THE UNTOLD STORIES
From the Navy to the hall of fame BY ZACK HERNANDEZ

Photo courtesy of The Daily Dose.

Known as "The Admiral" by his peers in the NBA, David Robinson is considered the greatest basketball player in Navy history.

Despite being widely considered the best basketball player in Naval Academy history, David Robinson’s talents were not limited to athletics. Robinson learned to play the piano by ear, excelled in mathematics and scored 1320 on the SAT.

 

His father, Ambrose, a sonar technician for the U.S. Navy, was very demanding of his son. Ambrose required David to study a page of the dictionary every night and quizzed him on the definitions the following day.

 

As a 5-foot-9-inch junior at Osbourn Park High School in Virginia, the undersized boy had never played formal basketball. However, by senior yearhe had grown to 6 feet 6 inches and joined the school’s basketball team. Robinson’s growth-spurt helped his basketball skills reach new heights, as he earned all-area and all-district honors.

 

Robinson followed in his father’s footsteps and enrolled at the U.S. Naval Academy where he continued to play basketball. His lifelong hero is his grandfather, a World War II veteran, who also influenced his decision to join the Naval Academy. A man of great integrity, his grandfather worked 50 years as a mailman and taught David the importance of saving money for his children’s future.

 

Robinson had small basketball aspirations when he entered the Naval Academy. “I thought it might be a way to pursue a college scholarship but that was the limit,” said Robinson. After averaging 7.6 points per game as a freshman, another growth spurt launched his abilities to an elite level.

 

Robinson shot up to 7 feet 1 inch and became one of the premiere centers in all of college basketball.  During his senior season, he became the NCAA’s best player, averaging 28.3 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Graduating and achieving the College Player of the Year award in 1987, Robinson was the likely number one overall NBA draft pick. However, he was required to fulfill military obligations that could extend up to five years.

 

Robinson’s unique case posed a debate over whether or not the Navy should make an exception for the athlete. Given Robinson’s potential to convey such a positive image across two diverse platforms, the Navy decided to require two years of active duty from him.

 

Knowing they would have to withstand his two-year commitment before he could debut, the San Antonio Spurs still selected Robinson with the first overall pick in the NBA draft.

 

While serving his term for the Navy as a civil engineer, Robinson managed to stay in basketball shape.  “I spent most of two years at a submarine base in Georgia. I don't think anybody else on the base was over 6 feet 1 inch, so I spent a lot of time by myself, running in the gym,” Robinson said. Although his nickname was “The Admiral” throughout his NBA career, Robinson’s rank in the Navy was actually Lieutenant, Junior Grade.

 

In the fall of 1989, San Antonio was rewarded for its wait. During his first campaign, Robinson achieved Rookie of the Year honors and led the Spurs to the greatest single season turnaround in NBA history. Even after his NBA career began, Robinson continued to serve the Navy in reserve duty and promotional campaigns.

 

Over the course of his 14-year campaign, he won two NBA titles, two Olympic gold medals and the Most Valuable Player award in 1995. Robinson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, along with Michael Jordan and John Stockton.

 

“I think any player will tell you that individual accomplishments help your ego, but if you don't win, it makes for a very, very long season,” Robinson once said.

 

Robinson proved to be one of the game’s all-time dominant centers. His career has paved the way for other veterans to play professional sports, such as Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. To date, Robinson is the only player from the Naval Academy to play in the NBA.

 

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