Catching Up with Nate Robinson

By Bryan Crawford #26

Kyrie Irving’s Uncle Drew character haw grown in popularity since Pepsi introduced the All-Star’s geriatric alter ego five years ago. After several wildly entertaining commercials, doubling as short films, which tells the story of Uncle Drew getting his old teammates back together for one last run—taking a page right out of the cult classic movie The Blues Brothers—the end result is a full-length feature film that is sure to be a hit in theaters this Friday (June 29). Joining Irving on the big screen will be a host of former basketball legends and superstars, such as WNBA great and Lisa Leslie, as well as Shaquille O’Neal, who is no stranger to acting, Reggie Miller, Chris Webber and Nate Robinson.

While Leslie, O’Neal, Webber and Miller are new to the Uncle Drew franchise, Robinson has been around almost since the beginning. Appearing in Chapter 3 of the Uncle Drew commercial series as the character “Lights Out”—now played by Reggie Miller in the movie—the Seattle native and only three-time Slam Dunk champ will make his movie debut playing a character named “Boots” who uses a wheelchair to get around when he isn’t playing basketball and is unstoppable on the court when he slips on the Converse Chuck Taylors he wore in his heyday playing alongside Uncle Drew.

Nate Robinson sat down with HOOP to talk about the Uncle Drew Movie, acting, his love for basketball and football, and how he keeps busy.

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

You’ve been part of the Uncle Drew franchise for five years. How did that come about?

This is a funny story. When I saw the commercial, I was playing in Chicago for the Bulls and we were playing the Cavaliers in Cleveland one night and Kyrie was at the free throw line and I said, “Bro, I watched the commercial. I need to be the next character. Wassup?” He looked at me and said, “Are you serious? You for real?” and I told him I was dead serious.

The next time we played them was in Chicago and we were both sitting down waiting to check into the game and I said, “Bro, I’m serious about being in the commercial,” and he looked at me again and said, “Are you really serious about it?” and I told him, “I’m your guy. I’m the one that’s going to be ready to act and do whatever you guys need me to do.”

Not long after that, he DM’ed me on Twitter and told me that I got the gig and we were going to meet up later in the summer, and we did. Now I’m going from commercials to movies and it’s just a blessing. Kyrie kept his word like he said and now we’re out here promoting it and getting ready for it to drop June 29.

How different is it shooting a commercial as opposed to a movie? Or is it kind of the same?

It’s kind of the same. The only difference is the movie is way longer and much more fun. When we were filming the commercials, that was just for three minutes. This was for almost two hours with real acting where people can see characters develop. The commercials were awesome, too, though. We had a lot of fun shooting those and it gave me a chance to see why Martin Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith—the greats—have so much fun doing this. It’s challenging, but a lot of fun at the end of the day.

You were always a player who let their personality out on the court. Does this movie give people a chance to see another side of Nate Robinson and do you feel like you’re a natural actor?

I think I’m pretty funny. I think I can do movies, I would just have to take classes and learn how to get into that element. You know, how Will Smith can cry right when he needs to in a movie, how he gets into that moment?—I think I can get to that. I practiced a lot filming the movie and I had an opportunity to have a lot of great people coaching me, like Charles Stone, the director. He was talking to me and explaining to me how to reach inside and go to places where you felt sad, or you got a gift and were excited. All of those little details when you’re acting makes your performance that much better because you’re bringing what you’re feeling to the screen.

Courtesy Lionsgate

Tell us a little bit about the character you play, Boots.

Boots is basically a quiet guy. He doesn’t say much, which is the opposite of who Nate Robinson really is. So, it’ll be pretty different for people to see me being less vocal, but they’ll still see the flair and the swag that I have. Boots wears the same kicks that he’s been rocking with since day one, an old beat-up pair of Chuck Taylors. He’s definitely an energy guy once he gets his “boots” back and then he turns into a killer on the court.

What was it like being around those other basketball greats and legends like Shaq, C. Webb and Reggie Miller, but in a completely different element like working on a movie?

Wow, man, that was something that you can’t duplicate. It’s kind of hard describing being around these greats, these GOATs. Lisa Leslie…everybody all did a hell of a job acting. But just to sit around and hear them tell their stories in the NBA—like Reggie going up against Michael Jordan, hearing Shaq and Chris Webber argue about the game the Kings lost in the playoffs to the Lakers—it was pretty cool just to hear those stories and them listening to the stories that me and Kyrie had. Kyrie got traded to Boston while we were filming and to see him excited about that was cool. During the two months we filmed the movie, we got to experience a lot being around each other and it was awesome. It’s something I’ll always cherish and take with me and tell my kids about later on down the line. It’s just a blessing, man. God has been tremendous passing these blessings down and I’m just thankful.

You haven’t been in the League in a couple of years. How have you been keeping busy?

I stay busy working out. Hopefully I can get back in the NBA next year. I just want an opportunity to showcase what I can do and show that I can help a team. But if not, I might play overseas. I’ll be playing in the BIG 3 this summer, so I’ve been getting ready for that. I’m going to play in the Drew League. So, I’m still playing basketball. I just hope to get an opportunity to get back in the NBA and showcase what I can do if somebody gives me a chance… Aside from my kids, nothing makes me happier than playing basketball.

You’re also involved in the American Flag Football League, too.

Yeah. That’s coming up July 7-8 in Atlanta. I’m playing with Carlos Boozer, Matt Barnes. Taj Boyd is my quarterback. My guy Kerry Rhodes is playing. Austin Pettis, too. So, we’ve got a little squad.

We know football is your first so love, and even if it is just flag football. How’d it feel getting back on the field?

Man, it’s always good to be able to put on the cleats and go mano a mano against other guys. Hopefully we can win our game and we’ll get to play against the winner of Mike Vick versus Chad Ochocinco’s team. It’s exciting when you get to play against greats like that and be around other competitors from different sports—different GOATs. It’s going to be fun and I’m just blessed that God gave me the opportunity to do other things besides just hoop.

You and Carlos Boozer were teammates in Chicago and you guys grew really close. Now you have a podcast. How fun has that been?

NR: Man, that’s been awesome. Boozer is such a great person, father, role model and mentor. The podcast is easy because we’re just talking basketball and we can give kids and their parents that listen to  our podcast advice, and motivation. We want to inspire them to get out and do some fun stuff. We want to try to help change the world and pay it forward to the next generation. Who knows if someone is listening and they become the next person to make it. Now we can use our voices to help guide them through what we went through and give them a little bit of a key to success. They’ll have a little bit of knowledge on how to prepare themselves for what they’re getting into.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

That 2012-13 Bulls team you played on was a really tight group. You guys had great chemistry and you all genuinely got along and liked each other. Was that one of the better teams you were a part of in your career?

Honestly, it really was. Joakim Noah sent me a text the other day saying, “Bro, I miss the energy from our team.” For that to still be on his mind all these years later, you know it was real. From Kirk Hinrich to Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler, Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton—we had a real squad and it shouldn’t have been broken up. That team was a lot of fun to be around. The whole City of Chicago showed me love and I appreciate everything the city did for me. Every time I put that Chicago Bulls jersey on, it meant the world to me because I got a chance to step on the floor where Michael Jordan made his mark. That was magical for me, man. It was unbelievable. It felt like it was a dream. It didn’t seem real.

The 2013 playoff game against the Brooklyn Nets—three overtimes, you had 34 points, 23 in the fourth quarter. Did you black out in that game?

Nah, man. I can play like that and do that every night if a team gave me an opportunity to. And Chicago gave me a platform to show that I can play at the highest level and be amongst the greats and do my thing. It was fun and my teammates were the ones who really made me play that way. They instilled that confidence in me and it just made it easier to go out, have fun and just hoop.

There was another game in the regular season that year against the Milwaukee Bucks. You got a dunk and afterwards you pointed to Rip [Hamilton] on the bench and said, “I want my money.” What’s the story behind that?

Rip used to always say I wouldn’t get a dunk in the game and I bet him that I would get a dunk before he did. That was the bet throughout the year because Rip had a lot of fastbreaks and he would just lay the ball up. And I’m like all he had to do was just go up and dunk and he’d win the bet. It was a gentleman’s bet…$5. So in the game I just went for it and I dunked it and told him I wanted my money. But it’s good to have teammates that you can have a camaraderie like that with. Little things like that will make you play harder just to prove your teammate wrong.

You’re from Seattle which is known for putting out great basketball players. What’s the hoop scene like up that way?

We try to get the world to see that good basketball players don’t just come from New York, LA or Texas. We’ve got ballers in Seattle, too. We’ve got a couple of solid guys coming up now that people need to be checking for, like Kevin Porter Jr., who’s going to USC next year. He’s going to be treat for everybody in the country to watch. He went to my high school, Rainier Beach—one of the best high schools in the country, where Jamal Crawford, Doug Christie and Dejounte Murray went, too—and and he’s just been killing it since he got there. But just in Seattle alone, we rep for our city and we rep for each other and we do good job of it, on and off the court.