For most of our living memory, the San Antonio Spurs have showcased brilliance and excellence as one of the best-run organizations in all professional sports. As silly as it sounds, the brilliance of the Spurs’ organization plus some lottery luck are the only reasons the Spurs still call San Antonio home in the first place. The first move the Spurs made toward their reputation was when they drafted David Robinson first overall in the 1987 NBA Draft.
Robinson was clearly the best player in the draft and went on to have the best career out of anyone in his draft class (Reggie Miller and Scottie Pippen included) and cement his legacy as one of the NBA’s all-time greatest players.
The only downside to drafting The Admiral was the fact that as a Naval Academy graduate, he was mandated to serve two years in the armed forces. This meant that San Antonio would have to wait for him to join the team, but the move clearly paid off.
Now let us pretend that the 1987 Spurs front office was made up of a bunch of morons. Just utter buffoons. They instead opt to draft Armen Gilliam first overall out of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Gilliam was an excellent college player for the Rebels and was a solid (but not amazing) power forward for his entire career. He was never an All-Star but frequently put up 15 point seasons. As we explore what it would be like if the Spurs passed on David Robinson to avoid those two years of service, we go down a rabbit hole of speculative fiction in which several elements are of my own design and are not based on fact, since this alternative reality simply does not exist.
As an organization, the Spurs are profoundly altered, the city of San Antonio is not the same, and the entire NBA dynamic is changed.
Behind rookie Armen Gilliam, the 1988 Spurs fare better than they would have if they took Robinson. This is one of only a few seasons where things go well for San Antonio. This is not a happy story. The Spurs fail to make the playoffs, but Gilliam is one of the better rookies in the class initially, so the future looks bright. Without the promised size of Robinson still another season away, the Spurs opt to select Will Perdue III from Vanderbilt with the 11th overall pick, which is where he went in reality.