He's known as "The Admiral," the imposing, athletic center who helped guide the San Antonio Spurs to two NBA championships, but in his earlier days David Robinson had a more down-to-earth title: Lieutenant, Junior Grade, U.S. Navy.
Considered to be the best basketball player in U.S. Naval history, Robinson comes from a naval family (his father Ambrose served in the Navy) and thanks to high grades and burgeoning basketball talent, he enrolled at the Naval Academy after receiving little attention from major colleges (due to a late growth spurt he did not play hoops competitively until his last year in high school). The major colleges' loss was the Naval Academy basketball team's gain, as he grew another seven inches in his first few years at the Academy and proceeded to establish himself as one of the premier college players in the game.
Robinson's size (6 feet 8 inches when he was first admitted) was cause for some consternation, as he was two inches above the Navy height limit, but he got a break when the Superintendent of the Academy made an exception for him. Although the sight of the giant Robinson negotiating the tight quarters of Navy vessels made for good news copy, it did throw his Navy career into doubt, as he would not be able to easily serve as an unrestricted line officer at sea. To solve this issue, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman placed Robinson in a program for training civil engineers for the Naval Reserves, reducing his active-duty obligation to two years. After graduating from the Naval Academy, Robinson became a civil engineering officer at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
Inevitably, due to his stature, Robinson quickly gained the nickname "The Admiral," and picked up All-America recognition in his final two seasons, as well as the Naismith and Wooden Awards, two of college basketball's highest honors. Upon graduation, he became eligible for the 1987 NBA Draft and was quickly snapped up the Spurs with the first overall pick, even though it would be two years before Robinson would put on a San Antonio jersey. As it turned out, the two years away from the game didn't affect his on-court skills in the slightest, as he would go on to win Rookie of the Year for the 1989-90 season, and display impressive longevity -- he would play on the NBA All-Star team every year of his pro career, and was on four Olympic "Dream Teams."
Known for his easygoing nature and his generous charitable donations, Robinson always acknowledged that there was life outside basketball. He has said, "Yes, it's important that I have good numbers, and I'm well-respected as a player. But I think it's more important that I'm respected as a man." He holds the lessons he learned in the Navy in high regard; in front of a group of high school ROTC students, he once said, "Your military experience is going to serve you for the rest of your life...You don't think when I step out on this basketball court that I don't rely on my military experience? Every day!"
Voted as one of the greatest 50 players in NBA history in 1996, Robinson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
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