For NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, true leadership comes with both talking the talk and walking the walk. On top of being one of the greatest centers in league history, a 10-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, Robinson founded Carver Academy in San Antonio, which became IDEA Carver, a public charter school. His philanthropy is so well respected that the winner of the NBA Community Assist Award wins the David Robinson Plaque.
“I was talking today with some folks and everybody’s got a voice,” Robinson said Monday night. “You can tweet, you can do whatever you want to do. But who has credibility? The person who has credibility is the one who actually does the things to back up what they say. I’ve tried to lay down a long track record of the actions to back up my words. When I speak, hopefully it has some gravity.”
Plenty were interested in his words Monday at the University of Charleston’s Nexus of Leadership Symposium. The 1995 NBA MVP was the keynote speaker at a Monday dinner. He has a strong connection to UC. His sister, Kimberly Robinson, teaches in the university’s School of Business and Leadership.
“When my sister calls, I come,” Robinson said. “I got a chance to come down for her graduation for her Ph.D. and I was just very impressed with the school.”
Robinson has built an impressive resume himself. A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he achieved the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade after two years of active-duty service. He helped turn the Spurs from an NBA also-ran to one of the most consistently successful franchises in the NBA, averaging 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in a 14-year career. His experience in the Navy and the NBA gives him a unique perspective on current events like the demonstrations held by NFL players at various stadiums this past Sunday.
Robinson hopes that those who demonstrated take their message outside those stadium walls and put substantive actions behind them.
“You have to be led by your conscience,” Robinson said. “It’s nice that people speak up, but your actions have to back those words up. We do live in a country where you have the freedom to say what you want to say, but there should be some meaning behind those words.”
Results are important to Robinson. They put weight behind what is said. The Hall of Famer’s playing days are over and the league now is led by players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. He appreciates younger players’ desire to become leaders of sport, culture and social awareness, and he wants to see them continue backing up speech with action.
“Leaders lead because they’re the most experienced,” Robinson said. “They’re the ones who have results. These young guys have to do that. They have to put those results down. It’s nice that they’re talking, but we need some results to back that talking up. Keep the effort up and maybe 10 years, 20 years from now, what you say really means a lot.”
Everyone has a responsibility to their families and communities to grow into effective leaders, Robinson said. It doesn’t take elite athleticism to accomplish that. What it takes is using one’s gifts in the most effective ways possible.
“I love George Washington Carver,” Robinson said. “Carver said, ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.’ That’s one of my favorite quotes. So to me, it’s utilizing all those tools you have in your hands, not complaining about what you don’t have, not complaining about what someone else has, but starting where you are, using what you have and making something of it. And then other people will want to follow you because they see that example.”