Exclusive interview with ‘The Admiral’ David Robinson: Spurs, service and the Navy-Army game
This weekend, the greatest rivalry in American sports kicks off (albeit under different circumstances). This year, the Army Black Knights will host the Midshipmen of the Naval Academy at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The game is usually held at a neutral location but with COVID-19 putting a hold on public gatherings, both schools decided to move the location of the game to West Point. This is the first time since 1943 that the game will be held on campus. While the game location might be different than usual, USAA is working to make sure that fans can still experience the pageantry and excitement of this year’s game, and giving fans an opportunity to win a package to next year's game!
USAA partnered with NBA legend and Naval Academy graduate, David Robinson to promote the Army Navy House sweepstakes.
What is it?
Go to ArmyNavyHouse.com and upload a photo that shows off your Army or Navy fandom, or your favorite Army-Navy Game memory – and you will be entered for a chance to win.
What can you win?
Well, one Army winner and one Navy winner will each win a trip (including flight, hotel, game tickets) to the 2021 Army-Navy Game in New York, courtesy of USAA.
We Are the Mighty got to sit down with David Robinson and talk about his time at the Naval Academy, his service in the Navy and what the Army-Navy rivalry means to him.
Robinson, known around the world as “The Admiral” played basketball at Navy, before going on to a storied NBA career. Robinson served in the Navy for two years, stationed at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia. Robinson then became a two-time NBA champion, NBA MVP, 10-time All-Star, and led the league in scoring, rebounds and blocks several times. He also was a three-time Olympian, winning the gold medal twice, most famously as a member of the 1992 USA Basketball team. The team would go down as the best basketball team of all time, forever remembered as the Dream Team. Robinson was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame and is considered one of the game's all time greats.
The Admiral was kind enough to talk about the game, what USAA is doing, and his time as a midshipman and a Naval Officer.
WATM: So, the first question is what does the Army-Navy, I'm sorry, Navy-Army game, mean to you?
Robinson: (Laughs) It's the Navy-Army Game. It's just a great rivalry. It's a classic rivalry that has class. Some of the rivalries I’ve seen, people are kind of being mean to each other but here there's just the utmost level of respect that's been going on forever. And, to me, it's the best example of just good hard competition and rivalry that we have in all of sport.
WATM: As a midshipman, what was your favorite experience at the Navy-Army game?
Robinson: I actually never got a chance to go! We played basketball, and it always happens during the basketball season. My professional career again, basketball, got in the way so for many, many years. I started going a few years ago. It was four years ago or so and, and I just enjoyed it tremendously. I had always watched on TV, seeing all the excitement, but it's a different experience in person.
WATM: Oh wow, I didn’t know you couldn’t go when you were in school. But now that you get to go, what is your favorite tradition from the game?
Robinson: The thing I always enjoy is watching the midshipmen and watching the cadets. You know for me, it just takes me back to us going down to do pushups after scores. And so, you know, I think for me it's just a, it's a reminder of life at the Academy. I love watching after a team scores the excitement of the students.
WATM: So when you played in San Antonio, which we know is an Air Force town, did you get a lot of grief for being a naval officer?
Robinson: (Laughs) No, no grief. I think it's been fantastic actually. You know, we have a couple of Army bases and couple of Air Force bases here and it's just a really great place to live. The military has embraced me so well here, I've always felt right at home.
Fortunately, you know, people forgive you after you beat them a couple of times. You look back down the road and it's actually been a great place for me to be because of the military.
WATM: What advice would you give enlisted troops or kids who are thinking of attending a service academy?
Robinson: Yeah, I would say, you know, the academies are very, very difficult and they're very focused. You have to know what you want to get out of it. I always tell people I talked to young kids who want to go to the academies all the time and I tell them that, you know, don't go because someone else thinks it's a great idea for you. You'd have to go because it's your idea and it's what you think is the perfect thing for you. And if you do that, then you'll be able to kind of fight through all of the challenges and become a really solid officer. The academies are amazing for people who want to be leaders and who want to take on the responsibility of a leader, which is good and bad, right? You get privileges but you also have tremendous responsibility for people. And if you have a heart to be that type of a person, then you can't find a better place to go.
WATM: What made you choose the Naval Academy?
Robinson: Well, I think it was my father's idea for me to go more than anything early on. He introduced me to it and wanted me to take a look at it, I think because he was enlisted in the Navy. He always thought that would be a great path for me and it took a little while for it to grow on me. I grew so late into basketball and it became a factor for me in my senior year. I started looking around and saying, well, is this the best place for me to go, academically and basketball-wise... and and it just had the best combination of everything that fit my personality.
WATM: When you were at the Naval Academy, you were heralded as one of the nation’s best basketball players. How supportive was the administration as it became apparent that you were destined to end up in the NBA at some point?
Robinson: Well, the administration was remarkably supportive, to be honest with you. I mean, coming in, no one thought I was going to be professional basketball player, I was 6’7’ and skinny as a rail. I wasn't a pro prospect coming in but as the attention gathered and we had more and more success, the Academy did just a great job of embracing me and given me an opportunity to be who I needed to be as a basketball player as well as a military officer. Looking back on it at all, it just worked out so well I couldn't rewrite the story if I wanted to.
WATM: Now you did serve for a couple of years as a Naval Officer before going to the Spurs full time. As a veteran, what is your favorite memory of serving in the Navy?
Robinson: I think for me just seeing the dedication of folks from the day-to-day basis. I was a civil engineer. I worked down at Kings Bay, Georgia and just going in every day and working hard and seeing the commitment that our service members have to whatever job it is. I mean, I was building explosives, handling stuff for submarines and doing street lights for a new community... and just the professionalism and the energy that our service people take to do their jobs. I think that to me, that is what I enjoyed that more than anything. There's just such a pride in working together and serving a cause bigger than yourself.
WATM: That’s pretty awesome. So back to the Army-Navy game, what is your prediction for this year's game?
Robinson: (Laughs) My prediction is pain… for Army! You know, Army has played so well the last few years, after many years of domination by Navy. So we got our backs against the wall now, and Navy needs to really step it up and defend our honor this year. So, I think we can do it.
WATM: Do you have any Army buddies you make bets on the game with, so you have bragging rights on them? Is there anything in particular that you do for the game to spice up the rivalry a bit?
Robinson: Yes, well you know there, there are guys here locally that I don't necessarily have bets with but we have spirited conversations. When I was at Navy, Army had a great basketball player named Kevin Houston, one of the top -- I think he was the top scorer in the nation our senior year -- but Kevin and I have known each other for many, many years and, and it's always kind of a fun thing.
You just end up thinking about how it means to us now as opposed to back then. There's a lot of Army guys that yeah, I have great relationships with them and we just have fun with the game.
WATM: We're pretty excited about the game. It's going to be a pretty unique because of COVID and everything. This year being at West Point are you hoping that one year, they go back to having it on campus or do you want to keep the neutral site location like how it normally is?
Robinson: Personally I like the neutral site. I think it's just a game that is bigger than either school. I think it means something to the psyche of America. So I love, I love seeing it kind of on a big stage and being the big production that it generally is, I think that's fantastic. You know this year is a little bit of a challenge, we're obviously trying to make it much more accessible to everyone through ArmyNavyHouse.com so that people can still engage but I think all these, all these changes, all these little things here and there you know, add character to the rivalry into the series. But in the long run I'd love to just see a big stadium where the United States can celebrate it.
WATM: Now that we covered the Army-Navy game, we actually wrote an article about you back in April and one of the things we wanted to ask was about the charter school you started. We know you started a charter school in San Antonio toward the end of your playing career. How's everything going with that especially during COVID. Is everything going okay?
Robinson: Wow, well, thanks for asking. Yeah, we started the Carver Academy and we actually started as a private school back 20 years ago or so. We built in a low income area on the east side of San Antonio. We wanted to get as many kids college ready who were from low-income areas as possible. We joined up with the charter school group, I don't know about eight years ago. We've been able to grow it incredibly well. Now we've got something like 26 schools here in San Antonio and got nearly a hundred schools across Texas and Louisiana. And it's been amazing with the charter school system in the country. It's called IDEA public schools and so we're very excited about it.
COVID threw around a little bit of wrench for all of education but, you know, from our standpoint, we're able to focus on getting WiFi access to our families. We've opened up the schools, we made sure there was plexiglass up and the kids had an opportunity to be safe. Very few of the kids came back at the beginning but maybe about 25 percent or more are in the schools now, and hopefully we'll get that back up to a good number soon because with kids from low-income areas, getting them into the classroom is going to be the best way they learn.
USAA proudly supports the 121st Army-Navy Game as the presenting sponsor of the storied rivalry between the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis.
“America’s Game” will be played on the campus at West Point for the first time since 1943 in front of a crowd of Army Cadets and Navy Midshipmen.
Kickoff is set for Saturday, December 12th at 3:00pm EST on CBS.