Former Navy all-America David Robinson, the college basketball player of the year for 1986-87 and the No. 1 pick in the recent NBA draft, is writing a diary for The Washington Post during the Pan American Games. Ensign Robinson is a member of the U.S. basketball team.
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 8 -- People often ask to describe the difference between representing the Naval Academy as an athlete and representing the United States in international competition. And the first thing I always say is that an increased amount of responsibility always comes with playing for the United States.
Two years ago, I bought a $3 "USA" baseball-style cap in a store up at Penn State. I had been wearing the thing around half the year, but I never consciously thought about what I was wearing, and I'm almost certain that nobody else ever paid any attention to it. But that's because I was wearing it in the United States.
But that summer, while I was wearing it in Yugoslavia, a bunch of kids stopped me one day -- I think it was in Sarajevo -- and began yelling at me in their Slavic language. They were yelling things like, "You're going to lose; you're no good."
It was at that moment that I first realized that, when you're representing your country in international competition, it's like being in a completely different world. That was the first time I ever really thought about the fact that all of a sudden I was more than a competing athlete, but a representative of the United States.
Here were these kids, and their impression of the United States, in part, was going to be based on their impression of me and how I handled myself, more off the court than on it. There is a lot of pride involved, and you definitely want to stick out your chest.
I don't know if that sort of feeling will come into play as much this week because we will be performing and interacting with people right here, where the support is for us. But overseas, the feeling you have is amazing.
One of the things that I have to be very careful about is being what I guess you can call a spokesman for the country. This, too, is in a really different spirit than what you learn in the Navy.
From Day One at the Academy, my first squad leader said to be inconspicuous. He figured that as tall as I was, I'd stand out like a big, green, sore thumb to begin. And at the Academy everybody just wants to blend in; nobody wants his name to be known.
But it's impossible for me to live that way, even more so now with so many national and international media people asking me to answer sometimes controversial questions.
I don't mind. I try to use it as an opportunity to make some of my views known. I try to avoid controversy and answer diplomatically. But I tend to speak my mind. I don't usually regret anything I've said. But sometimes, after a television interview or a newspaper or magazine article, my mom or dad will call me and say, "David, you shouldn't have said that."
You do really have to walk a fine line, in competition and away from it. But representing the U.S. is something I've always wanted to do, since I was a small kid. I didn't get to watch as much of the recent Davis Cup competition as I wanted to because we were preparing for these Games. But I did watch John McEnroe play Eric Jelen.
I've always been into international competition, but not basketball until recently. I was more interested in track and field and gymnastics. Really, I was more into the Winter Olympics. I loved the ski jump, the bobsledding, the speedskating when Eric Heiden and his sister were really dominant for the United States.
My first real vivid memories of Olympic basketball were in 1972 when the Soviets got like three chances to beat the U.S. in the final seconds. I was only about 7 or 8 years old, but it was a strong impression; the terrorists with guns on the terrace in Munich.
I grew up thinking about representing my country, but not dreaming I'd excel enough to represent the United States at this level. That's one reason why I'd like to portray as clean an image as I possibly can, on or off the court.