I’m not quite sure what to think about Nate Robinson and his high-flying dunk act set in the center of New York City. Sure, his eternal struggle to prove his worth and ability is a nightly epic played out on the greatest basketball stage in the world 41 nights a year, but it is just an everlasting reminder of what could have been had some higher-ups had wised up and given the good fans of the Association what they deserved.
Robinson’s basketball dexterity was prominently displayed on a national stage while a member of the Washington Huskies alongside fellow future professional stud Brandon Roy. Starring not only on the hardcourt, Robinson was a significant player for the Washington Huskies’ football program, making a key interception against the Washington State Cougars. His dearth of height garnered Nate national acceptance and praise for his leaping ability and unexpected awesomeness as a surprising combo guard.
Entering the 2005 draft, Robinson’s height played a significant factor in his evaluations despite his otherworldly athleticism and knack for jumping startling heights. He fell into the late first round territory where the miraculous Phoenix Suns waited like a tiger shark in fading light to gobble up the young man from Washington.
Finally, dreams do come true: the fast-break infested Phoenix Suns landing a 5’9” dunking point guard who does nothing better than sprint down the court to finish, usually high above the rim. The perfect counterpoint to Steve Nash, whose speedy, mind-bending decision-making legitimizes Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, he would be the ideal substitute for Nash or play alongside Leandro Barbosa for a venomous combination. The Suns could rest Nash and hardly miss a beat while maintaining the now trademark aptitude to push the ball and land the ball in the bucket in less than seven seconds. Think of Nate as a more outgoing, much shorter version of Jason Richardson.
Then, much to the chagrin of salivating Suns fans, Phoenix traded away Nate to the New York Knicks for old-school big man Kurt Thomas in order to bring stability and solidity to the primarily young lineup. Now a fledgling in the Big Apple, Robinson would struggle to see any major minutes for the moribund franchise. Despite coach Larry Brown’s overt attempts to spoil the majesty that is Nate, he still managed to post near double-digit points after nearly being sent to the Developmental League.
A dismal season under Brown’s tutelage resulted in Knick criminal mastermind Isaiah Thomas taking the reigns from Larry. The next two seasons were more than forgettable; making most Knick fans nearly revoke their fandom of the once proud franchise. While the Knicks thrashed about the pool of inconsequence, Nate steadily improved his game and earned himself a healthy portion of playing time.
Then, despite Isaiah’s effort to save his job, the Knicks decided to let the embattled coach/destroyer-of-all-good go to greener pastures at Florida International University. The search was on for the next coach, or more accurately, the next savior of a fallen franchise splashing in the sea of ineptness. Lucky for New York, the Phoenix Suns had myopically relieved Mike D’Antoni of his coaching duties, leaving him susceptible to the highest bidder.
The Knicks, seizing the golden opportunity lay before their feet, offered D’Antoni a large sum of money to come and rescue the franchise from the fire started by Isaiah. Mike decided the risk/reward was handsome enough for him to be lured from other possible suitors. It is a dream scenario: the largest stage in the world magically combined with the coach with the most exciting and thrilling scheme in the NBA since the Showtime Lakers.
Some see this reuniting of a never was relationship between Robinson and D’Antoni as a mere statistical probability, likely to occur based on pure happenstance. I like to view this as Destiny attempting to redeem itself for mistakes in a previous engagement, pairing the two like Cupid on a shooting spree.
In D’Antoni’s system Robinson would flourish unlike anything he has done before, seeing career highs in minutes, points, assists, and rebounds. Employed as a change-of-pace guard who came off the bench to provide a spark on the offensive side of the ball. Spelling Chris Duhon, Robinson played the same role that Barbosa played on the Suns or Ben Gordon played for the Chicago Bulls. His passing acumen bettered throughout the season, allowing D’Antoni to feel more at ease with leaving Robinson in the game during critical situations.
Since the season ended and Robinson became a free agent, drawing interest from various teams. One such team is the Greek basketball club Olympiakos who have reportedly offered Nate a two-year $20 million deal. This is the same club that stole away Josh Childress from the Association with the promise of an all-expense paid trip to Europe.
But all of this fanfare and near idolization is a direct result of his participation in the Slam-Dunk contests of various seasons. There are three things that men will watch no matter what: battles to the death, things blowing up, and short people dunking. Nate falls into that last category and his leaping exploits have made for heated debate among avid NBA fans. He has single handedly been responsible for rule changes in the contest, his uncountable attempts dragging the contest into near boredom and fury amongst its audience, forcing David Stern to enact some changes and shorten the attempts allotted for each dunk.
His first victory in the contest was generally viewed as unfair, most of the judges more amazed by his ability to jump than his actual dunks. Then Robinson’s newfound dunking rival, Dwight Howard, came and wowed the crowd with his “dunk” whilst wearing a Superman cape and flying through the air at superhuman heights. Accepting the challenge, Robinson would dress in the Knicks ill-fated green uniforms supposedly celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, and call himself kryptoNATE. The gimmick would succeed and the 5’9” Nate Robinson would jump and “clear” Dwight Howard who stood by the basket, kindly playing along to aid in the theatrics of the night.
Robinson represents more than just a high-flying little man who can dunk with the big boys of the league. He represents the underdog in every phase of life. He is the David in a league full of Goliaths, unless we still count Earl Boykins. Continually doubted, which is not likely to stop anytime soon, every game is a stage for Robinson for him to prove his might and strength among players towering over a foot above petite Nate. This pressure sometimes boils over in the form of physical altercations, sometimes among his own teammates. The famous scuffle between the Knicks and Nuggets resulted not only in Carmelo quickly backing away from the fight he started, but with Nate and JR Smith landing in the seats while brawling. Call it a Napoleon complex, but Nate’s efforts to prove himself and assert his place among the men of the Association have made for great theater.