FIRST DIMERS: Corey Robinson

Interview by Brynn Wallner, photos by Cobey Arner 
MAY 2023
           I met Corey Robinson at Sotheby’s when we both worked there in 2019. The exhibition floors of the esteemed auction house are glamorous, decked with Hockneys and Rolex Daytonas – but we operated on the 9th floor, which looks exactly like the set of The Office without the windows. Corey, however, would appear radiant, his good energy and good outfits untainted by the cubicles and 50 shades of beige.

Growing up in a sports household, his dad a legendary NBA Hall of Famer, there’s a sense of discipline instilled in Corey, which is essential to the successful college football career he enjoyed himself. But the discipline doesn’t feel rigid or stifling – rather, it feels like a commitment… To himself and to the greatness of life. Robinson’s appetite for life seems insatiable, in fact. Throughout the span of one day, you can catch him at 30 Rock, where he currently works for NBC, and then you’ll find him at the Met for afternoon coffee (you won’t catch him on social media, though). And then maybe he’ll pop into Lincoln Center to see some opera (incidentally, he just finished writing his first opera). Oh! And he just took up rowing and hopes to represent the United States at the 2028 Olympics. All of this, serenely buoyed by the sounds of Duke Ellington or a Bach cello suite and his grandfather’s Cartier on his wrist.   

Brynn Wallner: What have you been up to since Sotheby’s?

Corey Robinson: I joined NBC, and I've been around the world and back. I got to fulfill a childhood dream of mine to go see the Olympics. I was there in Tokyo, and I was there on sight in Beijing. I am a host and reporter, so I work on whatever they ask me to work on. I've covered everything from curling to the Paralympics to NBC news stuff. I got to interview my dad for the Today Show about his faith.

BW: What’s the most amazing place your work has taken you – besides the Olympics?

CR: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I was there for a Baylor vs. Gonzaga basketball game. The food is delicious. The downtown is very charming. We stayed in a nice boutique hotel, which was converted from a bank. I just fell in love with the area.

BW: Should we all move to Sioux Falls?

CR: Lowkey [laughs]. There are some places that are really cool in that region. It just gets very cold.

BW: You’re from Texas.

CR: Born and raised in San Antonio.

BW: Tell me a little about your upbringing.

CR: My dad played basketball for the Spurs. And… what else do you want to know?

BW: Were you always into fashion? Would you even say that you’re into fashion? You always had the ‘fits at Sotheby’s.

CR: I used to be that kid who looked at Vogue runway and would be like, okay let’s go back and see what the ‘90s were about or what Phoebe Philo did with Chloé in the early 2000s. And I lived in thrift stores, all around random small towns and here in New York. But that’s just not how I see style anymore. Now, my take on style is this: what do I want to live in?

BW: Looking for comfort?

CR: I love cartoon characters and style – 95% of the time, they’re in the same outfit. I want to become a cartoon character in that sense [laughs].

BW: Like the Simpsons.

CR: I grew up loving the Simpsons. What is my cartoon character outfit that I can live in? I got my Wranglers, I got my Stetson, I got my little Pendleton wrap, I got my Stan Smith’s. These $24 Wranglers are way better than anything I've ever bought. Everyday I get stoked – I have my pour over coffee, maybe a cup of Yorkshire tea and I put on my Wranglers and think, this is amazing.

BW: Being a cartoon character is a better way of putting it than “uniform dressing.”

CR: It’s not a uniform because it’s not work. This is my life. My life is to go watch sports, talk about sports, to look at art, hang out with artists and support them. I want to have clothes that I can live in and do all of those things. I wear my Wranglers to 30 Rock. I go on TV with my Wranglers. I’m courtside, calling a basketball game with my scarf on… Same outfit I wear to the studio in Connecticut. I will travel on the road, and I’ll be on the football field sidelines, and the Stetson will be there.

BW: You’ve got your basics.

CR: Everything that I wear… It's very simple. I have my grandfather’s watch and my dad’s vintage coats and the Wranglers. I went through my dad’s closet and found this formal stuff from when he attended the Naval Academy in 1983, and it all has his name on it. Freshman year, 1983, David Robinson. I have his peacoats from college and they’re all in mint condition. I used to go to downtown New York and buy army jackets, but now I have my dad’s, which he wore during a USO trip in Afghanistan to support the troops. And he's only worn it once in the mid 2000s, and it says Robinson USO on it.

BW: So, tell me about your grandpa’s watch.

CR: My parents gave it to my grandpa for his 70th birthday. It’s a Cartier Roadster. I love watches and went on this whole watch journey at Sotheby’s – I’d spend a lot of time at watch auctions learning about the game. And I was thinking, what is my watch? Do I want an F.P. Journe, do I want a Patek Philippe? Do I want something like an Omega or a Rolex? …But I have a hot take.

BW: I’m ready.

CR: I think watches or jewelry should be given to you. They have to be earned or gifted. I don’t think you should buy these items for yourself. I was thinking about buying a watch, and then the Roadster was given to me after my grandpa passed. So, that’s why I wear it everyday. Because it was given to me. I feel the same way about my rings. The only ones that I have are my class ring from Notre Dame and then my monogram ring, which is when you play football, you’re a “monogram athlete,” you “letter” – that’s the only way you can buy it. That’s kind of hot.

BW: You earned it. So what have you got going on lately?

CR: I’m training for the Olympics right now. I’m trying to go row in LA, 2028. I just started rowing in January, I had never rowed before.

BW: What? And you’ve got Olympic aspirations?!

CR: Yeah, yeah. It's funny – rowing is more of a body type thing. So, I’m 6’4” and a half, I have long arms. If you have the build, they can teach you the technique and you can get really good really fast. There’s this woman, Meghan O’Leary, who’s a two-time Olympian. She played volleyball and softball in college and didn't row until her late 20s. And she made it. I’m 27. You know, there’s a path. It’s not impossible.

BW: I love that.

CR: I just started rowing with the New York Athletic Club. It’s my first season. And I wear the watch to practice. I never take it off.

BW: On the erg.

CR: I’m on the erg in my Cartier Roadster [laughs]. I’m at the Whitney in my Cartier Roadster. I’m on TV in 30 Rock in the NBC Studios with my Cartier Roadster.

BW: You’re always repping gramps. And I love that you’re starting to row now because I think our culture puts a lot of emphasis on youth. Like, you can only do this when you’re young. And the rest of your life is determined by what you did when you were younger. But you’re starting something totally fresh.

CR: So, with sports… I played college football at Notre Dame. I come from a sports family. One thing you realize when you retire is that the book is written. You can't add anything. Like, I can't play football again. It's a kind of death – an interesting death. Now, it feels like a rebirth of sorts, to be able to breathe life into a new discipline and to compete again. It’s almost like I’m writing a new book, which I think is a very fascinating way to think about life.

BW: A new book. Not a new chapter.

CR: Life is made of different books instead of different chapters in the same book. It’s about being okay with saying that one book is closed. And, you know, I can go back and read that book and enjoy parts of it. But there’s a new book being written, and that gives me much more hope. Football took me around the world. I got to study abroad in Morocco and Israel and South Africa, and I got to play in major stadiums. Freshman year, I got to play in the Big House at University of Michigan, and at the time, it broke the record for the largest attendance in college football. 115,000 people under the lights. That book is finished. Who knows where this rowing thing can take me?

BW: I’m excited to read your new book.

CR: It’s not out yet [laughs].

BW: Well, you got the advance. So, when did you move to New York?

CR: Right after graduation.

BW: You went from Texas to Notre Dame.

CR: South Bend, Indiana! I love the Midwest. It’s amazing.

BW: What do you like about it?

CR: I love the thunderstorms. I love the seasons. Nothing beats Indiana in the summertime, when I had to take classes and do training. All my memories from the summer there are playing beach volleyball under the lights on campus, and the sun doesn't go down until 9:45 pm. Longboarding by the lakes every day, eating Chipotle, taking naps under trees, reading philosophy… Plato. And then you’d watch the thunderstorms roll in.

BW: Sounds very cinematic.

CR: It was.

BW: So then you graduated and moved to New York? What did you do?

CR: I was an intern at Gagosian in the fall of 2017 and then I got a job at Sotheby’s.

BW: When did you leave Sotheby’s? I left right as New York shut down for the pandemic…

CR: I accepted a job with NBC January 2020. 

BW: So it was all remote all of a sudden?

CR: My first two Olympics… there were COVID restrictions and no fans, which is apparently not how Olympics are supposed to be [laughs]. But that’s all I know. It was very strange. My first events were in empty stadiums. I’d be interviewing coaches and players and there’d be no fans. It’s an interesting way to learn a craft.

BW: So you live in Queens now. Have you lived in Queens for your entire New York life?

CR: No, I've bounced around Manhattan. Uptown, downtown. But I just settled in Queens. I love Queens. You know, Louis Armstrong… His house was in Corona. If it’s good enough for Louis…

BW: Amen.

CR: There’s so much great art there. It’s so low key. The food is delicious. It just feels like home.

BW: Do you ever dream about going back to Texas? Could you see yourself living anywhere but New York?

CR: [shakes head] I love New York. The thing is, I'm interested in a lot of different things. Before, when I lived in Texas, we’d take trips to Broadway, and that would be our vacation. But now I can just go to Broadway! I can go to the Opera. I love the Opera, so I’ll go after work. And the dance companies here are amazing… I can just go watch world class dance whenever I want. The jazz is amazing. I can go see Wynton Marsalis anytime. I’m involved with the Whitney, I can go there and be a part of that family. And I can go to 30 Rock and be a part of that world. It’s just hard for me to replace all of that.

BW: You can go and occupy all of those spaces within the span of a day.

CR: I remember reading about Paris, you know, in the Gertrude Stein era. All these artists would go to the museum as if it were part of their daily routine. And that was shocking for me. We didn’t grow up collecting art or going to a lot of museums. It was always a trip... You go to Paris and see the Louvre. And then you don’t go to a museum for another 6 months. You go to the Met for 6 hours and then you don’t go again until the next school trip. But Picasso just wandered around museums everyday, and that really inspired me. So that's kind of what I've done is, like, incorporate that into my wellness routine. I gotta live like an artist, man. I live in New York.

BW: And here we are. At the Met.

CR: I got a membership to the Met. I come here three or four times a week and have coffee here, read here. Even if it’s only for 30 minutes. Just to look at two or three masterpieces…  I remember reading an article about Ernest Hemingway in The New Yorker and he was like, okay we gotta see these three pictures at the Met. It’s amazing to me that I get to experience that every day. And then I can go to Madison Square Garden and go to the opera. There’s only one place where you can do that, and it’s New York.

BW: I'm glad that you're really relishing New York City. Not many of us are tourists in our own city.

CR: Well, I don’t have a very big apartment. So the Met has become my living room.

BW: That’s what your mom said right?

CR: My mom thinks I’m a docent [laughs]. It’s funny, I’ll walk around and notice that they changed a room. The hanging is different! Where’s that painting? It’s on loan?! That relationship with art… well, one, I can’t afford all this work. So it’s nice to have a living room with all of it, all these Monets. And it really changes the way you think about art.

BW: How so?

CR: To live among masterpieces... to live around them and have them speak over time and to sit with them, become intimate with them, is a very powerful thing. And it’s changed my life. That has seeped into the rest of my life. I want to only watch great movies. So I got the Criterion Collection. I want to listen to great music. So, I’m only listening to Bach’s cello suites. Only bangers. Eternal bangers. John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Great albums… Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace. So now, my whole world is just masterpieces.

BW: You seem like you’re levitating a little bit.

CR: Well, I'm interested in enrichment, you know. And this goes back to style… It doesn’t have to be expensive. Listening to Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace doesn’t break the bank or cost a million dollars. It’s free on YouTube. Yet, it can elevate everything. And that’s how I feel about the tea I bought recently…. I did the math and it breaks down to 14 cents per cup, and it’s sourced from a small region in China. This is world class for 14 cents a cup! And I'm listening to Bach’s cello suites on YouTube for free, and I go to the Met with my year membership. Every visit costs pennies when you break it down… I’m living masterpieces for very cheap.

BW: In your $24 Wranglers…

CR: Masterpiece! I realized enrichment is not expensive. And you can live in that world and invite others into it.

BW: I get caught up in the luxury space... People are always saying that they bought a watch because of me, and sometimes it feels like it’s so mired in consumerism, and I’m like, what am I really promoting? But even though I look at watches all day, I don’t really own many of them. I appreciate them for their history and craftsmanship… people sitting in a workshop spending hours on one object that somebody can wear for the rest of their life and pass onto their kids. It’s art, in that sense. You can just appreciate it, and you don’t have to own it all. We’re so obsessed with ownership. But you don’t have to own it to enjoy it.

CR: It’s funny that you say that. I just started collecting art. Before, I was like, I want to have a great art collection. But as I’ve matured – and because I’ve spent so much time at the Met – I realized that I’d much rather support artists and support the creation of work than own work. I’d much rather get a museum membership and live at the Met or the Whitney. I want to be a collector who gives everything away, who doesn’t actually have a collection. There’s a real sense of humility there. You can’t brag about it. I go home, and there’s nothing on my walls. If I buy a piece, it goes straight to a museum. It’s collecting without ownership – operating at an elite level for communal enrichment. There is great humility that I've learned in that practice, but also it's been far more rewarding than if I had all this incredible art just in my apartment.