Somewhere around 1986, NBA scouts began to report on a freak of nature that happened to play center for the Navy, not really known for their basketball prowess.
David Robinson came out of nowhere, and the first time I saw a scouting video, my mouth stood agape and I wished, hoped, and prayed my hometown Hawks could get this guy. He was seven feet tall, amazingly athletic, and a supreme ball handler. I thought he was going to dominate the NBA.
And he did.
David Robinson was the perfect center. Seven feet tall, he had height, strength, and solid fundamentals: he excelled at offense and defense.
When they induct him into the hall of fame tonight, they will give the stats and show the highlights. Just a quick look at the numbers is sufficient to make Naismith welcome him with open arms.
- Drafted #1 in 1987.
- Rookie of the year in '90.
- Spurs set the record for greatest turnaround, 35 games, in his rookie year (only to be surpassed by one later Spurs team and the most recent Celtics championship team).
- In '93-'94, he won the scoring title, even scoring 71 points in the last game of the season.
- Voted MVP in '95.
- He is only one of four men in NBA history to record a quadruple double (35pts, 10 boards, 10 assists, and 10 blocks in '94). Voted one of the 50 greatest players in '96.
- Won two Olympic gold medals and 2 NBA championships.
As phenomenal as those numbers are, that's not the primary reason I loved to watch and follow David Robinson, and then the Spurs. What has impressed me about Robinson, more than anything, has been his character.
David Robinson sought to serve his country and get a quality education at the same time. Even though untold millions awaited him in the NBA, he didn't push to completely get out of his obligation to the Navy and served for two years. The Spurs honored him and waited for David to come and be the centerpiece of their team for a decade.
As the years went on and Robinson's career progressed, he continually showed himself to be a gentleman and a role model. The Spurs became a perennial playoff team just because he was on the court, and even though Dennis Rodman played on the team a short while, the Spurs proved themselves as an organization of character as well.
In interviews, Robinson was always humble and smiling. You never read of off court scandals. You never heard him talk trash or shoot off his mouth. He was a man of faith and morality, and his life bore witness to those facts.
David Robinson was seriously injured in 1997, keeping him from playing the entire season. It finally took a rookie with the heart of a champion and a few spunky role players to get Robinson that elusive title in the shortened '99 season.
A few years later, he helped the Spurs get his second trophy in his final season in 2003.
Unfortunately, the last few years of his career, Robinson was limited by back problems and became more of a role player.
Since he played under the shadow of champions like Jordan and Olajuwon, many will have to be educated about how dominant and brilliant of a player he really was, and even fewer will remember his silent, strong example of integrity while the league battled an increasing association with a "thuggish" culture.
But for me, he was the initial reason I ever watched and rooted for the Spurs, and why watching that team's enduring character over the past 20 years has been such a joy.
Congrats, David. I will look forward to watching you accept this honor with the same humility and integrity that permeated your entire career, and even your life outside of basketball.
You deserve it as much as anyone.