Happy Birthday to “The Admiral”

Happy 50th birthday to the greatest professional basketball player ever to come out of Northern Virginia – Osbourne Park’s David Robinson.

David Robinson hook shot at the Naval Academy
David Robinson earned the nickname “The Admiral” at the Naval Academy

The number 50 looms large in Robinson’s career – he wore that number on his jersey at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and during his Hall of Fame career with the San Antonio Spurs.

He also was voted one of the 50 best NBA players of all time – while still an active player. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a more unlikely journey to all-time greatness than that taken by “The Admiral.”

As the son of a naval sonar technician, the young Robinson dreamed of playing with televisions, not playing on television. Growing up in Virginia Beach, Va. he lovd math and would often total up his mother Freda’s grocery bill – in his head – before she got to the cashier.

By age 14, he was attending advanced computer courses at local colleges. At 15, he put together a projection TV his father had purchased. “He liked to take things apart and put them back together,” Ambrose Robinson once told a reporter.

In high school, Robinson played basketball as a diversion as much as anything. With a 1320 SAT score, he was already set to attend the Naval Academy, which had long been a dream. But he’d grown to 6-foot-7 by the time he reached his senior year at Osbourne Park High School in Manassas, so he played organized basketball for the first time ever. At the end of the year, he was just a second team all-league pick in the Washington Post, so his basketball days appeared to be numbered.

He wanted to be an engineer, anyway.  “I didn’t care if I played basketball at the academy,” he once told Gentleman’s Quarterly. “I just wanted to get good grades and fit in.”

Robinson played for Navy as a freshman, seeing only limited action. But during the summer between his freshman and sophomore seasons, his body – and his life – changed.

Robinson grew five inches and now stood seven feet tall. His priorities began to change, too. He started to take the game more seriously and averaged 23.6 points per game as a sophomore. As a junior, he tallied more blocks in a single season (207, 5.9 per game) than any player up to that point in the history of college basketball.

As a senior, he averaged 28.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 4.50 blocks to win unanimous selection as Player of the Year. He scored 50 points in his college finale, a loss to Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.

After fulfilling his military service obligations, Robinson became the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1990, NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1992, and NBA Most Valuable Player in 1995.

He finally won an NBA championship in 1999, adding a second in his final season in 2003. Late in his career, his willingness to defer to a young Tim Duncan went a long way toward establishing the unselfish, team-first attitude that has made the San Antonio Spurs so successful during the last decade and a half.

In retirement, Robinson never stopped working, never lost his love for learning He and his wife Valerie have donated close to $10 million over the years to help create the IDEA Carver Academy, a public charter school designed to serve students from pre-kindergarten through the sixth grade.

All in all, quite a story.

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