Craig Robinson: 2010 National Book Festival

Uploaded by LibraryOfCongress on 12.10.2010

>> From the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
>> Our next author is probably known pretty much as the brother-in-law
of a guy he sometimes plays basketball with who's living
in a house that we can almost see from here,
kind of like Sarah Palin seeing the Soviet Union
from her porch [laughter], and I think both our author,
as well as his famous brother-in-law, they both have game
which I was telling the author beforehand, I do not --
I was on my high school basketball team,
I scored only two points during the entire season
and that was an accident.
So, I could never play for him.
And so it's easy to get to know him as that,
but what is really interesting about him and his book,
"A Game of Character," is that it is a truly American story.
It is the story of how you can come from --
in this country you can be in one place, and you can achieve things
that you thought you could achieve like, perhaps, going to Princeton,
but going beyond that, even more, you can be exposed
to things you never knew even existed,
and then you become a part of those.
That is truly an American story.
That is truly a story of a very important journey
from the south side of Chicago to Princeton and beyond,
that is truly the story of a game of character.
Our author now is a coach at Oregon State University.
He played at Princeton, he coached at Brown, but more importantly,
he's succeeding in the game of life and helping others
to succeed in the game of life.
It is my pleasure to present to you, Craig Robinson [Applause]

>> Thank you.
I thought I was going to have to adjust this.
I'm usually used to adjusting mikes when I come to the table.
I want to thank Milton for that wonderful introduction,
and I want to thank all of you.
This is my first National Book Festival,
first as an author or as a participant.
We couldn't do it without all of you.
Thank you very much.

[Applause] Now what I thought I'd do,
because I'm on a short time frame here,
and I got my timer here watching me, I thought I'd tell you a little bit
"A Game of Character" and why and how I wrote it, tell you a couple
of my favorite stories in there, and then open it
up for you guys to ask some questions.

But before I start, I know Milton told you
to turn yourself cell phones off,
that is unless there's somebody expecting a call
from a seven footer, let that call come through.
Please. We can use all the help we can get.
The inspiration for "A Game of Character," and I have to start
out by saying how humbled I am to be included
with so many wonderful authors, because I still view myself
as just a basketball coach.
I mean, it's hard -- you know one of my friends from Chicago called up
and said, "Hey, I saw a book in Borders that had your picture on it.
What's going on?"
[Laughter] And I had to confess, "Yeah, I wrote a book."
He's like, "Get out of here, you didn't write a book."
So it's really hard for me to realize that I wrote a book,
but the inspiration comes solely from my parents and my family,
that was the first inspiration, and I want to share with you a story.
My father, Fraser Robinson, and this is before all of this happened
to our family, was just a hard-working man from the --
working at the Water Department in the City of Chicago,
raising a couple of kids.
My mom was a homemaker, and all they were trying
to do is provide a good life for us, good lessons,
good principals, good values.
And my father happened to be the keeper of the family folklore,
so you guys know what's that's like when you have somebody
in your family who, at all of the events tells all the stories,
gives all the advice, cracks all the jokes.
Well, that was my dad.
And in doing that he always imparted some lesson or some story,
or some adventure that you could take away some positive things to.
And quite honestly when I was younger, my sister
and I would always say, "Dad, don't tell that story again.
We've all heard it, we know the punch line."
Now, jump ahead to about 19 years ago.

That's when my dad died, early, mid 50s.
And at that time I thought to myself, you know,
somebody has to chronicle the stories that he told,
the lessons, the adventures.
And I said yeah, maybe I'll do that some day.
Now jump ahead to two summers ago when I'm standing backstage
at the Democratic National Convention.
Getting ready to introduce my sister, I'm backstage,
listening to the introduction and I'm thinking to myself,
what the heck am I doing here?

But I also thought, boy, wouldn't it be nice if my dad was here
to experience this with us.
And it was at that point that I knew that I had to actually take a pencil
and put it on paper and start writing, even if I didn't succeed,
I had to do it or it wouldn't get done.
You know how life comes at you.
And what came out of that was "A Game of Character,
which is basically a tribute, a love story to my parents,
whose lessons resonate in the classroom, on the basketball court,
at the dinner table, or in the boardroom, and what I tried
to do was write it so that it was fun to read for everyone
and that everybody could take something from it,
and there were only three people I needed to impress: my wife,
my mother, and my sister.
And after they read it and enjoyed it, I knew that I had something.
Now there are a couple of stories that I --
there are plenty of stories in there.
But a couple of the ones that really bring home the lessons
that we learned, you know, I talk about sacrifice,
and to give you guys an idea, Milton was kind enough to talk
about the things that you can do when you think outside of the box
and you can try and do things because of good parenting,
good education, and good jobs.
Well, everyone knows the story about our family now.
I went to Princeton first, and as my sister tells it,
she knew she was getting into Princeton because I got in,
because she is much smarter than I am.
Can you believe she said -- she says that out in public.
"I'm much smarter than he is."
But it's true, it's true, she is.
I was one of those guys who was -- I wasn't a good student.
I could take tests and do things like that, and I was motivated
because I had to do well in order to play basketball.
So, the story that no one knows is that I was this close
to not going to Princeton.
This close, and I'll tell you why.

In high school I was getting recruited to play basketball,
and the schools that were recruiting me were the University of Texas
at Arlington, University of Washington, which is ironically now
in the Pac-10 which is the Pac-8 by now and I work in the Pac-10
so there's always a little Northwest humor to go with that, and again,
I'll digress for a minute --
the person who hosted me on my recruiting trip at the University
of Washington is the head coach at the University of Washington.

And I haven't beaten him yet, and that really bugs me.
Purdue University and Princeton University.
And as some of you folks might have experienced,
at the kitchen table there's the time you come to decide
where you're going to college.
And I remember it like it was yesterday.
My mom was standing at the sink doing dishes;
my dad was at the table at his spot that he always took.
I was sitting across from him, and my sister was nowhere to be found.
And my father said to me, "Okay, where are you thinking about going?"
And I said, "Well, I've done all the research, I visited three
of the four or five schools, and I think I'm going
to the University of Washington."
And my dad what dads do when you said the wrong thing.

And he did this.
This is what my dad did.
And then he rubbed his chin on his chest like this.
But he was calm.
And then he took a big sigh like this,
and then I knew I had made the wrong decision.

So he said, "Now, why did you pick the University of Washington?"
And I said, "Well, they're in a great conference, the Pac-8.
I think by the time I'm a junior I could be able to play,
maybe even start," and the biggest and most important thing was his,
that it's a free education
because Princeton doesn't give athletic scholarships,
so we would have to pay at the time, of the 13,000, we had to pay 2900
and that -- you might as well have said that was a million bucks to me.
So I said, and it's free, and my dad,
who suffered from MS his entire life --
I mean, I never, ever remembered him not walking without a limp
and it got progressively worse -- said to me, "Well,
if you pick a school based on how much money I have to pay,
I'm going to be very disappointed."
And you can understand what happens in a house when you've got a guy
with MS who gets up every day and goes to work, didn't miss a day.
I mean, I -- maybe he missed five days until he died,
says he'd be disappointed.
The whole house is disappointed.
So, he said think about it, sleep on it,
and let's talk about it tomorrow.
And that's when I did.
I thought about it, and I really did want to go to Princeton.
I knew about the education
and I knew the opportunities it would afford me,
but I didn't think we could afford it.

So the next day we're back at the kitchen table again
and he said, "So, what do you think?"
And I said, well, you know, after listening to what you said,
I really did like Princeton.
"Okay, you can go."
Didn't let me finish.
Did not let me finish.
But that's not the punch line of the story.
The punch line came after he died some 19 years ago when I'm going
through his effects and his bills and stuff and I'm in there
with my mom and we're talking, and I go in his drawer
and there's like 15 credit cards.
Now my parents weren't in debt, to my knowledge.
But my mom shared with me that they paid for our education,
both my sister and me at Princeton University, on credit cards.
Now that's sacrifice.
That's sacrifice.
And that's one of the reasons why I felt like I had to write "A Game
of Character," because not only is that sacrifice, that's teamwork
because they both had to work to pay those bills off,
which is absolutely unheard of now.

There's so many wonderful stories in my life,
I don't know where to start, but another one
of my favorite ones was I was younger.
I was in grammar school,
and my family was a working class family, as I mentioned.
My mom was a stay-at-home mom.
My dad worked for the city.
I had no idea what the value of money was.
And I went to school one day, and a kid came up to me and he said,
"Man" -- we were talking about something --
he said, "Man, I want to know what it's like to be rich like you."
And I thought to myself, rich like me, huh?
I was like oh, well, my dad's got a job and we eat out every now
and then, you know, pizza on Fridays every now and then,
we go to the drive-in and have fun and do what we want to do.
So I was like oh, maybe we are rich.
I was like, I'm going to ask my dad when I get home.
Yeah, you guys laugh.
He wasn't laughing.
I got home, I said, "Hey dad, are we rich?"
And he did what he did when a kid asks something he doesn't
really know.
He was like, hum.
And he did this again, and he said, "What makes you say,
what makes you ask that question?"
And I said, "Well, so and so at school says he wants to be
like us because we're rich."
And he said well, -- and it must have been a Tuesday or Wednesday,
he said, "Well, I'll show I how rich we are
on Friday when I get my paycheck."

So Friday comes, I can't wait.
And my dad cashes his entire paycheck, all right, which,
at the time, was probably like, you know,
it could have been $200, I don't even know.
It may not even have been that much.
And he gets it all in cash and he gets in 20s, 10s, 5s, and ones.
And he says, "Hey, cat" -- he used to call me cat - "come on in here."
And I go in his bedroom and the money was laid out on the bed,
and I said when I walked in, "Holy smokes, we are rich."
And he was like, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold your horses,
you see this stack of envelopes over here?
These are the bills.
You've got to pay the bills."
So I was like oh, great, so by the time we pay this there's still going
to be money left over.
So he pulls out each individual bill, opens it up, shows it to me,
shows how much is owed and takes the actual cash money,
puts it in the envelope, sets it to the side.
And he does this and keeps doing it and keeps doing it, and he's like,
you gotta pay rent, you gotta pay the light bill, which I used to love
because everybody called it the light bill.
Nobody called it the electric bill, it was always the light bill.
And then there's money left over, and finally he says,

"All right now this is what's left over."
I was like, we are rich.
Because that was, you know, it looked like there was
about $42 left, and $42 for a kid, that's a lot of money.
He was like, "All right, hold on.
You gotta buy groceries.
This is how much we spend for groceries."
He put that to the side.
I was like still, that's still 20 bucks.
He said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute,
you like to eat pizza on Friday."
And he shelved that off.
And what I skipped, which is another lesson,
is that before he started paying any bills, he took $10 and he said
that goes into the savings account.
So he did that.
So we're down to about 12, $15 left,
and he says to me, "What do you think?"
I said, "I think you can buy a lot of stuff with $15."
And he said well, what about Little League and all the things you do
and so he absolutely used up every single dollar.
And that lesson has stayed with me my entire life.
First, there's the savings lesson, then there is the value
of a dollar lesson which is so hard to teach people.
And you've got to remember, I was in grammar school when he did this.
The hard work lesson.

But most of all, he asked me what I thought after the fact.
And I do that today with my own kids, with my players,
with anybody I've managed in business.
I ask them what do they think.
And it taught me and it taught my sister how to think.
And that is why I wrote "A Game of Character,"
because it is chock full of lessons like that.

Thank you, thank you, [Applause] In addition, I also included lessons
that I learned from people who were outside of my family
and provided a -- both negative and positive lessons learned
through experiences, so mentors, and teachers, and coaches that I played
for and people I worked with, and I want to leave enough time
to entertain questions, so without any further adieu,
if you have a question, just walk up to the mike, feel free to ask me
about anything except for recruiting.
Yes, sir.
>> Well, coach, I am going to ask you a question about basketball.
>> Okay.
>> You know, Bobby Knight, in '76,
won the championship with a motion offense.
So my question is, do you think a team running an offense predicated
on making mid-range jumpers is going to ever win the tournament?
>> Well, [laughter] that's a very good question.

No, I think that it's possible, but with the advent
of the 35-second shot clock, the three-point line, and cable TV,
kids don't want to have anything to do with the mid-range jump shot.
Now, I happen to have been an aficionado
of the mid-range jump shot, and I'm trying
to teach my players how important that is,
because no one defends the mid-range jump shot anymore,
so it's your best opportunity to have a wide-open shot.
Thanks for the question.
That was terrific.
Yes, sir?
>> It's also about basketball.
>> I see a theme here.
>> What coaches, past or present that we'd be familiar with,
do you admire most for their character?
>> I don't know if you guys all heard that.
The question was, which coaches, past or present, would I look to
and look up to with regard to character.
Well, that's very easy, and I talk about this in "A Game of Character."
The first coach that I ever had was my dad.
So, enough said.
The second coach that I looked up to
from a character standpoint was a guy by the name of Johnnie Gage.
And he was what would now be known as an AAU coach,
so he was a travel team coach.
And at the time I didn't realize that he was only about four
or five years older than we were.
We were 14 and he was 19.
And I tell a story in "A Game of Character"
about a former Indiana basketball player who's from Chicago and played
in the NBA by the name of Isiah Thomas.
I played Biddy Basketball with him, and Johnnie Gage coached us.
And what I learned from Johnnie Gage is
that no one's bigger than the team.
Now it was clear even back then when we were 14 years old
that he was the -- Isiah Thomas was the best player
on the court all the time, and there was one situation
where we had a trip to go to the New Orleans to play
in the National Championships, and the --
how do I want to put this politically correct since I'm
in Washington, D.C. -- his attitude left something to be desired.
And do you know that Johnnie Gage left him in Chicago,
the best player probably in that age range nationally, he left him home.

I learned something that that.
You can't be afraid to discipline your players.
And then I'll end it up with another coach that you guys might know,
Pete Carril, former coach
of Princeton University who I played for.
He was very similar.
He was probably the first coach that I had
that spoke absolutely the truth
out of his mouth every single time, and boy did it hurt.
But I became a better player because of it and because of him.
Thanks. Next question.
>> I'll take off this hat out of respect for Oregon State.
>> Oh, I didn't see, what hat was it?
He's got a Stanford hat that he took off in respect to Oregon State.
And you would have to know,
if he played for me his hat would have been off because he's inside.
[Laughter and Applause]
>> I don't know.
I agree to disagree whether this is in or outside.
>> Just like a Stanford guy, got an answer for everything.
>> I'll defer to your existentialism, I guess.
I walked in actually, this is -- it's more a question about art.
I walked in as you said that you felt like you needed
to write your book because you felt like it needed to be written
and it was almost like you were secondary to that process.
I find myself in kind of a similar situation
and sort of needing advice.
I started something called "Mathalicious" and I'm rewriting all
of the middle school and Algebra 1 curriculum,
and I find myself spending like, you know and 14
so 16 hours every day writing math lessons, and my question for you is,
when you wrote your book, did you feel like (1) you were a conduit
for something else, or whether the product was sort of coming
from inside have you, and (2) did you feel like you sort of had
to step out of the quote unquote real world
to get done what you needed to get done, and almost was that an act
of faith, sort of, and did it even matter whether it ever got read
to you, or was the real product just the act of creating the thing?
>> Wonderful question, all kidding aside.
And first of all, let me -- thanks for being a teacher.
Thank you for being a teacher.
I don't think we thank teachers enough.

Now, I -- the feeling I had before I wrote it was that I wanted
to do this really for someone else, my family.
But once I started, the part that you talked about where I needed
to step away was evident, evident early, early on
and this was a very personal book that I wrote.
I was digging deep and needed help to dig deep,
and probably because I'm like you, have another job,
I felt under the pressure to get it done.

So I went from that sort of conduit mode or step-away mode
into the actual, "I have to write and work on this and finish it
because I'm afraid that I won't" after I got started.
And that - well, I hadn't thought about it as being an act of faith,
it really is, it's faith in yourself,
it's faith in self-confidence, and you've given me another thing
to think about, but it is truly, for me,
I've heard the giving birth terms, since I don't know what that is.

It's truly for me, it was like a marathon that I wanted to finish.
And since I would never run a marathon,
I wanted to make sure I finished this.
Thanks. Over here?

>> Bravo, Mr. Robinson for being here today.
I just want to talk about the value of a dollar.
I pushed the send button on my fourth book this morning
at 1:36 this morning, and then I got the inspiration as I rode
into New York City with my husband at 4:30 this morning,
I could get on a boat bus to get down here today for 20 bucks.
And when you were talking I remembered at the County Fair,
my dad's paycheck was something like a 114 bucks,
he was a hundred yesterday --
deceased, but he was a hundred yesterday -
>> Congratulations.
>> -- and he spent it all on a Snoopy dog for me.
So I just really appreciate it.
I have to get your book
and my husband is a librarian and I'm a new author.
>> Well, thank you, thank you.
The biggest compliment that I get when people read "A Game
of Character," the biggest one I've gotten is that someone e-mailed me
that "A Game of Character" made them a better family member,
and not that they were a bad family member, but they sort of forgot
about family, and you forget about the lessons you've learned
from older folks who have come before you,
so thanks for your story.
Yeah. Yes?
>> Yes, it is only fitting that I come behind a teacher,
and I'm an assistant principal at an elementary school.
>> Okay. Thank you.
>> And we want a shout out for the assistant principals
and administrators of schools, too.
>> Yes, administrators in education, as well, thank you, thank you.
>> My question is being a brother of a famous sister and brother-in-law,
what have been the positives and negatives for you?
>> Well, for me, not much, because I'm not in the fishbowl they're in.
The positive things have been, you know,
really what has been really positive for my immediate family is
that I've seen the children in our family take a real interest
in government, not politics, but government.
That is something that I didn't really achieve
until I was an adult working on my brother-in-law's campaigns.
Secondly, it is really nice for me to be able to take a look
at who goes on here from the inside out
and understand what everyone goes through, not just my brother-in-law,
but what Bush, Clinton, all the people before them,
what they all go through, and it's a tough job no matter what side
you're on.
[Applause] All right we've got time for one more question.

Nobody's there.
It's on you.
>> All right, so, do you ever give your brother-in-law some advice
on his jump shot?
Because it seems like he's been working a lot more
on his golf swing recently.
I expected you'd see him out on the court more.
>> You know, I don't give my brother-in-law advice,
and I'll tell you why.
And I'm on overtime so this has got to be the last story.
Back when he met my sister --
you guys all know that story that my sister had been around my father
and me and asked -- and heard us popping off
about how you can tell a guy's personality
by the way he plays basketball.
So when she met Barack and they -
and it was her first real long-term relationship,
because she fired guys left and right.
Don't tell her I told you that.
So after she'd been dating him a while, she comes to me and says,
"Hey, Barack fashions himself a basketball player,
would you take him out and play with your guys
and see what kind of personality he has?"
And, "I was like no way.
Uh-huh. You do your own dirty work."
She was like, "Oh, come on, you know, I'm your sister, do this."
So finally I acquiesced and I went and watched him play.
And he was perfect.
He was a team player, he was -- for those have you who don't know,
pick up basketball has a lot of integrity and honesty in it --
you have to make your own calls, there are no referees,
you have to give up calls, he did it all perfectly.
The best thing was, though,
that he didn't pass me the ball all the time trying to suck up to me
because he was dating my sister,
because I was clearly the best guy on the court.
[Laughter] So I report back to my sister that everything's good
and everything's fine, and he -- at least from a basketball standpoint,
his character was intact.
But I tried to give him some advice back then.
I was like, dude, be careful.
>> So you're not saying he should move to a man-to-man
or his own defense this fall?
>> No, no, what I tried to tell him was, my sister's a handful,
and he didn't listen to me then, and that was the end of the advice.
Thank you very much, you guys have been terrific.
[Applause ]
>> Craig Robinson.
>> This has been a presentation of the Library of Congress.
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