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Robinson, David Maurice

ROBINSON, David Maurice

(b. 6 August 1965 in Key West, Florida), professional basketball player best known as a dominant center for the San Antonio Spurs and as the only male basketball player in U.S. history to appear in three Olympic Games.

Robinson was one of two children of Ambrose Robinson, an engineer in the U.S. Navy, and Freda Robinson, a homemaker. When Robinson was a youngster, his father was transferred from Key West to Virginia Beach, Virginia. Robinson excelled both academically and in most sports, with the notable exception of basketball. While he was in junior high school the family moved again because his father retired from the navy and took a job as a civilian engineer in Manassas, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.

A late bloomer in the world of basketball, Robinson did not become involved with the game until his senior year in high school. A brief flirtation with the sport while he was in junior high school ended almost as quickly as it began. The basketball coach at Osbourn Park High School in Manassas prevailed upon Robinson, who was six feet, seven inches tall (and later topped out at seven feet, one inch), to join the team in his senior year. Although Robinson earned All-District and All-Area honors, he attracted little interest from college basketball scouts.

Graduating from high school in 1983, Robinson's academic achievements opened the door to virtually any college he chose to attend. Given the family's strong connections to the navy, he decided to enroll at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. After a slow start in college basketball, Robinson began to come into his own during his sophomore year. Still growing, he towered above most of his classmates and his added height made him a dominant force on the basketball court. As a sophomore Robinson led his team to a Colonial Conference title with a 26–6 record. The following year he led the Midshipmen to the Great Eight of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament and was named to the Associated Press 1986 All-America Team. As a senior he made the All-America team again and won the Naismith Award as the College Player of the Year.

Because of his impressive college record, Robinson was the first player selected in 1987 by the San Antonio (Texas) Spurs, despite the fact that his obligation to the navy would keep him from professional play until the 1989–1990 season. After his 1987 graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy with a B.S. in mathematics, Robinson reported to Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base at St. Mary's, Georgia, where he worked as an engineer. As a member of the U.S. national basketball team, he played in the Pan-American Games of 1987 and the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.

After his discharge from the navy in May 1989, Robinson began playing for the Spurs, lifting the team from a dismal 21–61 record the previous year to an impressive 56–26. At the end of his first professional season, "Admiral" Robinson ranked tenth in National Basketball Association (NBA) scoring with an average of 24.3 points per game, second in rebounding with 12 per game, and third in blocked shots with an average of 3.89 per game. Led by Robinson, the Spurs won the Midwest Division title and advanced to the second round of the play-offs. Not surprisingly, he was unanimously voted NBA Rookie of the Year.

Robinson improved on his performance in the 1990–1991 season, averaging 25.6 points per game, 13 rebounds, and 3.9 blocks. The following season Robinson became only the third player in NBA history to land in the top ten in five separate categories. He was seventh in scoring with 23.2 points per game, fourth in rebounding with 12.2, first in blocks with 4.49, fifth in steals with 2.32, and seventh in percentage of field goals completed with 55.1 percent. He was also the first player in NBA history to rank in the top five in rebounding, blocks, and steals. That year he played in his third straight All-Star game and attended the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, as part of the first U.S. "Dream Team."

Robinson married Valerie Hoggat in 1991; the couple later had three sons. In November 1992 Robinson and his wife created the David Robinson Foundation to support programs addressing the physical and spiritual needs of the family. During summer 1997 the Robinsons contributed $5 million to help create the Carver Academy, an independent school designed to serve elementary and middle-school students on the east side of San Antonio.

During the 1993–1994 season Robinson won the NBA scoring title with an average of 29.8 points per game. The following season Robinson's average of 27.6 points per game paced the Spurs to the NBA's best record of 62–20. San Antonio advanced to the conference finals, where they lost to the Houston Rockets. In 1995–1996 Robinson was tapped for both the All-NBA and All-Defensive First Team. He was named as an All-Star for the seventh consecutive time and played on the U.S. Dream Team at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. In 1996 the NBA named him as one of the fifty greatest players of all time.

Injuries sidelined Robinson for much of the 1996–1997 season, but he returned in 1997–1998 to play 73 games and teamed with the rookie Tim Duncan to lead the Spurs to 56 wins. Robinson averaged 21.6 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. During the 1998–1999 season Robinson tweaked his game a bit to maximize Duncan's strengths. They led the Spurs to the club's first NBA title. Robinson continued to demonstrate his strength in 1999–2000, when he averaged 17.8 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, and again in 2000–2001 with 14.4 points and 8.6 rebounds.

As one of the most dominant players in the NBA during the late twentieth century, Robinson surely will be remembered for his mastery of the game. Perhaps even more enduring will be his reputation as a decent human being. While still active in the sport, Robinson devoted his energies and millions of dollars toward bettering the lives of others.

Robinson's early years in the NBA are explored in detail in Dawn M. Miller, David Robinson: Backboard Admiral (1991). Additional details of Robinson's life and basketball career are covered in several magazines and periodicals. Some of the more insightful articles are Ben Kaplan, "San Antonio Spurs David Robinson and Tim Duncan Team Up to Wear Down NBA Opponents," Sports Illustrated for Kids (1 May 1998); Phil Taylor, "Here's to You, Mr. Robinson," Sports Illustrated (7 July 1999); and Ian Thomsen, "Three San Antonio Spurs: The Old Center Persuaded the Young Star Who Persuaded the New Guard to Play Here and Win," Sports Illustrated (30 Oct. 2000).

Don Amerman

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