STATISTICS may not lie, but they sure can engender controversy in sports - especially when something like a season-long scoring title is at stake. That was the case last Sunday, when the San Antonio Spurs went out of their way to help teammate David Robinson win his first National Basketball Association scoring crown.
All season long, Robinson had been in a neck-and-neck scoring race with Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal. On the final day of the regular season, O'Neal had a fairly normal game for him, with 32 points against the New Jersey Nets. Robinson, however, far exceeded his usual output with 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and David Thompson as the only NBA players ever to crack the 70 mark.
As a result, O'Neal, who held a .06-point lead before Sunday, finished behind Robinson in one of the tightest scoring races ever - 29.79 points per game to 29.35.
This wasn't the first time a team had unabashedly fed the ball to its main scorer in a season finale, and San Antonio made no excuses. ``Everybody wanted him [Robinson] to get it, and everybody was mad that he was passing some shots up,'' said San Antonio coach John Lucas. Robinson scored 28 points in the final quarter alone, when Lucas instructed his team to foul in the last minutes so that the Spurs could get the ball back and set up Robinson with more scoring opportunities in a 112-97 victory.
What rankled O'Neal were reports that the Clippers may have played turnstile defense against Robinson, a claim that San Diego coach Bob Weiss, who told his players to double-team Robinson, flatly denied. Clippers forward Dominique Wilkins sounded skeptical of his team's effort, though, saying, ``the way we played him, it's like we helped him.''
Robinson, ``The Admiral'' of the NBA, is the most prominent professional athlete with a Naval Academy pedigree since Roger Staubach guided the Dallas Cowboys to two Super Bowl victories in the 1970s. Navy, of course, was a small fish bowl for Robinson. He never bargained on developing into such a good player after enrolling at the academy, where the Midshipmen set a new home attendance record this past season with 3,601 spectators for the Army game.
While Robinson was engaged in his points-per-game offensive, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (the former Chris Jackson) of the Denver Nuggets was drawn into a statistical duel of his own. He was on the verge of breaking Calvin Murphy's single-season free-throw percentage record of .958, set 13 years ago, but came up just shy when he missed a foul shot on Sunday. Abdul-Rauf was 219-of-229 on the season, but missed against Houston after Murphy, who now broadcasts Rocket games, was allowed to handle the ball during a timeout before Abdul-Rauf stepped to the line. He nailed the first but was off-target on the second. Caddyshack endorser is signed - no joke
THE company that makes Caddyshack golfwear, inspired by the movie comedy of the same name, has found its man. Patrick Burke is the ``ideal representative for the Bushwood Country Club line,'' says Jim Ford, president of the Ford Trading Company, which makes Caddyshack golf shirts inscribed ``Be the Ball,'' a comic phrase from the 1980 film.
In the movie, starring Bill Murray and Chevy Chase, Murray portrays an assistant greens superintendent. Burke held a similar job in real life for six years while trying to earn a spot on the PGA Tour.
He made the grade in 1991, finished in the money in 11 of 17 tournament starts last year, and recently won his first tour event, the Optus TPC in Melbourne, Australia. ``Patrick knows that golf should be fun, which is the message we're trying to convey,'' Ford says.
Burke, a former Division II college All-American at Citrus College, is the grandson of a Florida golf pro who worked at the club where ``Caddyshack'' was filmed. Touching other bases
* A guest editorial in the NCAA News, a weekly publication of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, points to a potential new flashpoint for cash-strapped college sports programs - namely, the virtual absence of competitive opportunities for collegiate wheelchair athletes.
Wheelchair users can make a legitimate case for better treatment under the Americans With Disabilities Act, just as women have leveraged sports programming gains from federal (Title IX) legislation.
* Perhaps in no other professional sports playoff is a fast start more critical than in the National Basketball Association, where first-round action, which begins today, employs the short, best-of-five-games format. The record shows that the team that wins Game 1 has gone on to win 88 of 108 such series in league history.
* The excitement and optimism that surrounded the Los Angeles Lakers after Magic Johnson agreed to coach his old team didn't last long. The team was momentarily transformed after he began his 16-game interim tenure, but it finished with a club-worst 10 straight losses. The experiment resulted in five wins and 11 defeats, and left Johnson, who gave early indications he would not return next season, rather disillusioned by the experience.
* Dream Team II, the heavily hyped contingent of American basketball professionals, has picked a rather unusual training site to prepare for this summer's World Championship of Basketball - Solheim Center on the campus of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.