Some may consider Craig Robinson’s background a little bland to warrant a memoir. He’s relatively young and his resume isn’t rich in scandal or easily recited accomplishments. Robinson was an excellent college basketball player who has become a very good coach at Oregon State University. But he may be best known as the older brother of First Lady Michelle Obama, who, while dating the future leader of the free world, asked her brother to gauge her then-boyfriend’s character by playing pick-up hoops.
Whether President Obama had started his odd practice of wearing his shirt tucked into his sweats when he hooped it up isn’t answered in Robinson’s book, A Game of Character—a combination of autobiography, motivational handbook and presidential campaign log. Though he does touch on a bit of everything, the book is really an upbeat look at his own rise to prominence.
Along with baby sister “Miche,” Robinson grew up in the Southside of Chicago, the son of working-class parents who preached honesty, discipline and hard work. The love Robinson had for his parents worked both ways. When he was accepted to Princeton, which did not offer athletic scholarships, his parents paid for the tuition through loans and credit cards, never suggesting young Craig should go anywhere else.
After graduation, Robinson played pro ball for two years in England, which started his love affair with coaching. Despite a successful career in finance and an MBA, basketball still had a pull, so Robinson coached part-time before getting a full-time, low-paying job as an assistant coach at hapless Northwestern. It was a drastic career change—a divorced Robinson had to move back to his childhood home—but one that led to a rewarding new career as well as a second marriage.
Mixed in with the autobiographical touches is a ton of motivational prose (complete with exclamation points) that should make Robinson a smash on the corporate speaker circuit. That can be ignored. What shouldn’t be ignored is how Robinson’s determination and principles allowed him to succeed on his terms. As A Game of Character makes clear, Craig Robinson is not riding on Barack’s designer coattails or on the hem of Michelle’s designer dress.