David Robinson's Legacy Became San Antonio's Character

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David Robinson's Legacy Became San Antonio's Character
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

May 17, 1987, after winning the 1987 NBA Draft Lottery:

James "JB" Brown: Bob, congratulations 1st of all. Clearly, David Robinson is the top pick in the draft this year, but he comes with some complications, that two year military hitch. Will you still go after him?

General Manager Bob Bass: We waited 14 years...what's two more, you know? what's two more?

 

As David Robinson is inducted this year into the Hall of Fame, he once again exemplifies the style that has become typical and indicative of the city of San Antonio—grace, class, and humbleness.

Let's face it. As Michael Jordan takes his rightful place as the icon and face of the sport among the legendary players who line the Hall of Fame, John Stockton and Jerry Sloan will trudge along as mere afterthoughts.

David Robinson will also walk in that shadow. However, with a class all his own, he casts a light that shines as bright as any star on that stage.

It's that difference that has intertwined David Robinson with San Antonio and defined not only a team, but a city, with an identity that hasn't been seen since.

Robinson's personality and humility eventually became a symbol for the city of San Antonio. San Antonio, although the seventh largest city in the United States and second largest city in Texas, has always played little brother status to Houston and Dallas.

San Antonio struggled to find its identity, or at the very least, its sports identity.

Even today, with no other professional team around, many look to the *cough* Dallas *cough* Cowboys and the Houston Astros as teams to root for during that June-October dry spell. 

In fact, San Antonio nearly didn't have Spurs basketball at one point. Red McCombs admits this much as the Spurs were constantly in talks to move to other cities and markets. David, in a perfect Navy metaphor, became the anchor the team needed.

In a perfect contrast to the hoopla and pageantry of today's draft and the kids that walk on stage in shiny suits, where was the No. 1 pick of 1987 NBA Draft? In Washington, D.C. having breakfast with the Vice President of the United States.

After being drafted by the beleaguered San Antonio Spurs, David Robinson joined the team after an abysmal 21–61 season in 1989 and after his two year Naval commitment.

Robinson, Sean Elliot, Willie Anderson, Terry Cummings, and Rod Strickland (off the top of my head ninjas, what now?) brought life and excitement to the Spurs as they provided a remarkable comeback as they roared back to the playoffs capped by a 35-game turnaround. 

Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood flourished, but unlike many superstars, David Robinson had bigger plans. As the Spurs continued finding success on the court, Robinson also wanted his community to succeed.

At Gates Elementary in 1991, he made a pact with the 91 fifth graders there; if you get your high school diploma, he would donate $2,000 towards their continued education.

After tracking students as far as Alaska, he came through on his pledge and helped students like Gracie Word and Tyrone Darden fulfill their dream of a college education. The following year, he and his wife established the David Robinson Foundation, which helps in funding grants to children's charities and other causes. 

The Spurs, meanwhile, continued to find success, mostly to the second round of the playoffs and the occasional trip to the Western Conference Finals.

David Robinson, a star in his own right, was overshadowed by the likes of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, who (and I hate admitting this) humbled The Admiral in 1995 after being presented with the league's highest individual honor before Game One of the Western Conference Finals.

It was a scene straight from that classic Clint Eastwood flick: "The Good" being David's MVP trophy, "The Bad" being Hakeem's inspired play, and "The Ugly" embodied by Sam Cassell. 

(Note: The trophy presentation and the ensuing game would remain a low point in MVP presentations until Dirk Nowitzki graciously accepted his award in 2007 from his couch. Or somewhere other than a playoff game.)

Robinson showed grace in defeat, never bowing to the ugly lack of sportsmanship others have shown through the years. Although a fierce competitor, Robinson rarely showed a lack of respect and maintained a professionalism unmatched. 

David also continued his mission to help his community. Starting in 1997, his foundation would eventually give $9 million to the Carver Academy, a college prep school in San Antonio's East Side. In what others saw as a crack infested block of old manufacturing locations, David Robinson saw hope. 

In perhaps the ultimate show of humility, after the injury plagued 1996–97 season, David Robinson, seeing the man who would become the heir apparent Tim Duncan have a phenomenal rookie season, ceded the offensive reins willingly and became option number two in 1999.

You tell me, in this era, who would do that? You and I can count several stars who are past their prime but still feel the need to be that first option. Hell, we have rookies believing that notion straight from the gates. 

After so many years, David Robinson finally captured his first title in 1999. San Antonio celebrated wildly, as its only pro team became the NBA World Champions.

However, Robinson was already a champion in his own right, as his continued support to his foundation helped many programs, including The Ruth Project which provided diapers and baby food for needy infants and his program to providing food for the hungry in his Feed My Sheep program, which represented a $30,000 a year commitment.

Tim Duncan has long been known as a quiet yet passionate player; however, no one can underestimate the influence Robinson has had on him. In 2003, Robinson, in his final season, won another championship. Although no longer in his prime, Robinson continued to be a leader and a driver of that Spurs mentality.

San Antonio has quietly become a reflection of that image; a small town city that has grown humbly, maintaining a folksy charm that certainly cannot rival the flashy brass plated allure of Dallas nor the hustle and bustle of Houston.

San Antonio, in it's own respect, has developed a hard working and progressive approach towards it's identity. The modesty is shown from it's parades (that don't include flipping over cars and rioting) to it's features (The Alamo and the Riverwalk aren't ritzy by any means but we're perfectly happy with them).

The San Antonio Spurs organization has been the most revered franchise in the NBA for the last decade (as well as the most victorious).

They are notable by the amount of coaches that owe their beginnings to the Spurs, the assistants that have gone elsewhere and prospered, and the GMs who either played under the Spurs or started in Spurs management and have gone on to spread the Spurs mantra of team building.

Nowadays, sure, you have plenty of people who may not like the stoic, team effort, defensive mentality of the Spurs. But the Spurs are still praised. We may not be everyone's top team but the Spurs are definitely in everybody's top five.

It's the example of David Robinson still etched on those sliver and black jerseys. David Robinson may not be your GOAT, or even your best center, but he definitely is in the conversation in terms of basketball. In his spirit, there are few who can rival him. 

Robinson is active and continues to support The Carver Academy, often showing up at the school to show that it not only takes your wallet but a hands on approach to making a difference. Even with his donation, there are no pictures of him nor accolades of his basketball dominance. On his insistence.  

All of this is a mirror of what David Robinson brought to the city and was ultimately his greatest gift to the city: its character.

While everyone in the world will see the induction of one legend and the impact he had on the game of basketball around the globe, this city will humbly salute The Admiral for his continued impact as he quietly slips into the Hall of Fame.

With humbleness.

With grace.

With class.

It couldn't happen any other way.

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