The late 1980s were also marked by the inside dominance of two big man – the Knicks’ Patrick Ewing and the Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon.
Many considered their inside power and finesse unparalleled and it was just a question of time when will they lead their teams all the way to Larry O’Brien championship trophy. That would eventually happen in Jordan-less 1993-94 season when they both led their respective teams to 1994 NBA finals.
But it was in 1989 that those two superstar centers got the new respectable competitor in the middle, in the Spurs man 7’1’’ David Robinson.
The Admiral was originally drafted by the Spurs in the 1987 NBA draft but needed to complete the obligations he committed to fulfilling when signing up for the US Naval Academy.
But from the very first game of the 1989-90 NBA season, this 1988 US Olympian proved Spurs and their fans that he was worth waiting. He led the team to one of the biggest single-season turnarounds in the NBA history – in 1989-90 Spurs W-L record was 56-26 and just a year earlier it was 21-61!
One of the most memorable games of The Admiral’s rookie campaign came on January 13th, 1990 in the Knicks shrine – Madison Square Garden.
With both of the men in the middle excited about their first ever official meeting more experienced Ewing showed initiative and had his way vs. Robinson in the early going.
But as soon as he ‘woke up’ the Admiral showed everyone in the Garden the unmatched athleticism for the athlete his size, creating huge problems for not just Ewing but also for the Knicks team defense.
Many of the highlight plays from this particular game, such as Robinson’s emphatic transition slam over Ewing, will later be used to picture the unforgettable duels of these two NBA superstar centers.
Robinson scored 27 points on 12-20 shooting, to go along with his 6 rebounds. Ewing had 18 points, 9 boards, 3 dimes, and 3 rejected shots in a game to help the Knicks to seal this one by 107-101.
Just a few weeks later Robinson was selected to the Western Conference squad to participate in 1990 NBA All-Star game in Miami. There, by scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 boards in 25 minutes of action, he showcased his most unique abilities and skills in front of the global TV audience.
For the 1989-90 season Spurs rookie center averaged impressive, for any rookie in any era, 24.3 points, 12.0 boards, 3.9 blocked shots, 2.0 ass, sts and 1.7 steals.
The 1990 NBA Rookie of the Year will, however, continue his astonishing progress in the following seasons, climbing up all the way to the 1995 MVP title. In 1992 he represented USA at the Barcelona Olympics as the member of the original Dream Team, teaming up with his New York paw – Pat Ewing.
Murray A. a.k.a. Marjan Crnogaj is a BN contributor. The 1980s and 1990s basketball specialist is also proud to be the author of the TOP 100 basketball biography ‘Drazen – The Years of the Dragon’ (‘Drazen – Godine Zmaja’) which reveals the yet untold details from the life and career of the legendary NBA shooting guard Drazen Petrovic.
He resides in Zagreb, Croatia, working on his third book which tells the untold story of the 1989 Green Card Five.