"Sure. Basketball player. Doesn't he play for Michigan?"
Indianapolis, June 29
At the NBA draft earlier in the evening, the hot topic was $100 million. Now subtract seven zeroes. Ten bucks. Tickets for the Glenn Robinson After-Draft Party at the Convention Center adjacent to the Hoosier Dome—a party that Convention Center workers say was organized by Tucker—are going for $10. "Going" might be overstating it. The bash, with two DJs, a cash bar and an appearance by Robinson, began at 10 p.m. At 10:30, fewer than 75 tickets have been sold. The room can accommodate upwards of 2,000 people.
"If he's making $100 million, this should be a freebie," says Joe Murzyn of Hammond, Ind., one town over from Gary, where Robinson grew up. "I watched him all through high school. I can't understand why he'd charge $10 when he'll be making $100 million."
The number seems outlandish. After all, the Rochester Royals used the No. 1 pick in 1956 to draft Sihugo Green of Duquesne because the player they liked, a center out of the University of San Francisco named Bill Russell, was asking for an exorbitant $25,000 per season. The draft was less sophisticated back then. Last week NBA director of scouting services Marty Blake told a TNT audience that when he came into the league in 1954, "People drafted out of magazines."
Now the magazine NBA players talk about is GQ. Robinson's new Milwaukee Buck cap was a bland accessory for a burnished gold suit, which was set off handsomely by his black alligator slip-ons and a diamond in his left ear. Before buying a suit like that for your own wardrobe, make sure you have a game. This is a tough look to pull off if you are not a first-rounder.
Robinson's suit is his billboard, but the rest of him is matter-of-fact. The only telltale clue of emotion is the lipstick smudge on his right cheek, which was left by his mother, Christine Bridgeman, after NBA commissioner David Stern had announced her son as the No. 1 pick. Robinson is polite if not quite engaging, controlled, very much a professional in interviews. He seems inured to the moment. Maybe he is overwhelmed, although there was never a doubt he would be chosen first. "I've never seen cameras in my face like this," Robinson said shortly after the Bucks picked him. "It's like [Michael] Jordan or the President. It's scary."
But this is his job now, just as in sixth grade his job was to go to the air-conditioning and refrigeration shop to help his surrogate father, Jesse Mack, carry tools and clean up. Mack would take care of him, slip him five bucks when he needed money. There isn't much difference between $5 and $5 million if you look at it a certain way. Robinson worked hard then and worked hard later, making his game as brilliant as his suit. "The only way you make money," he says, "is by working."
On the biggest day of his life, time dragged. Robinson was up early, at 7:00 or 7:30 in the morning, and caught a TV clip of the kid with a long name who had been selected first in the NHL draft the previous night. He went out and bought a hat. He messed around in the hotel lobby. The wait seemed endless.
Finally, as the draft droned on and others put on their team caps and shook Stern's hand, the interviews became just as interminable.