The Admiral commands his first investment

Basketball Hall of Fame inductee David Robinson has conquered the sports landscape, collecting professional and college player of the year awards, and has won two Olympic gold medals and two NBA titles.

Now the former San Antonio Spurs center is playing to win in a different kind of arena.

Robinson, 43, quietly formed private equity firm Admiral Capital Group last year with Daniel Bassichis, 35, a former Goldman Sachs executive. The firm will invest in companies that offer a strong financial return as well as a social impact, says Robinson, who was nicknamed “The Admiral” based on his attending the U.S. Naval Academy.

“I always saw basketball as a great opportunity to have some fun and make some money, but it’s also a place where you have a tremendous opportunity to impact communities,” he said in a telephone interview. “I don’t see this business any different.”

Last week the firm, which has offices in New York and San Antonio, Texas, made its first private equity investment, buying an undisclosed stake in food service company Centerplate. Centerplate has provided food service at the Super Bowl, the Belmont Stakes horse race and six presidential inaugural balls. Numerous sports teams are among its clients. Private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. bought Centerplate in January for about $210 million.

I always saw basketball as a great opportunity to have some fun and make some money.I don’t see this business any different.

David RobinsonAdmiral Capital Group

The 7-foot, 1-inch Robinson, who has joined Centerplate’s board, said that he feels he can help grow the company by leveraging his sports and philanthropic relationships.

Robinson said that a portion of all Admiral Capital profits will support philanthropic causes, including the development of the Carver Academy, an inner-city San Antonio, Texas-based elementary school to which Robinson has contributed more than $10 million.

One reason for Centerplate’s attractiveness, Robinson said, was its partnership with Living Cities, a philanthropic group of 21 large foundations and financial institutions focused on improving the lives of low-income people and the urban areas in which they live. Bassichis is quick to emphasize, however, that the firm’s top goal is maximizing returns and Robinson’s sports ties will help Centerplate grow in areas it is targeting, including NBA arenas and college campuses.

“We know about arenas and concessions,” said Robinson, who is due to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. “We know about colleges and have some influence in those areas.”

Robinson, who owns a small stake in the Spurs, added with a laugh that buying an NBA team does not interest him. —Megan Davies, Reuters