David Robinson 1999 NBA Finals

Regarded as one of the greatest players of his time, during an era which featured the players of caliber like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and so on, is now just another forgotten legend, despite ending his illustrated basketball career exactly 10 years ago.

It is very hard to truly understand how such a player of his talent, who dominated the league in such outstanding yet incredibly quiet way, managed to get overlooked and unappreciated in very short period of time which is quite surprising considering the fact that he retired not too long ago.

The name of David Robinson doesn't get mentioned enough nowadays — not the way it used back in the day. That being said, this article will be about the legendary big man and why he's one arguably one of the 20 greatest players of all time.

He wasn't an ordinary rookie. Unlike the majority of the rookies who usually play few years of college hoops on average before they go to the draft and make their debut. The San Antonio Spurs, the team that drafted him, were forced to wait three seasons for him but when he arrived, the Admiral changed the Spurs into a different team.

David wowed everyone right away with his physical tools. He was a 7-foot-1 muscular center, quite strong (could bench press 325 pounds), was extremely fast, was an explosive leaper, quite agile and had nice wingspan.

Thanks to his combination of size, athleticism and speed, he was one of the most athletic players in NBA history. He relied on his physical advantages to be the great type of player he was and to be a difference on the court.

For Robinson, it all started with defense. An amazing shot blocker who excelled in help defense which made his team (plus teammates) better and was just as elite in one on one defense, he controlled the paint defensively like very few ever did. His physique, instincts and skills made him to be arguably the greatest defender that the league has ever seen.

A proof of that would be the fact that he's the only player to lead five times in highest defensive ratings, he's fourth in career defensive rating as well as is ranked fourth in career blocks per game, he's sixth in playoff defensive rating and in playoff blocked shots per game too among the rest.

The Admiral's individual brilliance was awarded with eight All-Defensive Team selections which include four All-First selections in an era of legendary defenders and a Defensive Player Of The Year award.

His abilities translated well to his team and turned them into an elite team on defense from the start. This can be backed up by the fact that the Spurs had the biggest turnaround ever at that point.

San Antonio also had the highest defensive rating three times (1991-92 and 1998), led five times in opponents effective field goal percentage (1991, 1998-99, 2001-02) and so on. David was the cornerstone of those teams and set the franchise's formula for success.

Robinson additionally thrived just as well in man to man defense too, especially against the star big men of his era whose efficiency and points went down versus him.

Such examples are him holding Hakeem Olajuwon to 0.8 points, 6.6 field goal percentage, 6.1 true shooting percentage down from 1990-96; Patrick Ewing below 2.5 points, 7.6% field goal percent, 9.4 true shooting percentage in the same period; and Shaquille O'Neal to 2.0 points and 6.2 field goal percentage down from 1993-2001 (postseason) etc.

It's only the 1995 Western Conference Finals series where Olajuwon torched him that gets him a bad reputation. However, the Admiral isn't the lone top-notch defender who got torched.

Other legendary defenders got destroyed occasionally as well, like Bill Russell during the 1967 Eastern Division Finals, Tim Duncan during the 2005 Western Conference Finals and so on.

Although he came out of the Navy limited offensively, which was obvious from the eye test and the fact that the Spurs didn't pound the ball low as they instead run sort of passing sets, David still managed to get his.

He had a nice face-up game, a soft but effective jumper, could finish at the rim, was unselfish with the ball and his go-to move in the ability to run the brake, an ability in which he arguably has no peers.

The 7-foot-1 center had a hard time translating his scoring abilities that were on level with anyone's from the regular season to the playoffs.

For all his limitations, Robinson managed to capture a scoring crown with an average of 29.8 points in the 1993-94 season and exploded for 71 points, becoming the fourth player at the time to score 70 or more points in a single game.

Even though he had a bad reputation as a playoff performer, he torched the Phoenix Suns for 30 points on 55.5% field goal percentage from the field in the 1996 opening round, and had several seasons in which his scoring was actually higher than the regular season one.

The former Navy captain was additionally one of the most all-around players to step on a NBA hardwood, regardless of his occasional and slowly but consistent attitude breakdown. He could fill out the stat sheet well thanks to his superb physical tools and solid skill set that made him an elite two-way player.

He's the last player to record a quadruple-double, became the third player ever (joining Larry Bird and Cliff Hagan) to rank top 10 in five categories as well as being the first player to record in rebounding, blocks and steals in a single season.

David's ability to do everything well, including the things beyond the stat sheet, made him a game changing presence. And boy, did he change his team.

When he became a pro, San Antonio went from a record of 21-61 the previous season to 56-26 in his rookie season, which was a 35-victory improvement and it resulted into the biggest turnaround in NBA History.

A couple of years later, his elite play post his injury return in the 1998 season and the addition of Tim Duncan set a new record for greatest turnaround record, crushing the previous one by a single win. This was later only surpassed by the Boston Celtics nearly a decade later.

Nonetheless, these historical improvements give Robinson a respectable case into the debate for the league's best impact player of any time, which is saying a lot. It's quite a shame that a player's reputation can suffer so much due to a one playoff series where that exact player got outplayed badly.

This article was written to open the eyes of the casual fans about the real greatness of David Robinson, to remind them that he doesn't deserve to be overlooked and that the name of David Robinson is more than just the NBA's Admiral.



"He's the greatest impact player the league has seen since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar."

Former Suns coach Cotton Fitzsimmons

"One of the greats we get to say goodbye to, tonight, David Robinson. Thank you."

David Stern before the start of the 2003 Finals trophy presentation

"He's different from any center. He has unbelievable speed. I remember when Kareem would dribble to half court and everybody in the Forum would stand up. I've seen this kid dribble the length of the floor as if he were a guard. We take it for granted, because sometimes when you're watching him he looks like he's six feet tall."

Former coach Larry Brown


Sports Illustrated.com
Basketball Reference.com


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