David Robinson: "Admiral Empowerment"

The NBA Finals are going to start soon, and this upcoming series will be the first one since 1998 to not include Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, and David Robinson’s former teammate in San Antonio, Tim Duncan. What about Robinson’s legacy? It’s one of great basketball, yes, but also a spirit of selflessness imbued in him by the Navy.

When David Robinson entered the Navy, his height was an issue. He was 6-8 when first admitted to the Academy, and he grew to seven feet before his collegiate career in Annapolis came to an end. The arrangement worked out between Robinson and the academy was an assignment as a staff officer in the Civil Engineer Corps. Robinson eventually became a civil engineering officer and made his direct contribution to the Navy in that capacity.

Civil engineering – we’ve seen the value of that form of work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other disasters. It’s one of the many ways – perhaps removed from the spotlight, but hugely essential nonetheless – in which our military branches provide extremely important services to the whole of the United States. Robinson’s Naval career might not have been a long one, but it can certainly be said that it taught him well and enabled him to become the productive member of society he continues to be to this day.


The life of David Robinson after his Navy career has been one continuous blessing to those around him. Yet, it’s instructive to note that when Robinson played in the NBA – a world awash in runaway egos and a culture of pronounced individualism (individualism oriented toward selfishness and avarice as much as the drive to achieve, if not more so) – he was selfless enough to share the spotlight with, and then mentor, the man who would eclipse him as the greatest San Antonio Spur in history.

We saw how much Shaq and Kobe feuded with the Lakers, even when winning titles. We’ve seen plenty of high-profile professional athletes fail to blend in with other superstars because they – or their new teammates – weren’t able to handle the reality of two or more big dogs sharing the same room, the same piece of turf. When Tim Duncan came to San Antonio in the latter half of the 1990s, David Robinson – the unquestioned face of the franchise for roughly a decade – could have chosen to feel threatened. Instead, he blended in harmoniously with Duncan, and the rest is NBA history.

First in 1999, and then in 2003, Robinson and Duncan won NBA titles together. The 1999 title was won in a season shortened by a labor-management impasse, so the 2003 title – under “normal” circumstances – went a long way toward affirming Robinson’s credentials as an NBA champion of the highest order. The fact that Duncan is now regarded as the greatest power forward of all time, and one of the 20 best NBA players who has ever lived, is mostly a testament to Duncan himself. Gregg Popovich is also responsible for much of Duncan’s evolution as a player. Yet, David Robinson deserves a noticeable share of the credit for helping “The Big Fundamental” to rise to the very top of his profession, even higher than “The Admiral” himself.

The heart of David Robinson – with an inclination toward serving a greater interest – blossomed in San Antonio, but it took root in the Civil Engineering Corps, and it is still evident today, completing the large and beautiful circle that is Robinson’s life.


Near the end of his playing career in the NBA, Robinson founded the Carver Academy, a non-profit private school to help inner-city children in San Antonio. As opposed to those athletes and celebrities who launch big initiatives or projects but have other people run them (often at great cost with little to no public benefit), Robinson has remained intimately involved with Carver and has continued to supply it with the resources needed to give its students every chance of succeeding. Robinson’s track record of consistent, dedicated, and (most importantly) effective philanthropic outreach is substantial enough that when the NBA hands out its Community Assist Award, the winner receives the David Robinson Plaque.

Just consider the following about David Robinson:

He is an NBA champion; a two-time Olympic medalist and a gold medalist on the 1992 Dream Team, considered the greatest assemblage of basketball talent on one team in the history of the sport; a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a collegiate and professional player; and the winner of the Naismith and Wooden Awards in his magical 1986 season in Annapolis.

Yet, in light of all those accolades, honors and accomplishments, the whole of David Robinson’s life off the basketball court has been even more fulfilling, productive and impactful than his playing career. His example as a person – a servant of communities and children in need – outshines his resume as a player.

This is one of the 100 best NBA players of all time, mind you.

The United States Navy and David Robinson received so much from each other. They both became so much richer for this particular association between an enduring institution and a very special individual.

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