Living in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

As David Robinson prepares for his induction into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame this week, it is time to firmly affix his place in the storied history of the San Antonio Spurs.

Ask a fan of the Spurs to name the greatest player in franchise history and chances are they will choose Tim Duncan. Based on the evidence (four NBA championships, three-time Finals' MVP, and two-time NBA MVP), it is hard, if not impossible, to argue with that choice.

However, while Duncan is the greatest player to wear the silver-and-black, he is not the most important player is Spurs' history. That distinction belongs solely to David Maurice Robinson.  

Many will take exception to that statement. How can the greatest power forward of all-time, the driving force behind a quartet of titles, not be the most important addition to the franchise?  

The answer is simple — without David Robinson, there would not be an NBA franchise in San Antonio today.  

When San Antonio landed the top pick in the 1987 draft, the Spurs' organization was in decline. George Gervin and James Silas were long gone. Artis Gilmore was aging fast and Johnny Moore's career was about to get cut short by a heart condition. The team managed only 28 wins that year and the Spurs' ownership group was making noise about moving the team unless the city replaced the decrepit Hemisphere Arena.  

There were widespread rumors circulating that St. Louis, New Orleans and Memphis were circling the Spurs like predatory birds, ready to swoop in and pluck the team away from South Texas with promises of a new arena.  

To compound the problem, drafting Robinson in 1987 was a risky proposition. Because of his two-year military commitment to the Navy, he could have refused to sign with San Antonio and become a free agent after his tour of duty. All that Spurs' chairman Angelo Drossos really got by drafting Robinson was the exclusive right to recruit him during that period.  

At the time, many doubted Drossos and GM Bob Bass could lure the top pick to town. In an article in the November, 1987 edition of Texas Monthly, legendary Texas journalist Gary Cartwright made the following observation about Robinson's first visit to San Antonio:  

"Robinson's visit cost the Spurs an estimated $50,000, and its single purpose was to convince the young prospect—and possibly the Spurs themselves—that San Antonio is not the country's largest bush league town. There is no guarantee that San Antonio will have an NBA franchise in 1989. The Spurs are in deep trouble, spiritually and financially. All they were looking for from Robinson was a sign, a gesture, a wink of understanding. They didn't get it."  

Luckily, Cartwright's gloomy prediction was way off the mark. Later that year, Robinson signed an 8-year, $26-million contract with San Antonio. Even though the Spurs would grow even more abysmal on the court during the two-year waiting period, hope had arrived.  

Drossos and Bass knew that Robinson alone would not be enough. In the spring of 1988, they hired Larry Brown, fresh from winning a national championship at Kansas, as head coach. Following a 21-win season during 1988-89, San Antonio used the third overall pick in the draft to select Sean Elliot from the national champion Arizona Wildcats. The Spurs then added veterans Terry Cummings and Maurice Cheeks.  The team Robinson would debut for in 1989 hardly resembled the one he was drafted by two years earlier.  

The rest is history. In his first season, Robinson was the Rookie of theYear and the Spurs won 56 games, the largest single-season turnaround in NBA history at the time. Two championships, an MVP award, ten all-star games, four all-NBA first team selections, 20,000 plus points and over 10,000 rebounds later, Robinson has now garnered the sport's ultimate honor — selection to the pro basketball Hall of Fame.  

I must admit to becoming increasingly jaded and cynical when it comes to professional sports. Very few scenes can emotionally move me to the point of tears. However, one such moment occurred at the end of the 2003 NBA Finals when Robinson, after scoring 13 points and grabbing 17 rebounds, closed out his story-book career as a champion. The smart money says that when he ascends the podium in Springfield, I will have to reach for the Kleenex once again.  

All of us who call South Texas home have been very blessed to see the Spurs become the model franchise in all of professional sports. A wide array of events and circumstances converged to make that happen - winning the right to draft Duncan, the hiring of Gregg Popovich, the drafting and development of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the influx of steady, battle-tested veterans to fill out the roster. But all that was put into motion by one overriding turn of events.  

Mr. Robinson decided to make San Antonio his neighborhood.  



David Robinson career achievements:  

  • NBA Champion (1999, 2003)
  • NBA MVP (1995)
  • NBA Defensive Player of the Year (1992)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1990)
  • All-NBA First Team (1991, '92, '95, '96)
  • All-NBA Second Team (1994, '98)
  • All-NBA Third Team (1990, '93, '00, '01)
  • All-Defensive First Team (1991, '92, '95, '96)
  • All-Defensive Second Team (1990, '93, '94, '98)
  • 10-time NBA All-Star
  • Only player in NBA history to win the Rebounding, Blocked Shots, and Scoring Titles and Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP
  • One of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double
  • NBA Sportsmanship Award (2001)
  • Third player in NBA history to rank among the league's top 10 in five categories -- 7th in scoring (23.2 ppg), 4th in rebounding (12.2 rpg), 1st in blocks (4.49 per game), 5th in steals (2.32 per game), and 7th in field-goal percentage (.551)
  • First player in NBA history to rank among the top five in rebounding, blocks and steals (per game) in a single season]
  • Fourth player ever to score 70+ in an NBA game
  • Three-time Olympian (1988, '92, '96)
  • One of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996)
  • Lead NBA in Scoring (1993—94 season) - 29.8 ppg
  • Lead NBA in Rebounding (1990—91 season) - 13.0 rpg
  • Lead NBA in Blocked Shots (1991—92 season) - 4.49 bpg
  • Holds record for most IBM Awards (1990, '91, '94, '95, '96)
  • His 10,497 rebounds and 2,954 blocked shots are the most by any player wearing a San Antonio Spurs' jersey, and his 20,790 points are second most only to George Gervin's 23,602. (Had only Gervin's NBA numbers been taken into account, Robinson would be #1 in this category; Gervin scored 4,219 of his points while the franchise was in the American Basketball Association.)
  • Gold Medal in 1986 FIBA World Championship.
  • Member of Dream Team #1 during Olympic Games at Barcelona.
  • April 6, 2009 — named as a member of the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility