It's said that good things come to those who wait. That was certainly true in the case of the San Antonio Spurs choosing David Robinson. The Spurs took Robinson with the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft, but a commitment to the Navy would prevent him from joining them for two years. History has shown that the Spurs were wise to wait for his arrival.
Born on Aug. 6, 1965, in Key West, Fla., Robinson had only one year of high school basketball to his credit when he entered the Naval Academy. His height when he joined the basketball team as a freshman was more appropriate for a guard than a center, but he grew seven inches at Navy and blossomed into a star. He led the country in rebounding as a junior, and his 5.91 blocks per game was the highest average in Division I history. He also set collegiate records for most blocks in a single game and in a season. Robinson was unanimously chosen as Player of the Year as a senior and graduated with a degree in mathematics in 1987.
Robinson's offensive game, as he would admit years later, was essentially limited to getting open and dunking when he joined the NBA in 1989. Nevertheless, he won Rookie of the Month honors every month on his way to being named Rookie of the Year and made the first of his 10 All-Star Game appearances. The Spurs improved from 21 wins the season before to 56 and came within a game of reaching the Western Conference Finals.
The 1991-92 season was one of Robinson's best, as he was named Defensive Player of the Year; joined Cliff Hagan and Larry Bird as the only players in league history to finish in the top 10 in five categories; and became the first NBA player to ever finish in the top five in rebounding, blocks and steals in the same season. Unfortunately, Robinson's brilliant season was cut short when he suffered a torn ligament in his left hand in March. At that summer's Olympics in Barcelona, he won a gold medal playing with teammates including Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan on the "Dream Team." In 1993-94, Robinson became the fourth player in league history to have a quadruple-double, and his 71 points on the last day of the season allowed him to win the scoring title.
But despite all of Robinson's successes, the Spurs always came up short in their drive for a championship. Perhaps the most painful experience came in 1994-95, a season that saw Robinson named the NBA's Most Valuable Player and the Spurs win a league-best 62 games. Their opponent in the conference finals was the Houston Rockets, a team the Spurs had beaten five times in the regular season. All of that was soon forgotten as Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon thoroughly dominated Robinson and the Rockets won the series in six games on their way to their second straight title.
The NBA named Robinson one of the 50 greatest players in its history in 1996, and he won a gold medal playing on the U.S. Olympic team at that summer's games in Atlanta. He injured his back before the season but was able to return for six games, only to fracture his left foot and miss the rest of the year. The bad news was that the Spurs won a total of 20 games. The good news was their poor record enabled the Spurs to win the first pick in the 1997 draft and choose Wake Forest's Tim Duncan.
Duncan proved his worth immediately, and the Spurs improved to 56 wins in 1997-98 and made the playoffs, although the Utah Jazz eliminated them in five games in the conference semifinals. A lockout shortened the 1998-99 season to 50 games, but nothing was going to stop the Spurs that season. Their playoff run included a league record 12 straight wins and only two losses. They defeated the New York Knicks, who were lacking star center Patrick Ewing, in five games in the Finals. Robinson finally had his ring, and the Spurs had become the first former American Basketball Association squad to win the NBA title.
San Antonio's hopes for a repeat ended with a first round playoff loss to the Phoenix Suns in 2000. After two more years of frustration, the Spurs returned to the Finals in 2003 and beat the New Jersey Nets in six games. Robinson retired after that season. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 2009 and as a member of the "Dream Team" in 2010.