If there's one truly great player that never seems to get his due, it's David Robinson. That lack of appreciation always seems to come down to two sticking points. First, he never won a championship without Tim Duncan. (So what? Magic never won one without Kareem, Larry never won without Parish and McHale, Michael never won without Scotty, Kobe never won without Shaq, etc.) Second, and even more damning, Hakeem Olajuwon dominated him during the 1995 Western Conference Finals...right after Robinson received the regular season MVP award.

I hate that so much of the general perception about Robinson and his place in history is defined by his performance in a single playoff series. Yes, Olajuwon thorougly outplayed him, but Hakeem was absolutely on fire throughout those playoffs. (He also had his way in the Finals against Shaq, who it should be noted was second in MVP voting that season.) Moreover, the Rockets were peaking as a team at the same time: They rolled over a 60-win team (the Jazz), a 59-win team (the Suns), a 60-win team (the Spurs) and a 57-win team (the Magic). That was their "Never underestimate the heart of a champion" season, and what happened that May was much bigger than Olajuwon versus Robinson. And as well as Hakeem played, it's not like The Admiral just rolled over and died; he averaged nearly 24 points, 12 rebounds and over 2 blocks per game in what was considererd his most infamous playoff failure. I don't know abouat you, but I wish I could fail that well.

And anyway, the Hakeem comparisons are unfair. Playoff performances, however good or bad, are only one small sample of a much larger career experiment. After all, that wasn't the first or last time an MVP has been gunned down in a one-on-one matchup during the playoffs. Larry Bird outplayed Dr. J (the MVP) in the 1981 Eastern Conference Finals. Kevin Johnson upended Magic Johnson (the MVP) in the 1990 Western Conference Semifinals. Paul Pierce outperformed Kobe Bryant (the MVP) in this year's Finals. Those losses have to be put into perspective. As such, take a look at the Olajuwon versus Robinson head-to-head numbers during their 42 regular season meetings: The stats are nearly identical. Except the most important stat, that is: Robinson's team won 30 of those games compared to 12 for Hakeem's team. That's a pretty overwhelming margin.

I also don't think that Robinson should be defined solely by his performances against Hakeem. This guy's accomplishments can stand beside all but a few players in NBA history. The man could put the ball in the hole: He led the league in scoring in 1993-94 and is one of only five players to have ever scored more than 70 points in a single game (with 71 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on April 24, 1994). He is one of only four players to have recorded a quadruple-double (with 34 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 blocks against the Detroit Pistons on February 17, 1994). In 1991-92, he became just the third player to have ever ranked among the league's top 10 in five statistical categories, joining Cliff Hagan (1959-60) and Larry Bird (1985-86) -- Robinson was seventh in scoring (23.2 ppg), fourth in rebounding (12.2 rpg), first in blocks (4.49 per game), fifth in steals (2.32 per game) and seventh in field-goal percentage (.551). That achievement also made him the first player to ever rank among the top five in rebounding, blocks and steals in a single season. And finally, he's also the only player in NBA history to win the Rebounding, Blocked Shots, and Scoring Titles and Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and MVP.

And that's the thing about Robinson: His basketball existence wasn't defined by any one thing. He did it all. No, he didn't have the killer instinct that's associated with many of the all-time greats. He wasn't the type of player who could (or was inclined to) take over offensively whenever and against whomever he wanted (he relied mostly on drives to the hoop and face-up jumpers). But in terms of playing the game to the best of his abilities and contributing in every possible phase of the game, Robinson has few peers. This fact is highlighted by his Player Efficiency Ranking (PER) numbers. He is currently third all-time (behind Michael Jordan and Shaq) with a career number of 26.18...despite his last few "off" seasons when he willingly deferred to Tim Duncan. He led the league in PER for three consecutive seasons, 1993-94 (30.7), 1994-95 (29.1) and 1995-96 (29.4). He also ranked second in 1991-92 (27.5), and third in 1990-91 (27.4), 1997-98 (27.8) and 1998-99 (24.9). He was still ranked as high as tenth in 2000-01 (23.7). To provide you with a little perspective, Kobe Bryant -- who is widely considered the most well-rounded player in the game today -- currently ranks 17th on the all-time list (23.57), and he has never finished higher than third in PER for a single season.

Mind you, I'm not suggesting PER is a definitive indicator of individual greatness. However, it does seem to genuinely reflect a player's overall contributions in several different areas. So I guess the point I'm trying to make about Robinson is that his greatness wasn't about winning one-on-one matchups, or scoring at will in clutch situations. He was about playing the game the way it's supposed to be played, on both ends of the court. And, based on how he did that, The Admiral truly should be considered one of the greatest of all time.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
Yes. And I will have his babies. Gender and chromosomes be damned.

Blogger Timmothy said...
Exactly. He deserves what you've given him here.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Great article.

Blogger Flud said...
He got me into basketball..20 years ago. RRRrrrrrrespect and b.bawful

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Great post, but you forgot to mention that in addition to his basketball feats, the Admiral was just as great off the court as he was on it.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Yes yes yes to everything Bawful says about the Admiral... and most importantly:

Gary Payton was his bitch:

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I agree with everything you said about Robinson, but isn't this blog called BasketbAWFUL... not BasketbAWESOME (which is probably the blog where this post should be). Or is it just that you put so much manlove into this article that you thought it fit the blog because you were lacking in manlove this summer? Just wondering.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Yes, absolutely! Give the admiral some LOVE!

As for the Olajuwon matchup, Olajuwon was playing the best hoops of his life then. And that's the problem with snapshots.

Blogger Stephen Robbins said...
David Robinson was the first player I remember looking extremely buff. I mean, the guys arms are huge and very cut. Either he is just naturally built this way, or he was spending way more time in the weight room than most of his contemporaries.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I was not old enough to really grasp how good he was in his prime. His numbers are staggering. Hakeem outdid him but destroyed was never the right word to use

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Interesting article, though I've always felt that had Greg Ostertag been surrounded by the players Robinson was throughout his career, you'd be talking about Mr. Ostertag in the same breath as Wilt and Kareem.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
I don't get this article. Hakeem outplayed him but Hakeem is one of the ten best players in the NBA, ever. David Robinson is top 30. Yes, he's one of the best ever, but like... I don't know why you focused on the Hakeem thing so much. Hakeem annahilated every center he played. I don't think people hold that against Robinson so much.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
baddave -- Amen, bro.

tommothy -- Glad you agree.

joe -- Thanks, man.

flud -- Seriously? Why?

foreignflopper -- You know, I intentionally avoided talking about what a great guy David is because I think sometimes it people use it as a sort of backhanded compliment. Like, they understate what a great player he was and then make up for it by oohing and ahing over his good guy-ness.

ak dave -- Ha! I almost included the video in the post.

jai -- I think, in this case, the unstated awful was how people fail to recognize D-Rob's relative greatness for two mildly unsubstantiated reasons.

wormboy -- Exactly. And meanwhile, Olajuwon is sometimes considered far greater than he should be because of two transcendent playoff runs.

stephen -- I'm sure the Admiral worked hard, but some of that's gotta be genetics.

anonymous #1 -- His accomplishments really are staggering when you sift through them. He did several things few people have ever done, and some things nobody else has done.

anonymous #2 -- You know, I always felt Greg just needed more shots...

anonymous #3 -- See, I sort of disagree. I think Olajuwon and Robinson are both Top 20. D-Rob's stock dropped when Hakeem downed him in the playoffs that one year, and Hakeem's stop skyrocketed. I think if you look past a few playoff series, then the two men are very nearly equal. And certainly David seemed to be the greater all-around player. The PER numbers prove that out.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"The PER numbers prove that"???

Oh, no... I hope John Hollinger doesn't read this thread. The last thing we need is for that silly stat to gain credibility!!

I'm going to go ahead and assume that you were being sarcastic- a la Greg Ostertag needing more "shots" (and by shots you mean putbacks and tip-ins because we all know that he couldn't beat George Muresam in a game of horse).

God I love this blog some days!

Anonymous Anonymous said...
This is the best compliment I can give a player when I'm looking back: That guy.........was good.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
ak dave -- It's not that I think PER is useless, I just think it's misused. Hollinger and his disciples try to use it as some sort of absolute indicator of a player's true value, where better PER means better player, period. I don't believe that and never will. However, I do think it shows that a player is doing a little bit of everything. Now, that can be for various reasons, like maybe he's a ball hog, for instance. Or that he's the only good player on a bad team. But D-Rob's teams were always really good, and his PER was always high. That seems to tell me he contributed in many areas...and at a high level.

Yes, I was being totally sarcastic about Greg. I was also poking fun at my buddy Mr. P via an inside joke. He always claimed that Scottie Pippen would have been just as good as Jordan if he'd gotten more shots. So late in Pippen's career when he was clearly fading, I would constantly ask Mr. P whether Scottie just needed more shots. Or if our mutual buddy would dis Scottie in front of Mr. P, I would mock defend him and say, "Hey, Scottie just needs more shots." So my response was many subtle layers of mockery.

nick f. -- And the Admiral appreciates that.

Ooh I love me some Player Efficiency Ranking!! Almost as good as +/- (i.e. basketball's attempt to be as awesome as hockey).

Also, your little commenter icon terrifies me :(

Blogger Drake said...
Give Basketbawful his credit when it comes to the use of PER.

Remember that Bulls-Cavs trade that pretty much improved neither team last season? Bawful ripped up Hollinger's arguments into shreds about one player having better PER than another, thus the first player must be better. He basically said if you actually watched them all play, they all sucked to varying degrees, and it certainly looked that way long after that trade was done.

Despite my long-running skepticism of basketball statistics, I think it can play a significant role in rating players, figuring out matchups, and other things. But the problem is that basketball statistics is still a relatively new field, and all those formulas like PER, etc. are still highly flawed. It's still impossible to make any argument based purely on stats, so you have to, you know, actually watch the games and understand them (which you should be doing anyway).

In addition, a good chunk of those figures used in the formulas are those that exist today in Yahoo box scores and the like. Many basketball fans agree that they're pretty lean, especially on the defensive side.
- What stat gives you the idea that Kwame Brown keeps fumbling passes, if the turnover keeps getting charged to the passer?
- What stat lets you know that Tyson Chandler, despite not being a big shot-blocker like Marcus Camby is, is actually a superior defender to Camby and most other centers because of his size, length, and defensive fundamentals and instincts?

Sometimes you can guess with those stats. For the first above example, you might guess if Kwame for some reason got decent minutes and took a few shots, and the point guard committed a higher number of turnovers than usual, then Kwame must have dropped some passes. But how could you be sure of that? Maybe the point guard had butterfingers that day or overhandled the ball too much.

Ditto for the second example. You might be able to guess from the opposing center's low shooting percentage that Chandler must have played well defensively. But what if the center was having an off shooting night? And how can you possibly tell how Chandler affected the shots or shooting of other players that he was help-defending?

You simply can't use stats only, and when you do use stats, you must use some common sense with your arguments. All in all, the best way to gauge a player is simply by watching the games.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
nice tribute.

but the music f*ckin sucks.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"The Admiral truly should be considered one of the greatest of all time."

He is to me.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Seriously, even watching a slightly older david take on the new crop of big men like Shaq & Zo(well they aint new now) was really entertaining but man that sort of big man on big man clash of the titans post battle is lacking. I mean sure there's dwight and amare but they both lack something. Dwight will find it though though I'm not sold on amare

Blogger the differential said...
Thank you!! I have been waiting for somebody who knows who the heck The Admiral is and still recognizes his huge amount of ability. I mean, he was perhaps one of the greatest defensive players of all time, and he could score the ball as well. Great post.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Also, for what it's worth...

The Admiral starts at center on the "All Lefty Team." Definitely.

Chris Mullen's the starting 3 man. Jury's still out on the other positions.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Gary Payton for PG!

Blogger Flud said...
Yo Bawful...20 years ago I arrived in the north of America from Ireland. Saw this Robinson guy, thought, cool.. he seems awesome. Said I'd follow this dude coz everyone else either likes Mike or Magic. got to see actual basketball games on tv..yadda yadda. With the exception of Pat Burke, we Irish ain't got much stake in the basketball world.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
It's me again, bawful, the "Hakeem lover."
I find it odd that you keep using this PER rating to back your argument when you have torn it apart in the past. Likewise, I find it terribly hard to believe ANYONE thinks Hakeem is just a top 20 player nowadays... but I can understand, from a far away view, David Robinson and Hakeem Olujuwon look identical

Hakeem = 21.8/11.10/2.5/1.75/3.09
Robinson = 21.1/10.60/2.5/1.41/2.99

Look at those regular season stats. Yes, while Hakeem has the slight advantage on all five major statistical catagories, it is negligible. They are roughly, in the regular season, the same player. Robinson also had a SLIGHTLY better shooting percentage (by the hundredth) and less turnovers. Their PER rating, whatever the hell that is, is identical.

They've both been MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, led the league in blocks and rebounds, dominated all-star games (Hakeem was selected to two more, but whatever), selected on the all-nba first team (Hakeem was selected on two more, but whatever). They both have two championship rings, both were constantly on the all-defensive team...

So, why in the world do I believe Hakeem is a top 10 caliber legendary player and Robinson makes it at 27 in my all-time great list?

The playoffs.

Take a look at their stats when it counted the most:
Hakeem = 25.9/11.20/3.2/1.69/3.26
Robinson = 18.1/10.60/2.3/1.23/2.54

Robinson's stats dropped all the way around... notably... while Hakeem's skyrocketed. Hakeem raised his game to levels you did not SEE in the regular season, he gave it his all when it counted the most. I'm not entirely sure I can say Robinson did that. He played to his offense, but it was his post/recieve the ball at the low key/pick and pop game, while Hakeem showed every single HOF center in the league all different types of ways to get destroyed that they didn't even know of.

That's also why Hakeem has two Finals MVPs and Robinson has none.

Feel free to rebuttal with that PER nonsense again, though.

Blogger Sam Lively said...
Robinson's extensive playoff time in the twilight of his career seriously dragged down his stats. Olajuwon ended his career on crappy teams that barely made or missed the playoffs. Hence the numbers are flawed, as Hakeem's numbers come from the prime of his career while Robinson's are watered down by his ample sample as a role player.

Blogger Unknown said...
You leave out a big part of Robinson's career: the fact that, all stats aside, nearly every player, critic and fan thought he and his team were "soft". A trait that faded away only when Duncan arrived.

PER is great and all, and Robinson was a very, very good player for a long time, but he was never a player I feared as a fan of a rival opponent. Hakeem > Admiral.

(and that 71-point game was a last-day-of-the-season farce)

Blogger GnachSanoj said...
Glad to see someone showing Robinson the respect he deserves. Everyone always talks about Ewing and Hakeem from back then but no one remembers Robinson. It might be a Spurs thing. We look too much into numbers sometimes and forget how great he was. A lot of people also fail to realize how much Robinson actually contributed to his team, that Hakeem had a solid team around him through his career, and before Duncan, Robinson's teammates weren't that good. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a kid growing up in Vermont there were no local NBA teams within hundreds of miles to cheer for. For whatever reason at age 12 when I started getting into the NBA, I latched onto the Admiral and co. and became a humongous fan over the years. 17 years later it's still the only pro sports jersey I ever owned (or desired to). I went through hundreds of hoop cards, posters, t-shirts everything. Even was a member of the official fan club at some point (I still have the card somewhere).

To this day I still get questioned, "You're from Vt, why do you like the Spurs so much?" After answering that question hundreds upon hundreds of times over the last almost 2 decades, Thanks for reminding me why!

One more note to add to the legacy: As a rookie David Robinson led the biggest single season turn around in NBA history as far as win-loss numbers go. This record stood for a long, long time, and the Celtics recently beat it (and I think somebody else in the last couple years that I can't remember). Yes, that was also Sean Elliot's rookie season, but Robinson was the major factor in that longstanding record, and a big reflection on the impact he had on the Spurs and the league in general, from the get go.

Oh and one more thing, can we get some Mr. Robinson's neighborhood video's up on here? That Nike ad campaign was great (at least I remember it being great).

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thanks for this. He truly deserves the respect accorded to other greats.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Concession Stan: Not true at all. Hakeem had slightly more playoff appearences, but they both played in an equal amount of playoff games during there twilights. In all seriousness, Hakeem probably had it worse. So, you know, fail.
Also, his 71-point game was a result of his team fouling the crap out of the other team to stop the clock.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Couple of points: there is a stat based comparison between Shaq, Robinson and Olajuwon (you'll find the link at Aprmetrics) and no, it doesn't uses PER (and by the way, PER is a completely fine tool as a first approximation to the quality of a player, but not more than that). Check it out for data-based confirmation of how good Robinson was. And your post doesn't do justice to how dominant Robinson was in the regular season (he regularly posted MJ-like seasons during the 90s, something only MJ himself and Shaq did on that decade) or to how poor his playoffs performance were, especially compared to Olajuwon's. It wasn't just one series, but a systematic problem that plagued him until Duncan arrived.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
reminds me of chris bosh

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"Also, his 71-point game was a result of his team fouling the crap out of the other team to stop the clock."

What???? I didn't recall any such thing and googled the box score. The Spurs were called for 17 fouls that entire game. How is that fouling the crap out the Clippers. The 71 points were due to two things: (1) Coach Lucas and Robinson's teammates wanting him to get the scoring title, and (2) Robinson shooting exceptionally well [26-41 FG including one made 3; and 18-25 FT]. Well three things if you count the fact they were playing the Clippers. But the Clippers double and triple teamed him all night. He went against his own nature and was selfish because that's what his team wanted for him.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
There's one thing that no one seems to remember about the Rockets/Spurs playoff series: Robinson played Olajuwan straight up and Olajuwan had a lot of help defending Robinson. The Rockets TEAM was better. If Robinson and Olajuwan swapped teams (or teammates) I know Robinson would have won.

Another thing not brought up much, but David had six coaches in his first seven seasons. Each coach brought a different philosophy and new teammates. The Spurs won consistently because of Robinson. But without consistency from year to year, he had a disadvantage. Once Pop and Duncan arrived, the Spurs had consistency.

Anonymous JD said...
Thank you for that. It's nice to see someone who was one of my childhood heroes get remembered as one of the greats. Also nice to see some clips to remind me of how ridiculous he was before the infamous floating disc particle (or whatever that was). Damn near brought a tear to my eye.

Blogger Oldmanshirt said...
Like a few others here, I owe my love of basketball to this man. Reminiscing about his career and the consistent excellence he's brought to every organization he's been a part of (including a school he built in a low-income neighborhood in San Antonio) inspires me in a way no mere athlete could, no matter how many alley oops he caught or titles he won.

Of course, even if you're looking at it from a purely basketball standpoint, its true that the Spurs have won two titles without him, but we've never quite been as gracefully dignified or as quietly dominant a team as we were when he playing.

Thanks Admiral.

Anonymous Jacob Blog said...
Thank you for this article........David is one of a select few professional athletes we can safely use as an example of integrity and class.