David Robinson: The Gold Standard of Olympic Basketball


Editor’s note: Recently, the Basketball Hall of Fame inducted the 1992 Dream Team which included former San Antonio Spurs’ legend, David Robinson. To honor Robinson, Jordan Rivas makes the point that Robinson was the best Olympic player ever to wear the red, white and blue jersey. Enjoy.

I remember, clearly, watching the 2002 FIBA World Basketball Championships. I remember watching the USA Men’s Basketball team implode, watching Jermaine O’Neal punch a cooler full of Gatorade, but not manage to box out a 6-5 power forward from Yugoslavia, and hearing Paul Pierce say he was “embarrassed” to be on a USA Basketball team that lost the way they did.

No matter what anyone says, that was the low point for USA Basketball. The 2008 Olympic were a more public confirmation of what I already learned in 2006. USA Basketball lost its way for a while, and only of late has it started to redeem itself.

The golden era of international basketball in the 90s, including the Dream Team of 1992, actually included a staple that was also instrumental in the revival of the Spurs’ comeback in the same time period – a Naval Academy graduate and seven foot powerhouse named David Robinson.

For years now everyone in San Antonio has known David Robinson as the man who saved the franchise, who kept the Spurs in town by making them relevant in the basketball world again. What may be forgotten (or at least starting to be forgotten) is how instrumental Robinson was in keeping USA Basketball afloat, and helping to catapult it to the level of international acclaim that it eventually reached.

David has always chosen to serve his country, first with the Naval academy, and then by representing USA Basketball three times in Olympic competition, more than any other player ever. He has an Olympic record of 23-1, only losing once against the Soviets in 1988. He competed in nine total international competitions for USA Basketball over an eleven year period – from 1985 to 1996 – with an overall record of 61-4. He never lost a game after the loss in 1988.

Robinson has played in more Olympic basketball games (24) than any other player in USA Basketball history. He also holds the record for most total points (280) over an Olympic career, as well as rebounds (124), and blocks (34). He’s also fifth all-time in steals (28), and recorded the most blocks in a single competition (19) in the ’88 Olympics.

David has won two gold medals (1992 and 1996), and he has twice received the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year award, once as the sole recipient in 1988, and again as the co-recipient on the 1992 Dream Team.

1988 Olympics, Seoul

In 1988 USA Basketball was still in the pre-Dream Team era, and comprised of non-professional players. The 1988 team was led by future NBA stars like Robinson and Mitch Richmond. Following the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, 1988 was expected to be another gold for the US.

Unfortunately one misstep against the Soviets, the only loss for the US, prevented that, and the US took home the bronze.

The 1988 Olympics are easily the most over looked in David’s Olympic career. They didn’t win gold, so it shuffled aside when compared to the 1992 Dream Team and 1996 gold medal run. What people might not realize is how much of an impact David had on that 1988 team. He led the team in scoring in three different games, and even in the loss to the Soviets he led the team with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

He finished the tournament averaging 12.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and shooting an astonishing .580 percent from the field. In a small dim spot for USA Basketball, David was still a consistent bright spot.

1992 Olympics, Barcelona

The 1992 Olympic Dream Team is perhaps the greatest assembly of sports talent ever accumulated onto one team – and it included Robinson. I don’t even think people realize how much significance that carries. No team will ever surpass the greatness of the Dream Team, and he was a part of that; that, among a list of other accomplishments, solidified David’s place in the basketball pantheon.

What many people may also not realize, is David played in the 1992 Olympics injured. He had a torn ligament in left hand, his shooting hand. Despite that he still started in four out of the eight games he played, shooting .574 percent from the field and averaging nine points per game.

And yes, as you already know, the Dream Team went a perfect 8-0, demolishing every team in their path to a flawless gold medal run. And as part of that, on the best basketball team ever, David was the co-winner of the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year Award, essentially making him the best of the best.

1996 Olympics, Atlanta

As we all know, David likes to go out on top, and with a bang. This is a tradition that fittingly started well before his 2003 finale with the Spurs. It started with his final Olympic appearance in the 1996 Atlanta games.

Naturally, the US routed all their opponents to another 8-0 Olympic gold medal. David led the team with an 18 point seven rebound effort in the opening game for a 96-68 win against Argentina. It was in the gold medal game, however, were he really left his mark.

In the final game against Yugoslavia David poured in a 28 point effort on 9-11 shooting from the field, and added seven rebounds, leading the US to a 95-69 victory. His 28 point game is still tied for the fifth highest point total in a single game men’s Olympic game. He also attempted the most free-throws ever in a men’s Olympic game with 14.

Robinson has not only had an exemplary record of performance on the court during his Olympic runs, he also demonstrated the same kind of world class professionalism and sportsmanship we’ve all known him for with the Spurs. On a world stage, several times over, he represented the Spurs, San Antonio, and our nation with great character, as well as talent.

We didn’t just choose to write about him because he’s a Spur, we chose to write this piece because David Robinson is the single greatest Olympic basketball player ever, and we thought that in the light of the decline and resurgence of USA Basketball for the past decade or so, that we should remind people of the gold standard in USA Basketball.