David Robinson and the Future of Basketball


As the final minutes ticked off of the clock in Sunday’s championship game for men’s basketball in the 2016 Summer Olympics, the United States had all but clinched their third consecutive gold medal.

Despite the constant criticism regarding this year’s particular roster, Team USA came together when it mattered most with a 105-78 beatdown of a surprisingly talented Serbian team. Still, the cynics weren’t convinced about the accomplishments of Team USA, who had squeaked by teams like Serbia, France and Spain prior to the gold-medal game.

But the critics who have been so quick to talk this year’s team down have overlooked a key development. Basketball has evolved into a global game, and while the United States still has by far the biggest talent pool, the rest of the world is beginning to develop some legitimate talent.

This evolution of basketball as a global game can be seen everywhere. International prospects like Kristaps Porzingis and Nikola Jokic have quickly turned into household names for their respective teams. More than 300 million people play basketball in China, with players like Kobe Bryant and Paul George working with Nike to continue promoting the development of the sport in the country.

Team USA isn’t getting significantly worse, the rest of the world is just getting better, at least according to former 1992 Dream Team member David Robinson.

While attending a USOC event at the NBA Store in New York City on Sunday for the Gold Medal game, Robinson looked back at his visit to Australia earlier this year for Basketball Without Borders to help some of the country’s young talent learn more about the game. The 51-year-old couldn’t help but notice how talented some of the players were.

The Admiral is considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball players ever. The No. 1 overall pick in 1987 went on to win two NBA titles, an MVP award and a Defensive Player of the Year award while being selected to 10 NBA All-Star teams and four first-team All-NBA teams.

Robinson was also a part of three Olympic basketball teams, including the unstoppable force that was the 1992 Dream Team, winning two gold medals in his international career. In places like Australia, Robinson has seen first-hand just what kind of impact Team USA has had on the game globally.

“[Team USA] captured the imagination of kids all over the world,” Robinson said. “I think it sparked a growth in international ball over the last few years.”

Countries like Australia are producing legitimate prospects. In fact, just this year, the country produced the No. 1 and No. 10 overall picks in the NBA draft in Ben Simmons and Thon Maker. The international talent could be seen everywhere in this year’s Olympics, even with Serbia, who showcased players including Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Jokic.

“You look at some of these teams now, you can tell they’re way more competitive,” Robinson said. “Half of the guys on these teams you’re recognizing now. When we played the Yugoslavians and Russians and teams like that, we hadn’t heard of any of those guys at the time.”

The growing popularity of basketball as a global game has put the NBA in a massive spotlight that has put tremendous pressure on some of the league’s biggest stars to win at all costs. One such player was the star of this year’s USA basketball team in the newest addition to the Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant.

The 27-year-old made his presence felt in the gold medal game on Sunday, scoring 24 points in the first half before finishing with 30 in the blowout win. However, no one will be talking about his performance in this game once the NBA season begins, because all everyone wants to know is how he’ll handle playing with his new team.

Durant’s decision to go to Golden State made it clear that he wants to find the best opportunity to win an NBA championship, but his decision this offseason became one of the most controversial NBA stories since LeBron James made the decision. These elite superstars parting ways with their old teams have led to plenty of heated debates regarding superteams, but Robinson thinks that all of that debating is a little out of control.

"It’s hard for anyone to be mad at Kevin. He gave Oklahoma City some of the best years of his career, so it’s not like he ran out on them. They had plenty of years to figure it out and they just didn’t get it done.Especially with the media today, people make a big deal out of something that’s not a big deal, and I feel like this wasn’t a big deal. It didn’t have anything to do with any problems with Oklahoma City, it’s just that he felt that it was time to move on."

Expectations for the Warriors are at an all-time high. After all, Golden State is coming off of a 73-9 season where they were one game away from an NBA title and now have added another superstar to their roster filled with elite players. There are those who feel like there’s no point to having a season with how talented the Warriors are, but Robinson knows first hand that the most talented teams don’t always take home the title.

“There are no guarantees in the NBA,” Robinson said. “[The Warriors] still have to go through the season. No one thought that Golden State would lose to Cleveland. I don’t think that anyone expected the Cavaliers to come back from down 3-1, but that’s how it goes.”

Superteams have recently struggled to put it together, at least right away. The Los Angeles Lakers with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash couldn’t put it together, while the Miami Heat with LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh needed two seasons before they could finally win their first NBA title together.

“Chemistry is going to be an issue for [Golden State],” Robinson explained. “They lost some key guys that made them a very consistent team. It took the Miami Heat time before they figured it out, and the Warriors are probably going to have to go through the same thing.”

“Hopefully San Antonio can take advantage of that and get some work done.”

With the plethora of international prospects coming into the league and free agency becoming such a crucial part of building a title contender, the NBA landscape has changed significantly from the time Robinson was in the league.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing, and Robinson made it clear that the formation of superteams doesn’t bother him one iota. Still, there are some things that Robinson would like to see the NBA focus on moving forward.

Specifically, Robinson is interested in focusing on making the transition easier for college athletes to the pro level. The two-time NBA champion doesn’t want to see the college game take a step back, but he feels that teams can struggle to properly develop a kid and retain him after his rookie contract is over.

“It’s very hard to get a 17 or 18-year-old kid knowing that four years from now it’s going to be hard to keep them,” Robinson said. “It’s a different NBA. You can’t expect to have your best guys for more than a few years.”

The problem right now is that a number teams are struggling to keep and develop their young talent. There are fewer and fewer players like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan who are spending their entire careers with one team (just look at Dwyane Wade this offseason). Robinson wants to find a way for teams to get the most out of their young talent while teams still have them.

“We’d like to build rivalries and teams that can be good for a long period of time,” said Robinson. “But I think that’s getting harder and harder to do.”

Today’s young stars will be tomorrow’s Olympic athletes, and The Admiral can’t stress enough how important playing with Team USA can be for a developing player. After all, Robinson got to work with and learn from some of the best players in NBA history with the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Patrick Ewing and so many others playing with him on the Dream Team.

Robinson vividly remembers all of the things that helped make him a better player during his time with the Dream Team, from hitting the weight room with Karl Malone to shooting around with Larry Bird.

“I think that experience of playing with the best players in the world makes you a better player,” Robinson said. “I grew up as a player during those times more than any time in my career. You’re not going to learn any more than those times you spend together”

Being selected to play for Team USA is an honor, but a recent debate started when players like Carmelo Anthony and DeAndre Jordan claimed that winning a gold medal is more important than winning an NBA title. Robinson, who has won two of both, had to disagree with them.

“The NBA title is more satisfying because you work your entire career for that. That is the most elusive thing ever.”

It took Robinson a decade to win his first NBA title thanks to the help of Tim Duncan, but players like Melo and DeAndre have yet to experience that feeling of getting a ring.

Still, the value that Team USA brings not only to the players, but to the entire world, has never been more apparent than it is today. The Dream Team paved the way for today’s international prospects, and for former players like Robinson, the future of basketball has never looked brighter because of it.