Descent into Madness: The Dale Robertson Story

Houstonians who put up with the only sports section in town have long admired the skills of Chronicle columnist Dale Robertson.

In a town where front-running is an art, where bandwagons are jumped on and abandoned with all the speed and skill of Tom Cruise making the helicopter-to-train leap in Mission Impossible, Robertson is the gold standard. His work with the Warren Moon-era Oilers, in which the team was analyzed to be a Super Bowl sure bet, then an underachieving pack of losers, then a gutsy squad of comeback kids, then finally an underachieving pack of losers -- all in the same season -- is generally considered to be seminal.

With the Oilers gone, Robertson fans braced for a down period. But the man came through with flying colors, once again displaying that ever-so-tenuous relationship with sanity that has become a trademark.

His Rockets season got off to a glorious start with an analysis of Charles Barkley's barroom brawl that was headlined "Barkley Pays Unfortunate Price for Being People Person."

Then, taking time occasionally from his job of second-guessing coaches and players in college and pro football, the World Series, college hoops and any other sport he declared himself an expert in, Robertson tackled the Rockets, whom he had picked to win the division.

Robertson in November, noting Hakeem Olajuwon was scoring only 11.5 points a game: "So you wondered if something might be wrong. Had age finally become a worthy adversary? ... Was the Dream Shake now a dated confection, like the malted milk? In a word, no.

'He was just playing good team basketball,' Rudy Tomjanovich said."
Robertson in March: "(Hakeem) has lost a step and seems to be jumping from a bed of quicksand. The instincts and agility that allowed him to reinvent the center position are conspicuously lacking. He's just another center, instead of being the center of the Rockets' universe."

Robertson, after a November loss to Phoenix: "It's a combination of poor ball-handling, erratic transition defense, jittery execution when pressured, wimpy rebounding and an unwillingness by pretty much everyone to step up and make a play when a play must be made."

Robertson, three weeks later after a win over Atlanta, including a reference to the infighting among the team's stars: "(The Rockets) are also 70 since dropping four in a row, which was in part the fallout from the big blowup after the big blowup against Portland Nov. 7. Once the air cleared, though, the Rockets turned into Team Chemistry. All for one and one for all, they are."

You get the drift: One week the headline reads "Rockets Approach Defensive Perfection," and Robertson is calling Tomjanovich "Coach Keep-the-Faith" and "Rudy T, as in tickled pink" and nattering on about how energetic the old guys are; within weeks he's writing "The Rockets represent the old Miami, a bunch of feeble, doddering blue-hairs trying to avoid being bowled over by the hard-body roller bladers in Speedos and string bikinis."

All in all, a pretty solid season for Robertson. But every campaign needs a crowning moment, and Dale supplied it with a breathtaking moment of complete lunacy when he dedicated a column to the proposition that the Rockets' season could be saved by -- wait for it -- bringing Magic Johnson out of retirement ("The Rockets could make history with four future Hall of Famers on the court at once," he wrote, apparently not realizing that the team could probably pick up Bob Cousy or George Mikan for a cheaper price.)

In terms of further logic proving it would be a good move, Robertson noted that Johnson had been in Houston a lot lately opening a new movie theater and, uh ... uh ... he had been playing in a lot of pickup basketball games.

Robertson is expected to recover relatively soon, although doctors warn that no predictions can be made. Until then, his column is being ghostwritten by whoever's most sober at the SRO Sports Bar when deadline nears.

-- Richard Connelly


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