The formula for success the Spurs employ isn’t a new one, but something rarely seen in today’s modern world of professional sports. It’s called unselfish teamwork.
It all started in the 1990s with former Spur and NBA great, David “The Admiral” Robinson. Long-time NBA fans will remember him fot the numerous accolades he garnered as a member of the Spurs, such as an NBA MVP, but also his participation on the 1992 Olympic Squad (the “Dream Team”) and helping San Antonio secure two NBA Championships.
He has also been proclaimed as one of the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players of All-Time.” What was also noteworthy was Robinson’s entry into the NBA.
Robinson had entered the U.S. Naval Academy out of high school and played center for the Midshipmen, where he was awarded All-American status.
Drafted by the Spurs, Robinson made a decision that not only raised eyebrows, but also characterized the type of player he would be during his career — he elected to stay in the Navy and fulfill his obligation of service to his country.
The mentality that Robinson showed of putting one’s duty before themselves would form a foundation for longterm success for San Antonio, though it would take years to fully form.
While the Admiral (a nickname that was aptly given to him for his decision to finish his naval duty and his outstanding collegiate career in Annapolis) spent most of the 1990’s racking up awards, the Spurs made the playoffs but did little else — never advancing beyond the Western Conference Finals.
In 1997, Robinson suffered a severe back injury which kept him on the shelf for most of the season. As a result, the Spurs finished with the worst record in the NBA — which would ultimately be a great blessing in disguise as San Antonio would draft Tim Duncan as their number one pick. In Duncan, Robinson finally had found what he was looking for.
Upon his return, Robinson immediately set on mentoring Duncan and molding him into the type of teammate he could count on. Through Robinson’s lessons throughout the 1998 season, Duncan and the Spurs flourished and in 1999, San Antonio captured their first NBA title.
In an interview with ESPN, Robinson indicated that he recognized the talent in Duncan immediately and wanted to make him the team’s top star.
His role would be to keep the pressure off of Duncan until he was ready to be the team’s leader and to help the rest of the Spurs grow around him. Duncan fit the mold perfectly and grew to be the leader Robinson knew he could be.
The Robinson-Duncan duo, known as the “Twin Towers,” would go on to win another NBA Championship in 2003 — Robinson’s final year with the team and of his professional career.
Before he left, Robinson had also made sure that the Spurs would continue to remain the selfless, team-oriented club he had established by mentoring San Antonio’s two new arrivals — Tony Parker and Manu Ginobilli. Together, the trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobilli have made a trip to the playoffs every year and won two NBA Championships along the way. With the success in the Western Conference Finals against Oklahoma City this year, the Spurs may well be on their way to capturing the organization’s fifth NBA title.
The success can all be traced back to Robinson, his selfless attitude, leadership and the long-term lessons that continue to live on to this day in the Spurs. I’ve never disputed for one moment that the Admiral is one of my favorite athletes in any sport — mainly because individuals like him, Ken Griffey Jr., Ivan Rodriguez and LaDainian Tomlinson epitomize greater values as role models than their talent in their respective careers show.
If the Spurs do end up winning their fifth championship this season, I personally feel it would be appropriate to have the Admiral at the trophy presentation as a salute to the person who helped pave the way for San Antonio’s long-term success.
W. Brian Hale is the sports writer for the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.