Welcome to LWOS Basketball department “NBA Time Traveler Series,” the column that imagines which retired player from an NBA franchise one would most want to travel back in time to see them play again in their prime. The LWOS Basketball department will review each of the 30 NBA franchises and which retired player would be their “NBA Time Traveler Player.”
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LWOS Time Traveler Series: The San Antonio Spurs’ David Robinson
Choosing between two of the greatest players in Spurs history was a very difficult choice. Obviously choosing amongst retired players, Tim Duncan was not an option, even though it would be great to go back to see him in his prime during the early 2000’s. That left two clear cut choices in my mind to time travel to see, Hall of Famers George Gervin and David Robinson. “The Ice Man” played twelve seasons with the Spurs in the ABA and NBA and was one of the greatest scoring threats either league has seen. He was a combined twelve-time All-Star in both leagues and an all-time great. However, despite his scoring prowess, I have reservations about how he might fair in today’s game due to the emphasis on the three point shot with his career rate of only 27% from downtown. I have no doubt he would be an all-around great player today, but because of that weakness, I had to choose David Robinson as the Spurs retired player I would most like to go back in time to see, and to see play in today’s game. Aside from Duncan, Robinson is the marquee player in Spurs franchise history.
The Spurs drafted Robinson 1st overall in 1987, but he did not debut until the 1989 season due to his service in the Naval Academy. He won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award averaging 24 points, 12 rebounds, and nearly 4 blocks per game. Robinson made the All-Star team in his first seven seasons in the NBA, winning Defensive Player of the Year in 1991-92 with an astonishing 4.5 blocks and 2.3 steals per game. He also won an MVP award for the 1994-95 season. He is one of only four players to win both awards in their career along with Michael Jordan, Hakeen Olajuwon, and Kevin Garnett. The Admiral finished his Hall of Fame career with over 20,000 points and 10,000 rebounds to go along with ten All-Star appearances.
After the arrival of Tim Duncan in 1997 the Spurs would go on to win the NBA championship in the lockout shortened 1999 season and in 2003, Robinson’s final season in the NBA. The “Twin Towers’ duo of Duncan and Robinson may be the best PF-C combo the NBA has ever seen.
The bulk of Robinson’s career came during an era of physicality and great NBA centers. The Spurs games against Houston in the early to mid-90’s would have provided a great matchup against fellow Hall of Famer Hakeen Olajuwon, but the one game of Robinson’s career that I would want to go back to see would be the final Spurs game of the 1994 season. Heading into the final game of the season, Robinson trailed Shaquille O’Neal by 33 points in the race for the NBA’s scoring title. In the final game of the season, Robinson dropped an incredible 71 points on the LA Clippers to take the scoring title away from O’Neal. His 71 points put him in historic company with only Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and David Thompson as the only players to score 70 or more points in an NBA game (Kobe Bryant has since scored more than 70). Such a tight scoring race makes for a dramatic game 82, and this was one of the best scoring races in NBA history (Interestingly enough, Gervin also was involving in one of the most dramatic scoring races of all time as well in 1978, when he and David Thompson scored 63 and 73 points, respectively in game 82. Gervin won the scoring title with an average of 27.22 to Thompson’s 27.15).
The reason I chose Robinson as the Spurs retired player for this series is how I believe his game would translate into today’s NBA. The center position is not what it once was and there is a clear lack of quality big men throughout the NBA. Robinson in his prime is head and shoulders above any center or power forward in today’s NBA and would likely average in the area of 30 points and 15 rebounds. At the peak of the center position in the NBA, Robinson was a great scorer and fantastic defender. In today’s game, without many quality defensive centers, the Admiral would have a field day on offense while providing Anthony Davis type defense. It is a shame that post-play has almost all but vanished from the NBA, but a prime Robinson in today’s league would dominate in the paint and on the low block.
David Robinson is not as highly regarded as other great centers from his era such as Olajuwon or O’Neal, but he is one of the greatest big men in NBA history and had an historic career. He was the face of the Spurs franchise for years and won two championships alongside Tim Duncan. He still is one of the most popular players in San Antonio and is a big part of the Spurs community and franchise. What he was able to accomplish puts him in all-time great company and it would be great to get to watch him play basketball at the level again.