GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Craig Robinson was in his office with the Milwaukee Bucks one day this July when Knicks President Steve Mills phoned him.
Mills and Robinson, Michelle Obama's brother and Barack Obama's brother-in-law, had been teammates at Princeton for two years and both graduated with degrees in sociology.
On this day, Mills, who had recently taken over the reins of the Knicks after Phil Jackson was fired by owner Jim Dolan, was calling to offer Robinson a new job as as vice president of player development and G League operations.
"Hey, I have the perfect job for you," Mills told his old teammate.
The problem was, Robinson and his wife, Kelly, had just closed on their house in Milwaukee and their sons, Austin, 7, and Aaron, 5, were about to start school, so he balked.
"Steve, I don't think I'll be able to do it this year," Robinson said from his office with the Bucks. "No, you've got to hear this," Mills insisted.
"And then once he described the job, I was like, oh, man, I better tell my wife about this," Robinson, 55, said this week at the Knicks facility with a broad smile that resembles that of his younger sister. He ultimately took the job and moved to New York without his family, who remain in Milwaukee. They will decide their next step as far as where to live as a family after this season.
Robinson was introduced in August as part of a new wave of post-Jackson hirings by Mills and new GM Scott Perry that also included Gerald Madkins as assistant general manager, Harold Ellis as director of player personnel, Michael Arcieri as director of basketball strategy, and Fred Cofield as a scout.
"Last month, the day after I was hired, I started a full evaluation of the entire basketball operations staff," Perry said then in a statement. "My first goal was to build-up the highest level front office in the NBA. We are adding a host of highly-regarded and respected basketball people to work with the Knicks to fortify the franchise for years to come."
Robinson had served as the head coach at Brown University and Oregon State for a combined eight seasons, compiling a 124-133 record. After getting fired in 2014, he worked as a college basketball analyst for ESPN before taking a job in the Bucks front office in 2016.
"I worked for the Milwaukee Bucks," Robinson said. "Prior to that I was doing what you guys were doing, I was working on TV. So I had really no inclination to work in the NBA. I thought eventually I'd either go back to college basketball or stay with TV."
Though he has just begun, Robinson seems to be relishing his new role, which included advising the Westchester Knicks during the recent G League draft. (The league was formerly known as the NBA D-League but is now called the G League because it is sponsored by Gatorade).
"I started out in corporate America working in investment banking, so I've got an MBA," Robinson said. "So what this position allows me to do is to marry the two things that I actually have experience doing, business and basketball, and it's a real refreshing feeling to be able to use all the tools you kind of put in your tool kit during your life and then you get to use them all in one place, not just part of them."
As for how he described his new position, Robinson said his role is focused on player development. "What Steve and Scott and the folks here at the Knicks believe is that the overall development of players is as important as anything else in the organization," Robinson said. "That's what made this really attractive for me because you've got somebody who sort of sees the world the way that I see it and they'd like me to be the architect of it so I'm really excited about that part.
"The other thing is that both Steve and Scott and ownership here, Mr. Dolan, they're all about the off-the-court development of these players. If I had to be the poster child for something that would be it because all of these guys are going to have more non-basketball life than they are going to have basketball life and if they're prepared for that, even if they're ex-NBA players, it's exactly what we should be doing."
Allan Houston, the formers Knicks star who is now the GM for for the Knicks' G League team, the Westchester Knicks, says Robinson can be an invaluable resource for not only the young players on the team, but his colleagues as well.
"Having someone like Craig, when players can talk with him and sit with him and know that he can have that perspective, I think it's very beneficial to a lot of guys," Houston said. "I know if I was a player, I'd take advantage of it."
"Craig brings a lot," he added. "I just enjoy talking to him about life, about basketball, leadership. He has just a wealth of knowledge, from his banking background to coaching to seeing a lot of the players at a younger age, being able to recruit them and seeing how they developed, he has a lot of perspective on what we're doing and developing, not just for basketball but developing the whole person. And I think that's one of the things that Steve has always been adamant about, Scott has been really vocal about."
With the Knicks in a rebuilding mode following the trade of Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City in September, Robinson believes the development of the players on the Westchester Knicks could also facilitate the big club.
"We want to develop guys who are good enough to move over to the big Knicks, but we also want to be an organization that helps the current Knicks when they need some players to come over -- we're trying not to use the term "down" -- and get some run either in a rehabilitation standpoint or if they're not playing much over here [with the Knicks], they can come over and get some run with us over there," he said.
Being a former college coach also gives Robinson insights into many of the players on the Westchester Knicks roster, even if he was never able to recruit the likes of an Isaiah Hicks (North Carolina), Nigel Hayes (Wisconsin) or Trey Burke (Michigan) to Brown or Oregon State.
"It's highly improbable," he joked of his chances of recruiting those players. "I would've tried to begin with and then if I didn't get on the list, I would've moved on."
"I always thought I could evaluate talent," he added. "The fact that I've looked at high school and college players for the last 16 years probably at least gives me the right to put it on my resume, so I don't know how good I'll be at. I also think the two years working in TV helps a lot because when you're recruiting you only recruit the guys that you have a chance of getting. You can't recruit the No. 1 guy in the nation, he's not going to come to Brown University or Northwestern or Oregon State. But now you get a chance to look at everybody and that's a cool thing to sort of be dealing in the best of the best."
With college basketball now in the headlines due to the recent FBI investigation into bribery in college basketball, Robinson was asked his thoughts on the current state of the game at that level. Asked if he was surprised that high school recruits had allegedly been paid to attend certain colleges, including the allegations that an Adidas representative conspired to pay Brian Bowen's family $100,000 in exchange for him attending Louisville and signing with Adidas upon turning pro, Robinson said he wasn't shocked.
"If you're in college basketball, you know what's going on so I wasn't surprised," he said. "And I was beyond disappointed because once you realize that's going on you're disappointed in it but understand that some people do business that way. So it will be interesting to see how it all works out, I'll leave it at that."
Robinson even joked that some high school players were allegedly getting paid more to attend certain colleges than pro players were making in the G League. Several players in the FBI complaint were allegedly offered $100,000 or $150,000 to attend specific colleges, whereas G League players earn one of two salaries-$19,500 or $26,000-for the six-month D-League season. Meantime, Americans, or other players, who compete in top leagues overseas can earn six- or even seven-figure salaries.
"Well if you're reading what's going on in the paper, they're getting paid more from going to college" than the G League, Robinson joked.
Asked if he was glad to be in the professional ranks while this scandal taints college basketball, Robinson said, "No, because I would be the guy who could sleep at night because that's the best thing about not being in that situation."
All of this, of course, begs the question of whether someone like Bowen, who is currently restricted from practicing at Louisville due to the school's own internal decision following the FBI investigation and the firing of coach Rick Pitino, could instead enter the G League and get paid this year. Or whether any high school player who wanted to skip college and pursue the professional route would pursue the G League.
"I think people just want an opportunity," Robinson said. "It feels like to me that guys who have the chance of being in the NBA want to find the path of least resistance. And that could end up being the G League. And I don't mean that in a negative way. When you think about players who are one-and-done, does it really make sense to risk your future on nine months [in college] health-wise or perception-wise when you could actually be coming to a place like Westchester and developing into an NBA player."
Houston also said he wasn't surprised by the bribery scandal and hoped that it could somehow turn out to benefit the G League.
"It will be interesting to see how it plays and hopefully the timing is advantageous to us in that maybe this league can be something that helps, another resource that provides some development," Houston said. "Whatever happens with the [NBA] age limit, I still think this league should be a grounds for development and that's what our goal is to be."
As for whether Barack and Michelle Obama will ever turn up at the Westchester County Center to support Robinson and his team, he left the door open.
"Man, put it this way, if we win enough games, they'll come," he said.
"That's even more incentive for our guys, hopefully," Houston added with a smile.