We judge Dave on how many shots he blocks. David Robinson has been playing lately like we expect. When he averages 30 points, 15 rebounds and two blocked shots, we say, ‘You have to pick it up.’ ”
Said Robinson, who fouled out with 49 seconds remaining: “I always felt like that was a matter of my timing. Most of the time, it depends on how my body feels and how active I am. Tonight, I felt real good. When I’m like that, I feel like I can block anything.”
The Clippers reach the midway point of the season at 14-27, compared to 18-23 last season. Most of this game against the Midwest Division leaders was an encouraging end to the three-game trip.
Smith, Benjamin and Ken Norman each had 19 points, Jeff Martin 17 and Manning 16. Norman also had 10 rebounds.
San Antonio Coach Larry Brown decided against any changes in the opening lineup, at least for the time being. He had talked of replacing Terry Cummings with David Greenwood or Willie Anderson with Paul Pressey, but instead went with his usual starting five.
Decision time has come for the Clippers. Baring any injuries during practice or trades, they will have to cut somebody by Saturday afternoon to make room for Ron Harper. Mike Smrek, a third-string center, is most expendable, but Coach Mike Schuler does not want to carry six guards, so someone from the backcourt is the most likely candidate. That points to Tom Garrick, a third-year player who has become a crowd favorite at the Sports Arena for his tenacious, defense-oriented play. “I don’t think about stuff like that,” Garrick said. “Whatever happens, happens.” The irony is that on a team that has been struggling most of the season to take care of the ball, he has an impressive 71-15 asssist-to-turnover ratio in his last 22 appearances. But Garrick, who should have little trouble being picked up by another team if waived by the Clippers, is also averaging only 14.7 minutes, third fewest on the team and last by some six minutes among guards.
Harper may be under time restrictions when, baring any sudden developments, he returns to action Saturday against Milwaukee at the Sports Arena, but his role may be anything but limited. Schuler said there is a 50-50 chance Harper, sidelined since suffering torn ligaments and cartilage in his right knee last Jan. 16, will be in the starting lineup against the Bucks. “I’m going to think about that,” Schuler said.
San Antonio is one of the many supposed destinations for Danny Manning, still the subject of trade rumors. Spur Coach Larry Brown, also Manning’s coach at Kansas, would love to have him, but adds his name to the list of those who think it would be a mistake for the Clippers to deal him. “Danny is a great team player in my mind,” Brown said. “The better that the team becomes, the better he will be.” . . . San Antonio’s Dwayne Schintzius was a late scratch because of a minor eye injury.