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You probably know David Robinson as one of the greatest players in basketball history, but he has also achieved great off-the-court success as a philanthropist, entrepreneur, investor and family man.
In this episode of My Next Move, host Michael Liersch asked Robinson about how he’s handled certain issues that concern many families, including how to help children develop a sense of purpose in life and a responsible approach to money.
Robinson’s answers? Family values that are grounded in such ideas as: “Money is a tool and a resource, but you build your life around relationships.” And sharing these values through role modeling–as he’s seen that his sons learn best by watching what he does.
“I’m a big believer in setting an example and a tone,” says Robinson.
To the Spurs and beyond
Basketball fans know and love Robinson’s story: He grew up as the second of three children in a middle-class, military family. His dad, Ambrose Robinson, was a sonar technician for the U.S. Navy. His mother, Freda, was a licensed nurse.
Robinson went to the Naval Academy on a basketball scholarship and, upon graduating in 1987, was the first player picked in the NBA draft, going to the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs waited two years while Robinson fulfilled his active-duty obligation to the Navy. Too tall at 7'1" for many positions that make for a good career in the Navy, Robinson served out his commitment as a civil engineering officer at a Georgia submarine base.
Nicknamed “the Admiral,” Robinson played center for the Spurs his entire NBA career. He was a 10-time All-Star and twice won Olympic Gold. Considered one of the best centers in NBA history, Robinson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
Robinson’s philanthropic journey began before he retired from basketball. In 2003, he founded, funded and helped teach at the Carver Academy in San Antonio. The school—named after the African American educator and scientist George Washington Carver—is dedicated to serving a socioeconomically and culturally diverse student population.
Robinson has also built Admiral Capital Group, a $100 million private equity firm focused on socially conscious investing.
Throughout it all, says Robinson, now 53 years old, he has wanted “to be a man who used his talents and resources in a way that was a blessing to others.”
Coaching his “home team”
Robinson has taught his sons, now in their twenties, both by example and through concrete experiences. As education is one of his greatest passions, Robinson brought his sons, since they were boys, with him to the schools he’s supported. He’s also taken them to some of the underprivileged neighborhoods where he and his wife, Valerie, have offered help through their foundation.
He’s confronted the issue of having a larger-than-life dad head on: “I’d love for them to build upon my work, but not in the same way,” Robinson says. “I want them to bring their own talents—their own passions—to the table. So I’ve spent a lot of time helping them explore” to figure out their natural talents and assess their own circumstances.
His approach seems to have had a positive impact. One of Robinson’s sons played football at the University of Notre Dame, but left the game after a concussion. He was elected class president as a senior and is now working as a business development associate for Sotheby’s. Another son—who studied human relations, communications and media—works for Admiral Capital Group. The third is currently at Duke University playing basketball.
The meaning of money
When his children were younger, Robinson also took the experiential approach to teaching them about money. “I’ve tried to have them grow up where money is just a tool, and I’m going to teach you how to use it.”
For example, he once gave each son $2,000 to invest in the stock market. To make the exercise relatable, he told them to look around and find the companies that made products they enjoyed. One boy came back with a short list that included Disney and Netflix.
“It was fun,” says Robinson. “They got to read the papers and watch the stocks of their favorite things. It lasted a year and then they didn’t want to play anymore—so we moved on.” Still, he felt the boys did get to see firsthand that “if you have some money, you can sit on it, hold it, spend it or try to put it to work.”
Now that his sons are young adults, Robinson has an additional message for them.
“When I give my children money, it’s a way that I express to them that I’ve watched you grow up, that I know that you’re responsible, that I trust you and I believe in you,” he says.
To hear more from David Robinson, follow him on Twitter at DavidtheAdmiral. To listen to more of the My Next Move podcast series, subscribe via Apple Podcasts or Google Play. For additional insights into how to teach children about money, please contact your J.P. Morgan advisor.