SAN ANTONIO — If not for his height, David Robinson might easily be mistaken for any other San Antonio Spurs fan at AT&T Center on game night. He has season tickets in the second row, directly across from the Spurs bench, and regularly attends games with his sons.
It was Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, and the 7-foot-1 Robinson, dressed casually in a gray T-shirt and jeans, was sitting with oldest son, David, and youngest son, Justin, next to a sea of Spurs fans clad in playoff-issued white T-shirts.
The poised, experienced Spurs were hosting the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in the pivotal game, which the Thunder would win before closing out the series two nights later in Oklahoma City.
As he watched his Spurs for what would be the final time this season, Robinson talked about his pride in the franchise with which he spent his 14-year career and the players he still thinks of as teammates.
“These are my guys,” Robinson said. “We spent a long time building the culture and putting this team together, and I feel like I’m still a part of it, so it’s a lot of fun to be here.”
Spurs fans who sit near him delight in taking his picture, and often ask to pose for pictures with him. Robinson obliges with a ready smile.
From Woodbridge and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987 and the first pick in the NBA draft that year, Robinson joined the Spurs in 1989 after completing his military service. He won two titles with the Spurs (1999, 2003), was a 10-time All-Star, league MVP (1995) and was named one of the 50 greatest players in league history.
Also a three-time Olympian, he becomes visibly nostalgic when thinking back on the “Dream Team,” which represented the U.S. at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
“It’s the 20-year anniversary of the [Dream Team], so of course, its something I think about, especially now,” Robinson said. “That team was pretty special, and being a part of it, it’s something you don’t really forget.”
Faith in Spurs’ formula
Sensitive to criticism by fans and pundits that his Spurs are too old or too boring, Robinson wasn’t fazed. He’s heard it all before.
“There’s always been something that people say about our team,” Robinson said. “They said things about us 20 years ago - we were boring, that type of thing. But as long as we win, that’s the key. I love the heart and the attitude of this team, they don’t get rattled.”
The Spurs finished the regular season tied with the Chicago Bulls for the best record in the league (50-16) and, before losing the last four games in the Western Conference finals, had won 20 straight games. Led by NBA coach of the year Gregg Popovich, the Spurs exceeded the expectations of those who didn’t think they’d make it to the conference finals.
Robinson wasn’t surprised.
“It’s the culture,” Robinson said. “I think management has really gone out of their way to bring guys in who have the right attitude, who want to contribute to what the team is about, and not who want to beat their chest and run around and say, ‘Look at me, look at me’. We don’t have any of those type of players.
“Everyone’s done a good job, not just the players who come here. Management’s done a good job. [Popovich] sets the tone, and you have guys like Manu [Ginobili] and Tony [Parker] and Tim [Duncan] who carry it through.”
Former Spurs and Wizards guard Roger Mason Jr. got to know Robinson during his two seasons in San Antonio (2008-10) and called him one of the game’s best ambassadors.
“He’s one of the greatest centers of all time. He helped take the Spurs in the right direction from the time he got there,” Mason said. “He showed that if the best player is able to be coached, not only does it give you a championship team, but a championship organization. That’s why the Spurs are what they are today.”
In addition to attending Spurs games, Robinson says he spends most of his time “just being a dad.” Middle son Corey will be attending Notre Dame in the fall to play football. His business ventures include a private equity fund that invests in real estate, he serves as a minister at his church and he maintains an interest in Carver Academy, an elementary school he founded in 2001 with his wife, Valerie.
He also has the signature moment every athlete dreams of — ending his career holding a championship trophy.
“There’s a lot of great moments, great memories with this organization,” Robinson said. “Winning the first championship was probably my proudest moment, but then finishing my career on a championship note, that was pretty good, too.”