SAN ANTONIO — The weekend before, John Paul II had toured the town. This visit, Angelo Drossos confided, was bigger than the Pope's.
For Drossos, the majority owner of the San Antonio Spurs, the long-awaited arrival of David Robinson was a glimpse of basketball heaven.
"Hopefully, he will lead us to the Promised Land," Drossos said.
This was San Antonio's first chance to persuade the 7-foot 1-inch Naval ensign, who was college basketball's Player of the Year, to drop anchor here, in the backwaters of the National Basketball Assn.
Under normal circumstances, that would be as simple as writing out a check big enough for a down payment on an aircraft carrier--the going rate for a No. 1 draft choice these days.
Most No. 1s would have no choice but to sign, unless they were willing to be a hired American gun in Italy, or pursue another line of work for a year, until the next draft.
But this situation is unique--for Robinson, the Spurs and the NBA. Before he can change from dress whites and spit-polished shoes to shorts and high-topped sneakers, Robinson must fulfill a two-year obligation to the U.S. Navy. Since he can't play for pay, there is nothing compelling him to sign with the Spurs. If he waits a year, he could go back into the draft--a point disputed by the Spurs, who claim he would remain their property for two years under a league bylaw pertaining to military service.
And should Robinson not sign with anyone for two years, he would be a free agent, at liberty to become the object of what would surely be one of the most expensive auctions in sports history. Twenty-seven teams--the NBA will have added four franchises by then--would have the right to bid for Robinson's services.
For the Spurs, of course, that is a worst-case scenario, which was why Drossos was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to make Robinson's first impression of San Antonio--he had never set foot in Texas--a lasting one.
How extraordinary? For openers last Friday, Drossos chartered a private jet to fly to Washington to pick up David's parents, Ambrose and Freda Robinson; his brother Chuck, and his agent, Lee Fentress of Advantage International. From there, it was on to King's Bay, Ga., and the Trident submarine base, where Robinson works as an engineer, to pick up the guest of honor.
There to greet them at the San Antonio Airport were a mariachi band, a state senator who made Robinson an admiral in the Texas navy, and nearly 700 fans, some of whom were carrying "Say Yes, David" signs.
Drossos also flew in several Spur players, among them Alvin Robertson and Johnny Dawkins, for the sole purpose of taking Robinson out on the town.
The next morning there was a helicopter tour of the city conducted by its biggest celebrity, at least until Robinson signs. That would be the mayor, Henry Cisneros, who knows something about charisma--in one election, he drew 94% of the vote.
Then, it was into limousines for a trip to a posh country club, where Robinson played tennis with Spur assistant coach Lee Rose and golf in a fivesome that included Robinson's father and Drossos.
"Water, water, everywhere," muttered Drossos, keeping with the nautical motif, after plunking his ball into a hazard.
Dinner was served at a French restaurant, and the next morning, there was a round of meetings with Spur officials at the team's new offices. Then one last press conference, at which Cisneros made an encore appearance. City business?
"What's good for the city of San Antonio is the city's business," Cisneros said.
Obviously, this was more than a good-will gesture by the mayor, who has already convinced Sea World to build a theme park here and would like to see Robinson come aboard, as well.
Perhaps that's why it sounded like the mayor was offering Robinson a post in his administration rather than the low post in the Spurs' offense. If widening the San Antonio River to let a battleship sail through would help, Cisneros joked, he was willing to do it.
"I'm very impressed with the quality of young man David is," Cisneros said. "(But) not only because of his athletic prowess and talent and intelligence, but in the areas of discipline his high values and character.
"I know those values would wash well in San Antonio."
Drossos had shelled out an estimated $50,000 for the three-day weekend, and Robinson was impressed by the reception he received.
"I'm trying to stay neutral," Robinson said before the roomful of TV cameras. "But it's hard to hold back. It's great to be wanted. It's hard to hold back that smile and say, 'Thank you.' "
But later, after a water taxi ride along the city's River Walk, Robinson sat in back of the limousine returning him to the airport and made it abundantly clear that he had not yet decided that the Spurs were his most deserving suitor.
"Visiting a city is one thing," he said. "Deciding whether I want to play basketball for the Spurs is another.