Despite the earnest efforts of university presidents, professors and even some coaches, big-time college sport remains a hotbed of hypocrisy. At football and basketball factories, a recruit’s grade point average is still secondary to yards-per-carry or points-per-game—and a mere 33 percent of NFL players and 20 percent of those in the NBA get their college degrees. Aspiring scholar-athletes sorely need role models, and, happily, they’re emerging. Case in point: Bo Jackson. Though he hardly needs another career, the baseball-football superstar returned to Auburn to finish his course work in family-and-child development. (Bo knows books.) But the best (and biggest) recruiting poster for scholarship may be 7’1″ David Robinson, the rookie sensation for pro basketball’s San Antonio Spurs.
On the court, Robinson, 24, evokes comparisons with all-time greats like Bill Russell. His play has more than justified his eight-year, $26 million contract. But he a follows in the tradition of bookish jocks such as Bill Bradley and Tom McMillen (both Rhodes scholars, then NBA stalwarts, now standing tall on Capitol Hill). The intense Robinson prepped for pro ball at a most unlikely place: the U.S. Naval Academy, where his grade point average as a math major was a respectable 2.7 (out of 4.0). Moreover, his main off-court activities are characteristically cerebral: teaching himself to play classical music on his baby grand piano and composing lighter tunes on a fancy $2,500 electronic keyboard. ‘I like to do things that challenge my brain,” he says.
Already, Robinson is among the league leaders in integrity. One Spurs official says he knew Robinson was special when he took his wife to see the big man’s first game. Afterward, he asked her what she thought was Robinson’s strongest attribute. Her answer: “The way he stood at attention for the national anthem.”