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SA David ‘Sinbad’ Adkins, U.S. Air Force (1979-1983)

SA David ‘Sinbad’ Adkins (U.S. Air Force, 1979-1983) is best known for his body of work as a comedian and film & TV actor. He became known in the 1990s for being featured on his own HBO specials, appearing on several television series such as Coach Walter Oakes in A Different World, and as David Bryan on The Sinbad Show, and starring in the films Necessary Roughness, Houseguest, First Kid, Jingle All the Way, Good Burger, and Planes. Prior to this success, however, Sinbad spent some time in the military. TogetherWeServed examines how a failed basketball prospect became one of the 90s’ most prominent Black comedic actors.

Sinbad’s Early Years

David ‘Sinbad’ Adkins born in Michigan in 1956, the son of a Baptist minister. David Adkins graduated Benton Harbor High School in 1974. He visited an Air Force installation in Colorado, but llost interest in enlisting upon learning he would have to give up his afro. Instead, he went to college at the University of Denver, CO on an impulse, receiving a basketball scholarship: a natural choice considering his imposing 6’5” physique. While there, he lettered two seasons for the basketball team, but left the school four weeks prior to his graduation in 1978. 

Instead of completing his degree, David joined the Air Force, completed basic training, and became a boom operator with the 384th Air Refueling Wing at McConnell Air Force Base, in Wichita, KS. He worked aboard tanker aircraft. However, Adkins’ heart was not in his work, and he was gravely impacted by failing to make the Air Force basketball team, which killed his dream of impressing the Harlem Globetrotters and going pro. This blow to his morale quickly began to undermine his performance as an airman.

Celebrity Veteran That Went AWOL

Though David ‘Sinbad’ Adkins may have joined the military with hopes of sporting excellence, his failure to make the team caused him to act out, going AWOL on multiple occasions. At the same time, he was developing a new passion, for stand-up comedy. He would head downtown to perform at venues in Wichita, and even competed in 1981 in the Air Force’s talent show as a comedian/MC.

Despite wishing at times that the Air Force would simply kick him out for his multiple unauthorized absences, he eventually managed to extract an honorable discharge, departing at the rank of Senior Airman. Adkins’ new ambition was to embark upon a comedy career.

The Famous Veteran David ‘Sinbad’ Adkins

Adkins took the mononym Sinbad, which he chose out of admiration for Sinbad the Sailor, and began seeking opportunities in entertainment. Despite the dearth of venues in Wichita, he refused to become demoralized again as he had during his early years of service in the Air Force. Eventually, he appeared on Star Search, gaining some success and landing a role on The Redd Foxx Show in March 1986. Sadly, the show was canceled just six episodes later. However, in October 1987 Sinbad landed a recurring role on A Different World, a spin-off from The Cosby Show, as Coach Walter Oakes. This show proved to be a great springboard for Sinbad, as he became a season regular in the second season, staying until April 1991. He then began working on The Sinbad Show, which began broadcasting on Fox in September 1993. During this time, he also took on several supporting roles in feature films such as Coneheads and The Meteor Man. The Sinbad Show was cancelled in April 1994, due to low ratings.

Rather than being discouraged, Sinbad turned to film as his focus, and scored starring roles in Houseguest (1995), First Kid (1996), Jingle All The Way (1996), and The Cherokee Kid (1996). He also participated in a USO tour of Bosnia-Herzegovina alongside Sheryl Crow and First Lady Hilary Clinton, a recognition of the time he himself served in the military. 


When interviewed about his Air Force career and advice for Airmen, Sinbad reflected, “Being in the military can really be a jump ball – you can make it a career or you can take it and go somewhere else. That’s up to you. You’re going to miss it though, one day.” And when asked for advice for Airmen who may have a specific dream, similar to his own, the comedian responded, “I’d tell ’em the Air Force made my dreams come true. Although my dream was not a career in the Air Force, it made my other dreams come true. I came in to play basketball. I wanted to be on the Air Force basketball team. I was amazed at the athletes in the military. Look at what other dreams have come true – bands, music… So much music has come out of the military. Heatwave, in the ’70s, man, one of the baddest groups ever, man, they were in the military stationed in Germany. So use it.”

In 2020, Sinbad suffered a stroke, as a result of a blood clot that went from his heart to his brain, prompting him to undergo a thrombectomy to remove the clot and restore normal blood flow to the brain. As of November 2022, Sinbad’s family reported that the comedian has made considerable progress in his post-stroke recovery and is learning to walk again. 

Read About Other Celebrities Who Served

TogetherWeServed honors the service of all honorably discharged service members. Senior Airman David ‘Sinbad’ Adkins is included on our Roll of Honor. If you are interested in discovering more famous veterans, we invite you to read about other celebrities who served on our blog. You will also find military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog.  If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.


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