When David Robinson entered the United States Naval Academy as a young freshman in 1983 he had only one year of organized basketball experience under his belt. By the time he graduated in 1987 with a commission as an officer in the United States Navy he was 7 feet tall and considered to be the best basketball player in Academy history.
However, instead of looking forward to the NBA Draft like the rest of the class of 1987, Robinson looked towards a life in the military. You see, when an athlete enters one of the military academies in the United States they give up the right to enter a professional sport after graduation, instead committing to four years of service after receiving their commission.
That being said, Robinson was not sure whether or not a team would take a chance on him with his service commitment still ahead of him after graduation, but those worries were put to rest when the San Antonio Spurs took him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1987 Draft and told him they’d be there waiting when he completed his mandatory service.
Although his service commitment was for four years after graduation, Robinson was able to work out an agreement with Secretary of the Navy John Lehman to allow him to receive his commission as a staff officer in the Civil Engineer Corps community, ultimately resulting in his commitment being reduced to two years rather than the usual four.
Flash forward two years to 1989 and “The Admiral” was born. Having completed his service commitment to the Navy, Robinson joined the Spurs and began what would become a Hall of Fame career. After two years of working full-time as a Civil Engineer Robinson stepped back into the fold and dominated. earning NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 1990. Over the next 15 seasons he led the Spurs to NBA Championships in 1999 and 2003, earned 10 NBA All-Star nods, was named the 1995 NBA MVP, and earned NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1992.
Robinson’s path to the NBA is the only one of it’s kind. Having been the only player in the NBA to ever graduate from the United States Naval Academy, he chose a life of service over money as a young man and that is more than admirable. Sure, Robinson could have left the Naval Academy after his second year and opted out of his mandatory service, but he chose to stay. He knew the sacrifice he’d have to make to accomplish his dreams of playing in the NBA, but he chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and serve his country. We call some athletes heroes, but rarely do they actually live up to the title. Robinson on the other hand, does live up to that title in more ways than one.
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Watch David Robinson Speaking about his years playing alongside Tim Duncan: