David Robinson was not particularly tall until his later teenage years. He did not make the high school basketball team until his senior year and even then, he was far from a star player. He accepted an appointment to the United States Naval Academy.
Robinson had grown to 6 feet 8 by the time he arrived in Annapolis; he averaged 7.6 points and played 13.3 minutes per game as a freshman. Another growth spurt, though, pushed Robinson to 7 feet; it also coincided with his rise to stardom on the basketball court. Robinson’s last three years at Navy were filled with individual and team success. He was a two-time first-team All-American, won national player of the year awards and the San Antonio Spurs drafted him first overall in the 1987 NBA Draft.
Robinson, though, was not yet ready for the NBA. The Navy lowered Robinson’s service requirement from five to two years and sent him to Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in southeast Georgia.
Remaining an amateur, Robinson made his Olympic debut at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, where the Americans were upset by Soviet Union in the semifinals and settled for the bronze medal.
Robinson joined the Spurs for the 1989-90 season and turned around the team’s fortunes. Robinson was the NBA Rookie of the Year that season, leading the team to its first playoff series victory since 1983. In 1992, Robinson joined other NBA players on the original Dream Team as The Olympics allowed professionals to compete. The result was perhaps the greatest team ever created, winning its games by average of 44 points as Coach Chuck Daly did not call one timeout the entire tournament in the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Four years later, with an NBA Most Valuable Player Award on his resume, Robinson returned to The Olympics at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, leading the U.S. to another gold medal.
By the time he retired from pro basketball, Robinson had led the Spurs to two NBA championships, been named an all-star 10 times, scored more than 20,000 points and grabbed more than 10,000 rebounds. He was well known as “The Admiral” on the court.
Not bad for a tall kid who went to the Naval Academy expecting a career in the Armed Forces.
“At first, I didn’t have a whole lot of feeling toward basketball—I was just a tall kid,” Robinson said early in his pro career. “I didn’t feel natural doing it, and I didn’t have a particular gift for it. I thought it was just a recreational thing. I never thought this was something I was going to be successful at. It just worked out that way.”