Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Admiral, David Robinson: An Officer and a Gentlman

One of my favorite responses to a good challenge is this: "try me."

As my students know, my personal motto is "looking for grace." This is what I do whenever I go to a live sporting event. I am actively looking for something on the court or field to speak to me. My eye has been trained to find these so-called "sacramental moments." More often than not, I get a glimpse of one or two. I sit with what struck me. I revisit how I felt and what I learned. I aim to put it in context and unpack why it is staying with me. Matthew 7:7 says "Seek and ye shall find." It's incredible how often I do. And that humble truth is why I write this blog—said moments must be shared.
Little to no expectations. Maybe not a bad thing.
And yet, moments of grace are not a given. I entered AT&T Center in San Antonio thinking too much was in the way of finding one. I was watching the Spurs—the NBA team with the best record play the Philadelphia 76ers—a team who had lost 22 straight games. The game was on a Monday night. Although the home of the Spurs is clean and new, basketball arenas are not sports destinations in the way that baseball parks can be; we don't refer to them as "cathedrals," they seldom appear on a bucket list, etc. Furthermore, the last time I attended an NBA game with this same group (a contingent of teachers from  Jesuit high schools from all over the country) we were in Miami. We saw two of the very best: the Heat vs. the Spurs. So, I bought my $11 ticket and decided I must take my own advice. I put my motto to the test. Here's what I found.
One of my favorite covers

At the end of the third quarter, the announcer said "We would now like anyone who has served in armed forces to please stand. We thank you for the gift of your service and the sacrifices you and your families have made." A significant number of men and women stood proud and tall. While they received a long round of applause Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" played in the background. As I was trying to process what was taking place,  I thought to myself: Do they do this at every game?...this is Texas, I'm not surprised that this gesture is part of the culture....I know there's an army base here....Wow! Look who's here??!! 

The camera panned the arena and focused in on a man who played his entire NBA career with the Spurs: David Robinson.

The Admiral. Although, his actual rank upon fulfilling his service commitment was Lieutenant, Junior Grade.

I thought back to the first time he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Top Gun was a great story. A 1987 graduate of the US Naval Academy, Robinson is a Hall of Fame Center, he is a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, he was co-Sportsman of the Year with teammate Tim Duncan. Together they earned two NBA Championships for San Antonio. The list of his basketball achievements is almost as impressive as he is. Truly, he is an officer and a gentleman. As I was enjoying this moment (not to mention reliving my glory of meeting him as I exited the field at Stanford Stadium) I thought Did he actually serve in the Navy? I know he graduated from the Academy, but did he get out of his commitment that is required of all ensigns? Aren't they indebted to four or five years of service post-graduation? 
Two of the all-time greats
Many of you can answer my questions. If you don't, it's worth knowing—talk about inspiring. Roy Johnson writes:
Guthrie is the marketing director for the Spurs, the team that spun pro basketball's wheel of fortune last month and won, gaining the first selection in today's draft. Their choice will be David Robinson, the 7-foot-1-inch Navy ensign, who was the best college basketball player in the country last season. Historically, teams with the No. 1 pick in the draft experience a dramatic increase at the gate - an average of almost 30 percent over the last four years. A Rare Commodity. Yet the scenario for this season isn't normal. Instead of looking forward to jammed-to-the-rafters crowds and respectability in the coming season, the Spurs will have to wait two full seasons for Robinson while he serves two years of active duty as a Naval engineer. 
My first thought was why only two years? My guilty pleasure, Wikipedia writes: 
Robinson considered leaving the academy after his second year, before incurring an obligation to serve in active duty. He decided to stay after discussing with the Superintendent the likelihood that his height would prevent serving at sea as an unrestricted lineofficer, hurting his naval career, and might make it impossible for him to be commissioned at all. As a compromise, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman placed Robinson in a program for training civil engineers for the Naval Reserves that reduced his active-duty obligation to two years.  
And how much do I LOVE that his son Corey plays for the Fightin' Irish.
What was a liability in one domain became a pure asset in another? 

It's almost trite for me to say it, but you can't make this stuff up! What is the likelihood that the top pick in the country would come from the Navy? That a Mathematics major would be a 10-time NBA All-Star and the 1995 MVP. How many athletes defer their careers in service to our country? 

Robinson decided to go to a terrible game on a Monday night, and I'm thankful he did. He was recognized in a context that made me think of him in the way we first came to know his story. I consider this a moment of grace because when I look at someone like David Robinson, I see humanity at its best. Talent, service, sacrifice, community, dedication. Anytime I am a witness to that, I am grateful. A small part of me is moved by the wonder of God's creation.  The Admiral is no exception. In fact, he's one of the very best. Spurs fans, you've been blessed. To those in the armed services, especially the US Navy, you are as well. Thank you.

Photo Credits
Sixers vs Spurs
Duncan and Robinson

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