David, The Goliath of Giving
Posted Oct 22 2001 7:33PM
By Greg Boeck
He has fame. At a sculpted, Eiffel-Towering 7-1, 250 pounds, with nine All-Star and three Olympic appearances on his basketball resume, he is recognized coast to coast, even globally.
He has a fortune. As one of the top players in the NBA for more than a decade, Robinson is paid very handsomely for his services.
He has family - a beautiful wife, Valerie, and enough boys to stock a frontcourt: David Maurice Jr. (7), Corey Matthew (5 in April) and Justin Michael (3).
He even has a long-prized championship ring, won in June when the Spurs stampeded through the 1999 playoffs to their first NBA title.
But it's not enough. The superstar who won the rebounding title in 1991, a blocked shots title in 1992, a scoring title in 1994, an MVP nod in 1995 and a selection as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 charges into the new millennium as one of the leading assists men in NBA history. With all due respect to league assists king John Stockton of the Utah Jazz, we're not talking about passes that lead to hoops. We're talking about giving that fuels the hopes of youth.
For almost a decade now, Robinson has given generously on two fronts - fiscally, with 10 percent of his income annually targeted to the David Robinson Foundation, and physically with his time and energy.
Meet David, the Goliath of Giving.
"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden." - Matthew 5:14.
Those are the words from Scripture that set the tone and define the work of the David Robinson Foundation, an organization Robinson and his wife started in November 1992.
"We wanted to emulate what Jesus did in his community and so that's our Scripture, that you are the light of the world and you cannot hide under a lampshade," Robinson said. "You sit up on top of the hill so you can touch everybody.
"That was the idea with our foundation - to be a light, to be an example and touch as many lives as we can. It's been a wonderful experience. We've really enjoyed the ministry."
Robinson has ruled in the paint for more than a decade in the NBA, an undertaking not for the weak of body or mind. You take a pounding inside from opposing giants and often a pounding from critics when your game is off. In the NBA, the strong rule. But off the court, away from the much-ballyhooed televised tussles with Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing, Robinson quietly practices a spirituality that is the real strength of the man himself and the rock of his charitable work. Ask him, and he will tell you proudly and loudly that he is a Christian warrior first, an NBA warrior second.
Given back he has. Robinson has showered the San Antonio community and beyond with a generosity that has raised the bar of giving among professional athletes to unprecedented heights.
"What he does is just awesome," said Charlotte Kothman, Special Projects Manager for the Foundation. "He's as big a player off the court as he is on the court."
The two staples of the foundation provide diapers and baby food for needy infants - The Ruth Project - and food for the hungry - Feed My Sheep. The programs represent a financial commitment of nearly $30,000 a year from the foundation.
The foundation also targets education as a prime benefactor. Robinson, who earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy, preaches education as the bread of life, and seems determined to set a banquet table of learning opportunities for San Antonio's underprivileged youth.
In 1991, even before the foundation started, he sponsored 94 fifth graders at Gates Elementary, promising $2,000 college scholarships to those who finished high school. In 1998, 50 students graduated at a ceremony attended by Robinson. Total college commitment: $100,000, given with the proudest smile in the NBA.
"They're my kids," Robinson said, beaming like a new father. "I went to their graduation party and they gave me clocks and plaques. They write me to this day. It's so neat to follow them."
These programs are all Robinson's pride and joy. But the signature charity of his foundation is the Carver Academy at San Antonio's Carver Complex. In 1997, Robinson made a $5 million gift to establish a college prep school on the east side in one of the city's poorest sections.
"I can think of few other projects that have the immediate human potential for the east side and for San Antonio than the Carver Complex has," former mayor Nelson Wolff said at the announcement.
Robinson attended groundbreaking for the school last August. "I thank everyone for saying nice things about me, but I didn't do this to be called a nice guy," Robinson said at the ceremony.
"That doesn't mean anything to kids who need help. I want to give this side of town the opportunity to have a top-notch school. Top-notch education is expensive. I learned that when I was looking for a school for my own son. Something like this is just the beginning. With $5 million, you can do a lot personally, but when you are talking about educating kids, $5 million doesn't go very far."
Robinson's grand donation went a little further, it turned out. In 1999, Robinson received the Montblanc de la Culture Award, the first athlete and only unanimous winner in the award's history. His reward: A $150,000 gift, which he turned over to the Carver Academy.
The school, scheduled to open in the fall of 2001, will begin with 30 fifth and sixth graders and eventually educate children from pre-kindergarten through the eighth grade. Welcome to Mister Robinson's Neighborhood.
"We wanted something to last after we're gone," said Robinson. "We want to teach kids how to read and lead their lives."
The school will be the Robinsons' legacy, and leave an imprint on San Antonio long after Robinson's last slam dunk. This is what motivates him. This is what drives him.
Make no mistake. Climaxing a decade-long quest for a championship ring and answering all those critics who said he wasn't tough enough to lead a team to a title was personally satisfying and professionally validating. At long last, he won a ring. At long last, he earned respect as a champion, a winner. Much was made of the last leg of the journey, when Robinson selflessly deferred offensively to rising young superstar Tim Duncan. The Man turned off his own ego and turned the team over to The Kid, blocking shots instead of shooting the Spurs to the top of the mountain. It was so fitting. It was so David Robinson. In the end, his giving spilled over to the basketball court.
He says he will never forget that moment in Madison Square Garden, after the Spurs finished off the New York Knicks in a five-game Finals that climaxed a dominating 15-2 run through the playoffs, when he lofted the NBA championship trophy high over his head. It was intense. It was gratifying. It was fulfilling. But nothing like giving to others.
"Winning a championship is so temporary," said Robinson. "It's fantastic for the moment, don't get me wrong. You climb the hill. There's no greater feeling than standing there on the podium. But eventually, there's another hill to climb. It's fleeting glory, but intense. Giving is solid. It lasts a lifetime. You become linked with others. It's something that lasts forever. To be blessed enough to have something to give is unreal. It's amazing to me that God has entrusted me with this."
For Robinson, the human contact is as important as the check writing. A staff of four works for the foundation, but Robinson is hands-on. He doesn't go to the office every day, but he talks daily with Marty Melle, the foundation's administrative director and his business manager. He signs every check and sees every document that leaves the office.
He also is active in plans for the architectural design and educational plan for the Carver Academy.
"He sees it all, he reads it all, and this is a man with little time," said Melle. "He's an inspiration to me every day."
The $5 million gift to the Carver Academy made national news, but Robinson is just as quick to provide help without fanfare. He gave a "substantial" amount to Hurricane Floyd victims in North Carolina last year, and asked the Red Cross to keep his donation as quiet as possible.
"Worldly people say it's only a small percentage of my income," said San Antonio's go-to guy for giving. "But it's not just giving money. It's giving everything you have. The most important thing is giving them who you are."
As the NBA writer for USA Today, GREG BOECK knew about David Robinson's generosity, but Boeck was even surprised at the breadth and depth of Robinson's commitment to those less fortunate.
This article also appears in the March 2000 issue of Hoop.
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