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Mr. Robinson shares his neighborhood

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It's a joyous confluence of sports these days, a cacophony of sights and sounds.

There was Payne Stewart earlier this week, stumbling and fumbling but somehow righting himself and his emotions to make a delicate 15-foot putt on the final hole to win the US Open golf championship. There were the Dallas Stars beating Buffalo for hockey's Stanley Cup, on the strength of a hotly disputed goal in the third overtime.

There is women's World Cup soccer with the United States sporting a quality entry, something the men can't ever seem to produce. Wimbledon is under way, and the excitement potential is breathtaking.

Magnificent all.

But none did or will approach the soaring dignity of David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, as his team looks on the verge of beating the New York Knicks for its first NBA title. The Spurs lead 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, going into tonight's game in Madison Square Garden.

It's happening only because Robinson thinks far more of winning basketball games than of personal stats, which most in the NBA will find baffling. He thinks far more of team excellence than personal ego. He thinks proper behavior, however quaint, still has its place: "You don't have to become a jerk just because everybody around you is all the time."

Indeed, Robinson has been the centerpiece of the Spurs ever since he arrived in 1987 as the No. 1 draft pick. He responded spectacularly, as folks of character tend to. He was, at various times, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, all-NBA four times, MVP, scoring leader, rebounding leader - and extraordinary human being.

But, the Spurs never were the best.

Then, in 1997, they drafted Tim Duncan, college player of the year, from Wake Forest. In the first season, Duncan was first team all-NBA; Robinson hadn't been. Duncan smoothly emerged as the go-to guy, and Robinson suddenly had his nose pressed to the window looking in.

Most deal with such an event with a scowl and vitriol. Robinson responded with a smile and a helping hand. He immediately embraced Duncan.

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