A Tribute to Nate Robinson

Nate Robinson will be missed in Chicago
Nate Robinson will be missed in Chicago

I must admit that I was not a supporter initially. I thought bringing in Nate, even on a one year, non guaranteed veterans minimum contract, was a huge mistake for a team that prides itself on toughness and defense. Nate’s reputation as a chucker and a poor defender made me afraid that he would be sent to the dungeon at the end of the bench to be cellmates with Vladimir Radmanovic. I knew that the Bulls didn’t have a shot at really contending with Rose likely to miss most of (and eventually all of) the season, but I still thought they could be a competitive group, and I hoped they would sign someone taller than 5’9″ to play backup point guard considering the fill in at starter was Kirk Hinrich, a guy who had a nice prime during the Bush administration. Had this blog existed in the summer of 2012, I would have written a 1,500 word post about why I hated the signing and likely would have used the phrase “incredibly fucking stupid” three or four times, depending on how much coffee I had slammed in the morning.

But I was very wrong in my assessment of Nate Robinson. The truth is that I had not spend much time watching the former Husky play. Probably the longest stretch of time I’d ever seen him on a basketball court was when he was squaring off against Dwight in a dunk contest. The truth is that Nate, while obviously a limited player defensively, has always been efficient on the offensive end and has seen his abilities as a playmaker grow with age. Nate played 51 games for a forgettable Warriors team in 2011-12, but it was a season of great growth for Robinson who averaged 4.5 dimes a game, more than double his average from the previous season.

NateRob had a career year last year with the Bulls. He appeared in all 82 regular season games for Chicago, playing extensive minutes in the 22 games that Hinrich missed due to injury. He had by far his most efficient season shooting the ball, averaging 13.1 points a game on 43%/40%/80%  FG/3pt/FT attempts. In 2009, Robinson averaged an insane 17 points a game, his career best, but it came on an equally insane 14 FGA a game for a Knicks team that was beyond terrible. Robinson saw his turnovers bump up to a slightly frightening 1.8 per game, but this is to be expected when a huge ball handling burden is placed on a guy who needs to stand on his tip-toes when waiting in line for roller coasters.

And for all the ill advised heat check threes and defensive lapses, Nate’s brief Bulls tenure will forever be remembered by one night:

I was in Israel from January through the Conference Finals, eight hours ahead of local Chicago time. I only watched two Bulls games the entire time I was gone because I wasn’t too interested on staying up till 4AM to watch the Bulls slog through the Eastern Conference. The first game I saw was a Sunday matinee against the Lakers. It was a Bulls loss, a game they should have won but just didn’t have enough juice to stay in. The other game was the Nate Robinson Game. In the locker room between the third and fourth quarters it seems as though Jesus, Buddha, Vishnu, and the rest of the gang bestowed magical powers upon Nate. In a series in which the Nets had the three best players (Noah is better than Lopez when he has two feet), the Bulls had no business hanging around. But thanks to some gritty defense and PJ Carlesimo doing PJ Carlesimo things, the Bulls advanced to the second round for the right to be slaughtered by Miami.

I’ll never forget watching the final quarter and the ensuing three overtimes as Nate simply could not miss a shot. I really think he was trying to miss at times but the ball just wouldn’t allow it to happen. The really spectacular thing was how Nate improved as the crazy run extended. While at first he was only looking for a sliver of light to throw up a shot, Nate adjusted to the defensive attention he was garnering and through some awesome passes to cutting Bulls when Brooklyn was slow or lazy on a double team. Fellow DRaT contributor Jake Weiner had mono during the wild triple OT game and credits Nate for temporarily curing his infected spleen. Fucking magical.

Nate’s two year, $4 million deal with the Nuggets is well deserved. I was able to see one Bulls game in person this year, a matinee against Charlotte on New Years Eve that was probably the worst game of basketball I had ever seen. The Bulls played horribly and resorted to hack-a-Biyombo midway through the fourth. Not a game I’m going to be telling my grandkids about. But something that struck me was how the Bulls warmed up before the game. I arrived to the arena really early with my Uncle and ten year old cousin to try and score some autographs. While the entire team kind of messed around in lay up lines and launched threes on one end of the floor, Nate stood at the other end of the court alone, working on his midrange and three point shooting from the corner. He seemed locked in and ready to compete in a game that, in all honesty, the other 23 guys probably didn’t give a shit about. And just before the teams needed to clear the floor before introductions, Nate grabbed several kids from the crowd and signed as many autographs as he could.

I wish Nate nothing but success in Denver, and wherever else his strange ride through the NBA takes him. As a member of the 5’9″ club myself, it’s mesmerizing to see someone go toe-to-toe with some of the best athletes in the world, several of whom are a full foot taller than him. As ESPN’s Kevin Pelton likes to tweet during those special moments when Robinson is just fucking feeling it, Naters gonna Nate.


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