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David Robinson Is Making His Points

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WASHINGTON POST

The “Open Letter” appeared last week on Page 1 of the San Antonio Light and on the cover of the San Antonio Express-News sports section, and it didn’t mince words. “I’m finally fed up,” David Robinson wrote to Spurs owner Red McCombs. “I tried talking to you in a civilized manner. But obviously you didn’t respect that because nothing has been done. ... Flying commercially puts us at a distinct disadvantage, especially when every other team that has a legitimate shot at winning the world championship has their own plane and are sleeping in their own beds. ... “

Well, something is being done now. McCombs and Spurs officials are taking bids until Dec. 20 for charter flights. And if it took publicly challenging the man who pays his salary to get the results, then so be it.

This is a new David Robinson, one you wouldn’t recognize from the Naval Academy, one you wouldn’t recognize even from mid-summer, simply because this David Robinson didn’t exist then. This Robinson, changed since he decided to dedicate himself to Christianity, is getting married in 10 days. This Robinson, unlike the quiet, reticent man the sports world grew so comfortable with, isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers as the team’s new bold, forceful leader.

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Nothing could illustrate this metamorphosis more than the letter to McCombs, which Robinson never would have written last season. “I thought about it a lot after I was saved this summer,” he said Wednesday night. “I needed to exert some of my influence. Nobody should blame you for doing that if your intentions are good. ... “

“I’d been studying characters in the Old Testament, one in particular. When Moses died, the Lord told Joshua, ‘Be strong and no man will be able to touch you. Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people.’

“He said it to Joshua three times. I don’t know what’s in store for me down the road, but I do know this is how I can lead right now. It’s applicable. Be strong and courageous. ... “

Robinson knows he runs a risk of turning off fans because so many don’t feel comfortable hearing about one’s religious beliefs or Bible verses. “I know, I know,” he said softly, nodding in agreement.

“I used to think the same thing myself when some player started talking this way.” And how do you justify quoting scripture on one hand, while publicly challenging the owner of the team on the other?

“God doesn’t want wimps,” Robinson told the San Antonio Light’s Brad Townsend. “He wants men. ... He wants warriors because this is not a joke. It’s a war out there. It’s a war between your soul and the devil.”

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So what was so wrong with the old David Robinson, anyway? What was wrong with his soul? He didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t do drugs. He had a wonderful sense of values, instilled largely by his parents, Ambrose and Freda, while he was growing up in suburban Virginia.

Tall, handsome, brilliant, personable, selfless, he was being all he could be from birth. Nobody has ever been more the All-American Boy than David Robinson. Patriotic, athletic, exposed, conversant, literate. A better role model in sports may have never existed. The old David Robinson was no rough-hewn rogue; he was Beaver Cleaver. On his real nasty days, Wally Cleaver.

Robinson laughed. “No, I didn’t do a lot of living in the left lane,” he said. “People say I’ve always had a great sense of right and wrong, and maybe I did because of my mom and dad. But I think I accidentally did the right things for a long time. I thought I was as solid a person as I could be. But I saw myself changing. Money, time and youth can be a dangerous combination. It will all change you -- for the worst, mostly -- in incredible ways.

“I watch Geraldo or these talk shows on TV and I see these people involved in all kinds of bizarre, unthinkable things, and I think, there’s no more sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. Look at the studio audiences sitting there. They just go with the flow. ... “

“I saw myself changing in ways I just didn’t like. Now this doesn’t sound like much, but it was symptomatic. Last year, we had a guy in public relations who was always so nice to me, but I’d act so evil toward him. ... Here was this guy doing his job, and I was just evil to him. It was one of the ways in which I was living for myself, and everybody around me was serving me. Later on, I went to the guy and I told him I saw so many things in myself I didn’t like. ... “

Is this just Robinson somehow atoning for being insensitive to people? “I wouldn’t say guilt,” he said. “But it does have to do with one’s actions.”

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He mentioned Valerie, his bride-to-be. The NBA lifestyle can be rough on a relationship, as Magic Johnson has shown. Robinson’s relationship with Valerie, before his midsummer dedication to Christianity, probably wasn’t immune either. “There’s a verse in Proverbs,” he said, “that says a wicked man can’t go to sleep until he’s done his evil for the day.”

Don’t think for a moment Robinson has become humorless. “At first, after I became a real Christian seven months ago, it wasn’t easy,” he said. “I’d lay awake at night. I guess I was having withdrawal. I couldn’t go to sleep. I had to clean out my mind and live cleaner, like being happy with one woman. My ex-girlfriend, she was a wonderful girl. There was no reason I couldn’t have made a commitment. But there was always (the search) for a more-attractive woman, a smarter woman. It was crazy. I mean, can’t you always find a more-attractive woman? You’ve got to be prudent. You’ve got to grow beyond that.”

So does any of this have anything to do with his basketball career? The Minnesota Twins were very explicit in saying that Gary Gaetti, once one of baseball’s fiercest players, grew soft on the field and in the clubhouse as his religious feelings grew more devout. The same was said of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Darryl Strawberry last season after a similiar religious rebirth. By Strawberry, no less. Of course, Strawberry started hitting home runs and his “softness” was forgotten.

Robinson was not fierce to begin with. He was observant and quiet, somewhat reluctant to be very vocal. Not now.

“I talked to Scottie Pippen and Charles Barkley this summer when we were in Europe for Nike,” Robinson said. “They told me my team is immature, that we had no chance to win. I got defensive, but really it was true. I needed to do more, to really be strong and take control when needed. ... “

Robinson is understanding what Magic and Larry Bird and Michael Jordan had to do to win. Winning requires ruthlessness to some degree, usually from the team’s best player.

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