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When Dad made observations about how players revealed different parts of their personalities on the court, the point wasn't for me to agree wholesale with every opinion. Instead, he was encouraging me to do what both he and Mom wanted their kids to remember throughout life—to think for ourselves and come to our own conclusions. This was obviously great training for the basketball player and future coach in me; learning to see the subtleties in the code of ethics that different individuals brought to their game—whatever game it happened to be—would have other valuable applications along the way. I learned to see how certain players could be horribly selfish—and, in spite of certain skills, were not guys you wanted on your team—or how others were phonies and would keep up a front, only to undermine the team when the going got tough. On the flip side, I learned to spot the characteristics of players who could play well and who could raise everybody else's game around them. I developed my own theory about the spectrum that ran from those who played merely to have fun all the way to the other side, where you would encounter players who had to win at any cost.
"Remember, Craig," Dad told me on one occasion when I was disappointed a teammate had let me down during a game," not everybody can do everything." That would be a recurring theme. Sometimes the guy with the most character couldn't shoot to save his life but was the ideal captain. Sometimes the star shooter who could hit the three-pointers from anywhere on the court was a ball hog and couldn't be relied upon to pass the ball when the pressure was on. This conversation also yielded the conclusion that it is usually as games wear on, when players are fatigued and have been in the trenches for a while, that their true colors really show.
Growing up, Michelle wasn't in on the details of these discussions. But given our proximity in small quarters and as a tight-knit family, through osmosis she must have just absorbed the notion Dad and I had embraced that you can tell a man's character through the game of basketball. Or at least that's what I suspected when she came to me with a very odd request several months after she had started dating one young man by the name of Barack Obama.
As I stood there in the darkness at the Denver Convention Center that momentous August night, thinking back to Michelle's request eighteen years earlier, circa 1990, I can honestly say that there was nothing about this very bright, handsome, poised new beau of my sister's that bespoke of some auspicious destiny. But let me quickly add that judging others based on what or who they might grow up to be was not the Marian and Fraser Robinson way. We were taught to recognize others for who they were, not for who they could become in the future or who their pedigree or résumé presented them as. At both college and graduate school—not to mention in earlier stints as a professional ballplayer and as an investment banker before changing course to pursue my true dream of being a coach—I'd met plenty of guys with impressive pedigrees and CVs whom I would have never considered worthy of my sister. So I wasn't looking for her to date someone who could become president of the United States of America or who would provide for her in material or impressive ways. I wasn't worried about that. Whatever she decided to do, Miche could provide for herself and forge her own future. What I wanted for Michelle was what our parents had and what I would later find in my second marriage, when I met Kelly—to be in a partnership with an ability to provide for each other, to build a home and family together. What mattered most of all was that they loved each other and had similar values and aspirations, could balance decisions with teamwork, develop the ability to compromise—and every attribute of marriage that makes a relationship a great relationship.