David Robinson was the first pro athlete I looked up to while growing up down the road from San Antonio. The Spurs were the nearest top-tier sports franchise to my hometown (before Austin FC). I’ve watched many Spurs games in person, and most of the time, they won. After a spectacular NBA career with the Spurs, Robinson never left San Antonio while sustaining entrepreneurial and philanthropic efforts. Success is never ordained, but Robinson maximized his opportunities through faith, character, intelligence, and ability to stick to one place. The culture which created David Robinson is missing in pro sports.
I love sports and how franchises sustain success by a combination of leadership and character-building. The Spurs, the New England Patriots, the Golden State Warriors, and the Oakland A’s have managed to keep the same management team together. They are good at culture and training. When players leave these franchises, they help build up new teams. Working in corporate America, the best companies have a strong culture and offer technical training programs for recent graduates. Accenture, Goldman Sachs, Proctor & Gamble, and Google create good employees.
In sports, it’s tough to sustain culture and training when there is a push towards winning at all costs for instant gratification. I can hardly watch today’s NBA as few grownups play the game, aside from Steph Curry 😁. It’s hard to blame the players alone. Selfish indulgence has replaced classy sportsmanship. In a permissive world, the F-bomb has become a chorus-like habit across sports, politics, business, and social media. I never saw David Robinson say it once.
Today, coaches get paid to bully their teams. Players and coaches face replacement by management when they don’t achieve instantaneous results. A player of David Robinson’s potential doesn’t make it fourteen years in the NBA. He would be lucky to last five years. In such a short span, Robinson probably won’t have the capital to invest in his community, let alone sustain a family. Like pro sports, I believe corporations should spend more time investing in talent. Capitalism dies when it becomes a Ponzi scheme to enrich a handful of investors and leaders. Better business models will be essential not only for the survival of sports but for the planet.
If leadership and the ownership of sports franchises want to create player legacies and give back to their communities, they should reflect on David Robinson’s story. In this GS interview, Robinson articulates a different path to success on and off the court while unveiling a letter to his younger self.