David Maurice Robinson, known as “The Admiral,” did not play his first professional basketball game until he was twenty-four years old, after serving two years in the U.S. Navy. A member of the San Antonio Spurs for his entire career, Robinson has established himself as one of the best big men to ever play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Soon after graduating in 1987, Robinson was drafted as the number one overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs. At first reluctant to play in San Antonio, Robinson, however, accepted the offer of an eight-year, $26 million contract. The Spurs had to wait two years while Robinson completed his service obligation to the Navy before he could join the team.
In 1989 Robinson began to play in the Spurs uniform and became a member of a team that had won only twenty-one games the previous year. However, with the added support of the 1989 College Player of the Year, Sean Elliot of the University of Arizona, Robinson, who soon became known as “the Admiral,” helped turn the team around. In his rookie year, he averaged 24,3 points, twelve rebounds, and 3,9 blocks per game, leading his team to fifty-six wins, the biggest one-season turnaround in league history. Robinson won the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
Over the next seven years, Robinson became one of the best players in the NBA. He played in the NBA All-Star Game from 1990 to 1996 before missing the All-Star Game and all but five Spurs games in the 1997-98 season due to a strained back and a broken foot. Despite his impressive performance, which earned him the scoring title in 1994 with an average of 29,8 points per game and the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award in 1995, Robinson’s detractors weren’t sure that he had the leadership ability and passion it would take his team to an NBA championship.
Robinson’s chances for an NBA championship improved greatly in 1997 when the Spurs, after a disappointing 1996-97 season with Robinson sidelined by injury, drafted seven-footer Tim Duncan, a highly regarded center from Wake Forest. Quickly dubbed the “Twin Towers,” Robinson and Duncan dominated under the basket on both ends of the court.
The following season the Spurs finally reached the NBA finals, beating the New York Knicks in five games to win the 1999 championship. In 2000 the Spurs lost in the first round of the NBA playoffs, primarily because Duncan was out with an injury. During the summer of 2000, Robinson cut short his vacation in Hawaii, returning early to talk Duncan into foregoing his free-agent option of moving to another team. When Duncan re-signed with the Spurs, Robinson was given much of the credit. In 2002 Robinson announced that he would retire following the 2002-03 season.
Playing in an era where big men like Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing ruled the court, Robinson proved to be one of the game’s all-time dominant centers. Over the course of his 14-year career, Robinson averaged 21,1 points, 10,6 rebounds, and 2,5 blocks per game.
In addition, he was a 10-time All-Star and in 1992 joined a legendary Olympic roster that featured Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. That team won the gold at the Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.