In a world that values flash, style, and brashness, David Robinson came into the NBA as the ultimate Boy Scout — Naval Academy, where he entered as a 6’8″ guard and finished as a seven foot shot blocking machine, two years in military service, and a smile that would put Magic to shame.
Drafted by the San Antonio Spurs, at the time a small-market team with very little success, The Admiral was set on a course for a rocky landing. But along the way, something happened — his smile was contagious and fans began following. Soon, he was dunking on ANYBODY with force while becoming a cog in the early Nike machine that took over basketball in the 90’s. It has never let go.
This was the shoe on the feet of the most athletic big man the world had ever seen (at the time). A big, heavy, leather shoe with a pump on the ankle. And it was cool as hell.
Look at it – neon, Air window, pump, and oh, yeah, the socks. I wore mine the same way when I wore my Command Forces, only I was 5’9″ and blowing by guards in them. There were other shoes — the 180 the next year was a great one as well — but this is THE Mr. Robinson shoe.
It’s the Woody shoe too, as it made an appearance in a little movie called “White Men Can’t Jump” in which he portrayed Billy Hoyle. But that commercial campaign only solidified what we had seen from Robinson.
See, instead of fighting his image of a good guy, David embraced it. Nurtured it. Took pride in being…the GOOD GUY. He adopted an elementary school class and paid the college tuitions of the kids who graduated. He started a school for inner-city kids to provide opportunities not otherwise available. He gives ten percent of his earnings to charitable causes. He plays the piano. He is a devout and practicing Christian. He helped other players off the floor after dunking on them. He praised teammates instead of wanting more glory.
This made him soft. S-O-F-T. See, in the 90’s, if you didn’t bloody an opponent before the game was over, you lost. The “Jordan Rules” applied to everybody. Only, the Admiral did something different — he won the MVP in 1995; the scoring title (with a last day race in which he scored 71 points to win at the last minute) over Shaq in 1994; titles in 1999 and 2003. Rebounding totals matched only by Rodman at the time.
Why was he soft when he was built like a 7 foot Mr. Olympia? Because of us — the media. At the time, smiling on the court was weak. You scowled and frowned and pouted and screamed and let ’em hang when you could. That built the league in the post-Jordan Era. Robinson was weak because he was different, and honestly, that scared a lot of people. People who didn’t understand how to be happy in life, how to play hard and try your best and that, honestly, basketball IS NOT life. It is a means to a better life for some lucky ones, a means of relieving stress for some, and a way to stay in shape for others. It is NOT worth destroying your mental state over. He got it, and he lived it.
In the end, Robinson was a Top 50 All-Time player as picked by the NBA. He averaged 21.1 points per game, 10.7 rebounds per game, 3 blocks per game, and 2.5 assists per game over 987 games in his NBA career. Also, he is one of only a very small group of players to have scored over 20,000 career points in the NBA, as well as being one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double (with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 blocks against the Detroit Pistons on February 17, 1994). He was a BEAST in sheep’s clothing.
And he was my second favorite player of all time. For some reason, I gravitated to the nice guys – Admiral, Grant Hill, Mullin/Hardaway (the killer crossover, not Penny) – the silent killers. The smiling assassins. They lived their lives in public and had no fear of secrets. Fans knew exactly what to expect. Parents could point to these players and set them up for examples. Yeah, they weren’t “role models,” but we know what Chuck meant. He knew we watched every move, and Mr. Robinson, on and off the court, won. At basketball, at life.