Saturday, February 12, 2011

Brush with greatness: David Robinson

I've decided to officially expand the Brush With Greatness series into non-baseball sports. This is going to be challenging, because I collect only baseball cards. I lack cards of several non-baseball people I have interviewed, including one glaring example.

In fact, I'm shocked that I have this card. Out of the four major sports -- and several minor ones -- the NBA lags far, far behind in terms of interest. I have bought a pack of basketball cards, at most, four times in my life, and each time I couldn't tell you why I bought it.

But I'm staring at the David Robinson-Sean Elliott 1992 Upper Deck card right now, so obviously I acquired it somehow.

Given my lack of interest in basketball, it's kind of pathetic that I found myself in the situation of interviewing David Robinson. I was about three or four years into my sports journalism career and desperately trying to decipher the ins and outs of sports I rarely followed. When I was assigned to talk to Robinson, I read up on all I could about him.

So, picture this: David Robinson, a Hall of Famer, one of the 50 greatest NBA players of all-time, a two-time NBA champion, a member of the Dream Team, a historic shot-blocker, half of the Twin Towers, is sitting in a Hills department store (remember Hills?) in a town where basketball is what you do when you can't play hockey, being interviewed by a couple of clueless young reporters as he signs autographs in the toy department, while surrounded by hanging bicycles.

If Robinson is like everyone else, I'm sure he wondered, "What in the hell am I doing here?"

He had just been named the NBA's Rookie of the Year. The U.S. was in the middle of a terrible run in the international arena, and I asked him about whether he wanted to compete on the Olympic level. He said he didn't know, but of course, two years later he'd be playing with Jordan, Johnson, Barkley, etc., on the Dream Team.

Robinson quite possibly is the nicest, most cooperative star athlete I've ever interviewed. He answered every question without a hint of irritation or dismissiveness. Robinson is known for his well-mannered personality, growing up in a military family and a member of the U.S. Naval Academy. I kind of had an idea that even though he was already a star, and in commercials, that he would be an easy interview.

I still have the article I wrote. It is accompanied by a photo of Robinson -- all 7 feet of him -- posing next to two children, who look to be 8 and 10 years old. The tallest one comes up to his waist.

Robinson completed his career by winning an NBA title, which is about the best way you can go out. I still think it's cool that I got a chance to talk to him. But I think it would've been a lot cooler if I was an NBA fan.

It's not quite like if my mom interviewed Sandy Koufax, but it's pretty close.


  1. That's awesome that you got a chance to interview him.At least he was a nice guy even though you weren't that interested. I wish there was something I could do to cure your basketball problem.

    I totally forgot about those Mr. Robinson commercials. I can't believe that was in '91. I'm going to go sit in a corner and feel old now.

  2. One thing I forgot to mention. When we were done with the interview, the other reporter asked Robinson for his autograph. That is about the biggest journalism no-no that there is.