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Veterans Day Q&A with David Robinson

The Hall of Famer talks about the importance of leadership in today's NBA.

David Robinson knows what it means to sacrifice in the name of his country. His father, Ambrose Robinson Jr., served in the military, and Robinson himself graduated from the Naval Academy, where he was selected as the No. 1 draft pick by the San Antonio Spurs during the 1987 NBA Draft. But the powerful 7'1" center honored his commitment to the military by serving in the Navy for two years before slipping on an NBA jersey.

Nicknamed “the Admiral," Robinson is still known as one of the greatest big men to ever play basketball, having won Rookie of the Year in 1989-90 after a two-year layoff from basketball. Robinson is a two-time NBA champion, three-time Olympic gold medalist, 10-time NBA All-Star, and was voted one of the 50 greatest players of all time.

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This week, as part of the NBA Veterans Day activities, the Admiral will participate in the POTUS wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, meet with injured veterans at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and host an NBA Cares Hoops for Troops Clinic for military families. Still, he found some time to talk to Men’s Fitness about the young NBA basketball season, his career, and, of course, how he has maintained his chiseled frame over 14 years.

Men's Fitness: You are considered one of the greatest centers to have ever played in the NBA. Is it difficult to see a shift from traditional centers in the league, or does that just come with the evolution of the game?

David Robinson: I think everything works in cycles. I was fortunate enough to come along in the golden age for big men. There were guys like Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Now, I’d say, Kevin Love–he’s sort of a center. He does a lot of different things. Marc Gasol, he’s more of a true center. There are guys who play that traditional center role, but the game is also played differently now.

MF: Who is the greatest center you've played against in your career?

DR: Skill-wise, I’d have to say Hakeem. He could really do anything. Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) was a great physical specimen. I mean, 7 foot, 350 pounds. There wasn’t anybody like him. Those are probably the two best guys.

MF: There’s always a debate about the best player in the league right now. Who would you say is in your top five?

DR: Clearly LeBron (James) is at the peak of his game. It feels like things are changing nonstop, but certainly (Kevin) Durant is at the peak of his game as well. I would also pick Tony Parker. A lot of people forget about Tony, but Tony is a one-man wrecking crew. He’s been carrying our team for three years now. Tim (Duncan) is still good. But this is Tony’s team. Then there are the up-and-coming guys like Paul George. And lastly, a guy like Derrick Rose is a guy who you hope is going to reestablish himself because he’s really an incredible player and an incredible athlete.

MF: Having come from a naval family, serving in the Navy, and being a member of the San Antonio Spurs, which many regard as the top organization in basketball, what can you say about the importance of leadership in any organization?

DR: A lot of these teams really forget that part of success comes with having veteran leadership. You see a lot of teams forget that and start letting go of these old veterans. They don’t realize how important it is to have a veteran voice in your locker room or on the bench. It’s important to have guys who have been there before.

When I first came into the league I thought, "I’ll just do my job and these guys are getting paid, they’ll do their jobs and we’ll all go home."  And it doesn’t work like that. Somebody’s got to carry the load. You have to have somebody you depend on night after night.

MF: You were always known for your athleticism but also your lean, muscular frame. How did you work on your body during your playing days?

DR: I always did a lot of extra work. Largely in the beginning, I did a lot of extra work because I was lighter than all the other guys. I was at a massive disadvantage so I had to put on weight. I started with eating. I had to really focus on my diet. I used to eat a lot of junk in college. It meant eating 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day. I wanted to eat more whole foods. I didn’t want to drink a lot of shakes because I felt like it filled me up artificially.

MF: How are you staying in shape now?

DR: Obviously, I’m not working out the way I was when I was playing. I do yoga. I swim a lot. I’m drinking a lot of good healthy mixes. I got myself a Vitamix.

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