The shock wasn’t that David Robinson took a shot below the belt. He has suffered his share of those over his career.
It was that Shaquille O’Neal sat 70 feet away on the bench, sweating but innocent.
What will this do to Shaq’s image?
So, Robinson rolled on the floor for a moment, wondering if Robert Horry would now write his own book, as Shaq did. “I got my three kids already,” Robinson kidded later, “so that’s all right.”
Then the realization hit. After these last years, with Robinson limping off too late or too early, frustrated that he couldn’t play or couldn’t play better, at least he was on the floor.
Shaq wasn’t, for once. And the circumstance comes with a twist. Shaq went up late to follow his own miss, urgent with just over three minutes left, when he picked up his sixth foul.
By climbing on Robinson’s notoriously sore back.
“There’s some irony in that,” Robinson said as he left the locker room.
Some? A lot can still happen in this series, but so far all roles and ligaments have been reversed. The Spurs have spent the last few seasons cursing broken knees, shoulders and kidneys, and now it’s the Lakers’ turn.
L.A. was thin before Rick Fox went down. Now, as Devean George joins him, the Lakers are on their way to becoming a true two-man team.
The Spurs don’t want to hear any excuses, especially Robinson. Two years ago his spine stiffened against the Lakers, and last year he missed the first two games of this series with his ever-floating particle.
Then, in the opener in L.A., the story was Shaq. He’d arrived for the game with a gash on his left wrist after playing Spider-Man (really), then cut his finger during the game and had to leave the floor for more stitches.
Shaq and his bandaged finger returned early in the fourth quarter, just as Kobe Bryant and his banged knee headed to the locker room.
The Spurs would lose a playoff lead then, a trend that would continue until Monday. But as everyone talked about Shaq’s finger, few mentioned Robinson wasn’t even there.
This season, during his farewell tour, he has said goodbye about a dozen times. The last time was not much more than a week ago, against Phoenix, when his so-called good knee started acting like the bad one.
So, Monday might be an aberration, or it might be the sign of changing fortunes. As a young, healthy Laker went down holding his ankle, an old, brittle Spur held up.
Robinson didn’t power the Spurs. Tim Duncan broke the MVP jinx, and Manu Ginobili broke his country’s. Isn’t it about time an Argentine did something against the Lakers?
“He’s got guts,” Robinson said later of Ginobili. “You’ve got to love a player like that.”
Ginobili’s got to love having another 7-footer behind him, as does Bruce Bowen as he chases Bryant. Robinson stayed on the floor for 30 minutes, and in that time managed a double-double.
He couldn’t stop Shaq, just as Bowen couldn’t stop Bryant. But Shaq had to push and grimace and bull, and it caught up with him when he fouled out late in the game.
A few minutes later, Horry took his Golota-like swat at Robinson, who dropped.
“That’s basketball,” Robinson said later. And someone asked him, really now, if that is basketball.
“I guess I should say,” he said, “that happens in basketball.”
He laughed when he said it. This pain had passed, unlike the other times.
Buck Harvey can be reached at email@example.com.