The applicant is a young man named Glenn Robinson. He is 21 years old and understandably nervous, this being his first job interview. He wears a new suit and new shirt and new tie and new shoes that squeaked when he walked into the personnel director's office. Did the personnel director notice? Robinson hoped not.
He sits on the uncomfortable edge of an uncomfortable chair. He is a big man, 6'7", 240 pounds. The application he filled out in the lobby is in the personnel director's hands. Robinson hopes he wrote down the proper answers. He would like this job with the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA.
"Now it says here, Mr. Robinson, that you have two years experience with a chicken company," the personnel director says.
"Chicken company?" Robinson asks, confused.
"Perdue. Isn't that a famous chicken company?"
"No, that's Purdue with a u. Excuse my handwriting. I went three years to Purdue University. I played college basketball two years and was the national player of the year last year. At Purdue."
Robinson has been briefed on what to expect at the interview by friends who have also come out of school to enter the brutal job market of the 1990s. None of them has been very successful. Magna cum laude graduates are working as ushers at movie theaters. Phi Beta Kappas have settled for jobs in the exciting field of telephone sales. He has friends who haven't even been able to find a job. who are back home living with their parents, trying to decide if going to graduate school is a necessary step. Even so, he is optimistic.
"Now, you're applying for a position as power forward, Mr. Robinson," the personnel director says. "Is that correct?"
"Power forward. Yes."
"And do you have any experience playing power forward?"
"Yes, I do. As I said, I played two years at Purdue. I was a power forward both years."
"I meant professional experience. Perdue—Purdue—is, as you said, a university. You're playing with amateurs, young men all your age, learning the game. I mean, have you ever played basketball for money? Have you ever played a full 82-game NBA season, plus about 20 exhibitions, plus a potential 100-or-so playoff games at the end? Have you ever driven to the basket, say, against Patrick Ewing at Madison Square Garden in New York? Have you ever tried to box out Charles Barkley for a rebound in Phoenix? Have you ever even dribbled through, say, the Golden State Warriors? That's the kind of experience we like to see."
"I was very good at Purdue."
"Professional experience, Mr. Robinson."
"Well, actually, none."
He can see the personnel director write "none" on the side of the paper. The personnel director makes other notations after Robinson admits that he has never won an Olympic gold medal, has never played on a world amateur champion, has never even won an NCAA championship. "What has he really done?" the personnel director writes at one point. Robinson can read the words upside down.
"Now for the interesting part." the personnel director says. "Anticipated salary."
"You have put down $100 million for 13 years."
"You honestly think someone should pay you $100 million for 13 years when you've never played a second of professional basketball, when your teams have never won anything? You want us to pay you this $100 million—probably more than our entire franchise is worth, probably more than the building where we play our games is worth—before you ever play an NBA game? You want us to pay you more than Bob Cousy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. combined, made in their careers? You want to become the highest-paid team-sport athlete of all time? Just like that? You want us to mortgage not only our futures but also our very souls on the possibility, just the possibility, that you might be a pretty good power forward? People are starving, wars are being fought, unemployment is everywhere and you want to be paid one hundred million dollars?"
"Yes, I do."
"You see nothing wrong with that?"
"Nothing, sir. That's what I figure I'm worth."
The personnel director puts down his pencil and pushes aside the piece of paper. He begins to cry. His sobs are mixed with periods of hysterical laughter. The sounds fill the small office. Robinson does not know what to do. None of his friends has reported an experience like this. He wonders if now would be a good time to inquire about the company's medical plan. Probably not.
These job interviews sure are weird.