Nate Robinson was one of the NBA most electrifying players, what he lacked in size he made up for it in heart. He always played with a chip on his shoulder, and in many ways he did. Standing just 5-9, he had doubters from the moment he stepped on the floor at the University of Washington. He didn’t let this get in the way of his dream, transforming himself into an NBA draft pick where he had a prodigious career. He averaged 11.0 points for his career and has played for eight different NBA teams. His achievements on the basketball court are well known, but he’s also an accomplished football player. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree as his father is Jacque Robinson, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles. Robinson actually attended UW on a football scholarship, where he played defensive back. He was also a notable two-sport athlete during his sophomore season when he started playing for the Huskies basketball team. He eventually settled on basketball as his main sport, but his love for football never died. Even though he’s in the twilight of his basketball career, his love for football remains constant, he had a try out for The Seattle Seahawks and he’s currently a part of the AFFL, a single elimination flag football tournament where the winning team receives $1 million, with fellow NBA alumni like Matt Barnes and Carlos Boozer.
We recently sat down with Robinson and spoke about his love of football and his time in the NBA.
How did you get into playing football at the University of Washington?
Football was my first love. It was the first sport I gravitated to as a kid. My dad (Jacque Robinson) played football. He was the first man to win the RoseBowl and the Orange Bowl MVP so it was easy for me to follow in his footsteps and attend the University of Washington and keep the bloodline open. I had a decent freshman year. Robinson played I had around 75 tackles, 3 interceptions and 16 deflections in 7 games.
Seattle has given birth to many great basketball players such as Zach LaVine, Jamal Crawford, and Isiah Thomas. What was the basketball scene like growing up?
The basketball scene was competitive everyone wanted to be great. Seattle became a great basketball city. It’s a lot of fishes in this sea called Seattle. People started to open their eyes to our city because we started to produce many athletes. It’s one of the best cities in the world, but we’re overshadowed by major cities. But yeah, we have a lot of players that represent our city well.
What were some of the events that led you to choose basketball full time over football?
During my freshman year, they fired the coach that recruited me. When they fired him, I made my decision to play basketball full time. I wanted to be the best that I can be playing one sport. A lot of people didn’t think I can do it, so that’s another reason why I chose basketball—so I can show people the underdog mentality and the heart that I brought to the game.
After your college career ended the Suns drafted you in 2005, but they traded your draft rights to The Knicks. What was it like playing with guys like Stephon Marbury and your fellow Seattle native Jamal Crawford?
Going there was awesome because Jamal was there. We were the first two players from Rainer Beach High School to be NBA teammates, so that was a big accomplishment for our school and us. Being there with Marbury was cool. Growing up it was always a rivalry between Marbury and Allen Iverson. When I was a kid, my brother loved Marbury and I was team Iverson. We played one-on-one games pretending to be them. When I got to the League and I got to play on the Knicks, I told Marbury that. I then called my brother and told him about how unreal the situation was. I was playing with his favorite player that we grew up watching and I got to see him every day in practice. It was pretty cool to be able to go against a Hall Of Famer in practice. I hope that one day he’s in. It was a blessing for me to come into the League at that time. It felt great to have him mentoring me.
So if you had a vote, you’d put Marbury in the Hall of Fame?
He averaged 22 and 8 for his career. I know he didn’t win a championship, but I know he has to be up there with guys like Iverson. He was unreal.
During your career in New York, you played for some great basketball minds like Isaiah Thomas, Larry Brown and the godfather of small ball, Mike D’Antoni. What did you learn from coaches like them?
It was fun, challenging and very difficult at times, but I got to learn from different coaches and see how they look at the game and how they appreciate the game. It was beautiful to see the different characteristics of each coach. Their knowledge of the game helped me over the years and hopefully I can pass down some of the things that I learned to my kids.
You’re the only three-time Slam Dunk champ. Who are some of your favorite dunkers in today’s game?
It’s so many great dunkers in the game right now: Zach Lavine Aaron Gordon, Donavan Mitchell, Blake Griffin is still out there doing his thing. Terrance Ferguson in OKC has crazy bounce. The game is evolving and changing, everyone has bounce now. It’s fun to watch.
If you put all those guys in a gym who do you think would win in a dunk contest?
I don’t know…it’ll be great just to watch those guys dunk. I saw that Dennis Smith Jr is in the Dunk contest…he’s been tearing down rims. He reminds me of a better version of Steve Francis. He’s going to fun to watch for many years.
In 2013, you had a legendary playoff run with The Bulls. The Brooklyn series went seven games. The visual I still remember from that series is you throwing up on the bench during Game 6 because of the flu. What do you remember from that series?
It went too fast. It was over in the blink of an eye. It didn’t seem real because I dreamed about playing in big moments. I got my opportunity and I seized it. It was unbelievable and a blessing. I thank god for that great run. I had fun and that was the main thing for me—when you have fun, the game becomes beautiful and that’s exactly what happened.
If an NBA team called you today, what can you bring to them?
Wisdom, a lot of energy that the NBA is lacking off the bench. I can bring them that presence, that hard-nosed veteran player that has seen the ups and down, and just to show people that I’ll run with it if I’m given a second chance. I want to rewrite my history and show the world that you should never give up and strive to be great.
During your time away from basketball you had a tryout for the Seattle Seahawks. How did it feel to try out for your hometown team?
That was fun. That was a great opportunity for them to open their house and let me come in and do a mini workout with them. There isn’t a lot of people that can say they worked out for their favorite team. Coach Pete Carroll, the owners and some of the players came down to watch. It was pretty cool—to have people that mean everything to the organization come out and watch me participate in a workout is a great accomplishment.
What did you think about this year’s Super Bowl?
I only wanted the Patriots to win if Brady is retiring this year. If he’s not retiring then I didn’t want Brady to win. It felt special that the Eagles won because they were the first team that drafted my dad. It’s been a while since their last Super Bowl appearance with T.O, and Donavan McNabb. I wanted them to win the Super Bowl that year but unfortunately, McNab had a lot to eat the day before and T.O was yelling at him in the huddle.
What can we expect with The AFFL?
The AFFL is fun to watch, seeing guys like Mike Vick and Chad Ochocinco enjoying playing the game of football. People can actually see them enjoying themselves and competing at a high level against some of the old greats that played before. I’m here to show the world that basketball players can play the game of football. We’re some of the best athletes in the world. I want to show people that we can do both. I’m going to be that living proof.
What do you plan to do with the prize money if your teams win it all?
I don’t want to buy anything. I don’t have anything to buy. I want to show people that I can come back and do it again next year.
What position are you going to play?
I would play a little DB and show them my coverage skills.
What do you think about the return of the XFL?
Man, when my brothers texted me, I didn’t believe him. I had to ask him if he was serious. I loved watching the XFL, the nicknames really stood out to me. I’m excited about it!
If you played for an XFL team, what would your nickname be?
My nickname would be great—”Nate The Great,” something along those lines.
What makes the AFFL special?
What’s great about The AFFL is that I’m a captain and I have a chance to pick my co-captain which is Carlos Boozer, I have Matt Barnes playing with me, I have a lot of basketball guys that has football mentality and a football background. We’re ready to play and ready to win. I know Carlos Boozer is a like a bigger Jimmy Graham—all you have to do is throw him the ball and nobody is going to be able to stop that. Matt Barnes is a tall Randy Moss type of player with a little of Ron Artest attitude. It’s like having Randy Moss as a receiver mixed with Ronnie Lott. I can’t tell who else is going to be on the team, it’s a surprise.