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Nate Robinson: The people’s champion

May 7, 2013, 1:50 PM EDT

Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat - Game One Getty Images

If you only watch the last quarter of NBA playoff games, you have to be asking, “what is not to love about Nate Robinson?”

We love the plucky underdog and Robinson is that — a guy listed at 5-foot-9 who has won the dunk contest twice. A guy leading a Bulls team so banged up they are pretty much ready to pull guys out of the front row and suit them up, past the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the second round of the NBA playoffs. Robinson has been the NBA’s leading fourth quarter scorer these playoffs (he’s combined 82 points and assists in the fourth quarter these playoffs, 20 ahead of Kevin Durant) and the Bulls are still playing because of him.

It’s easy to like him if you’re a fan. He has a big personality; he plays with confidence and his emotions on his sleeve (well, if the NBA allowed sleeves).

The NBA is full of guys it’s hard for fans to relate to — you have to win the genetic lottery to be 6-8 and athletically gifted — but Robinson is a normal sized guy who makes plays among the trees of the Association. Fans eat that up. They relate to Robinson. They want more Robinson. Far more than his coaches ever have.

“God blessed me with a lot of heart and no height, and I’ll take that any day,” Robinson said after the Bulls win Monday. That’s the kind of statement that will win him even more admirers.

Fans (particularly casual fans) have always loved the way he played. They loved him at Ranier Beach High School in Seattle where he was a three-sport star. They loved him at the University of Washington where he was an undersized defensive back on the football team (All Pac-10 Freshman Team)  and an undersized point guard on the basketball team. He had options but wanted to play in the NBA and was drafted in the first round.

He had his hero moments that endeared him to fans in New York. In Boston he was “donkey” to Glen Davis’ “Shrek” and won them Game 5 of the NBA finals in 2010. He’s made fans in Oklahoma City (but coach Scott Brooks buried him on the bench in the playoffs because he had better options). He’s had his moments with Golden State.

And we all remember Nate Robinson, the little guy who won the All-Star Dunk Contest. Twice.

So why has a guy who has averaged 18.3 points per game these playoffs, who has been a fourth quarter beast, bounced around the NBA like a pinball?

Because he doesn’t always play like this.

The incredible confidence that allows Robinson to attack and fearlessly take shots at the end of games is a double-edged sword — when he is 0-15 he is not going to stop shooting. Making them or not, he is going to take bad shots — they thrill the crowd when they are falling, they make coaches reach for the Tums when they don’t. And even when they do.

More than that, his size makes him a defensive liability. Well, his size and the fact Robinson likes to gamble on defense. His style on defense is classic Robinson — his risks mean some amazing steals and plays that thrill the crowd, but also means missed assignments that lead to great shots for the opposition.

Nate giveth and Nate taketh away.

Which is not Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s style. He just has no choice, his roster is so banged up he has to start and play Robinson heavy minutes.

And he has been rewarded — Bulls have been rewarded — with some of the most entertaining basketball in Chicago in a long, long time. When Nate is good, he is very, very good.

Robinson will get rewarded a little this summer — he is an unrestricted free agent and he will get a payday somewhere. There are teams that could use his skillset, his personality.

I think one astute Bulls fan summed it up well on Twitter late Monday night: “I have never loved a player so much I don’t want back on the team next year.”

But they want him on the floor right now. Especially with the game on the line.

  1. aboogy123456 - May 7, 2013 at 1:53 PM

    I don’t see why bulls fans would not want him back. He’s playing the best ball of his career and his playing style seems to fit perfectly for a 6th man on any team. He can provide solid scoring and energy when rose is on the bench for his 10-15 minutes.

    • chitownmatt - May 7, 2013 at 2:40 PM

      Its not that we don’t want him back, but his remarkable play the past few months has earned him a contract that the Bulls simply couldn’t match.

      Assuming we have a healthy Rose, Hinrich and Teague next year; where does Nate really fit in? Do you think he wants to be the number 3 guy and play only 5 or 10 mins every other game?

      But he is just about the ultimate bench sparkler…

      • pudgalvin - May 7, 2013 at 4:52 PM

        Exactly. The bulls are basically going to have to choose between bellinelli (who’s been great the last two games and basically the last half of the season since he’s been healthy) and Robinson. Do you want 4 point guards and one shooting guard or 3 point guards and two traditional 2’s.

      • aboogy123456 - May 7, 2013 at 7:38 PM

        I think you guys are right, but the article made it sound like the bulls wouldn’t want him back because he’s not good enough. I think Hinrich could play the backup 2 guard, and it wouldn’t hurt them because he can play good D. I don’t buy Teague as a backup point guard, I’d rather have robinson and see if Teague gets better. If your a bulls fan would you take Robinson for $3 mill a year? I think that is probably his market and I would probably take that.

    • Chace - May 8, 2013 at 2:50 AM

      As a sensible Bulls fan, I don’t think there is a place for him on this team next year. Hinrich will be back per his conract as will Rose. Meanwhile Nate’s contract is done after this year. If we could get Nate back for around the minimum I would say do it. But most likely some team is gonna offer him more than the minimum after this deceptive playoff run he’s had. Nate’s an awesome player to watch, but he can’t play defense. He can score in bunches sometimes, but you have to take the good with the bad because when he’s bad, he’s awful.

    • @itsChanMann - May 8, 2013 at 4:08 AM

      he would definitely be a great backup PG for Rose, but at the same time, he can go to a 2nd round playoff team and start, where his numbers will be better…

  2. andrewproughcfe - May 7, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    The People’s Champion, and a clutch 4th quarter playoff scorer?

    So basically – an anti-Lebron?

    • thestudiokida - May 7, 2013 at 7:51 PM

      Did you forget about LeBron’s several game winning plays this season? Two shots and at least 3 assists. You’re thinking of 2004-2009 LeBron.

      • gmsingh - May 7, 2013 at 9:17 PM

        How many of those game winning plays were against the Bobcats?

  3. jda247 - May 7, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    I been a fan of Robinson ever since I started watching his youtube webisode’s called State Of Nate. This is not a fair article, it brings up his past ways of chunking up shots. Nate Robinson has grown as a player just like JR Smith(not the JR from the last three games). I believe Coach Thibodeau is part of that help, and also Nate has worked very hard during the off-season to better his craft as a professional basketball player. All in all I hate when someone gives a person an insult and a compliment. Not fair. Nate is balling and I wish him and the bulls continued success.

    • jaerba - May 7, 2013 at 3:05 PM

      I think he’s improved, but he still has a fair amount of cringe-worthy moments. It’s like what Pop said about Manu, only 5-10x each game.

      That fast break last night when he tried to go 1v4 and got easily blocked (because he was the only Bull within 20 feet of the basket.) I think every Bulls fan’s blood pressure jumped 20pts after that play.

  4. rodge1 - May 7, 2013 at 2:05 PM


    Anti-LeBron?… Did you not watch last year’s Finals?… Did you miss when LeBron buried the Bulls 2 seasons ago with D Rose?… Don’t get ahead of yourself after 1 (well-deserved) win, this series has just started.

    • 22goat22 - May 7, 2013 at 2:32 PM

      @rodge1 how did Lebron BURY the Bulls 2 years ago? That series was 4 games that came down to the wire and 1 blow out in game 1 which the Bulls won. Do you watch the games or check the almanac a couple years later to get the final result and half the story?

      The Bulls are the first adversity the Heat have seen since the Boston series last year. If you recall Boston beat them into the ground before they ran out of gas. Happens to old people you know.

      So dont get ahead of YOURSELF. Nobody plays the Heat like the Bulls. They may not win the series. But it will be a war

    • andrewproughcfe - May 7, 2013 at 3:25 PM

      >”@andrewproughcfe – Anti-LeBron?… Did you not watch last year’s Finals?”

      Sure I did. And the 2011 finals disappearance against the Mavs. And the 2010 conference finals meltdown against the Celtics. And the 2009 meltdown against the Magic. And the 2007 sweep by the Spurs….

  5. biasedhomer - May 7, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    The question is not do the Bulls want him back, its does Nate want the Bulls?

    I know he said he likes being in Chicago and all, but if some other team offers him a better contract, he would be wise to take it. This is his career, his job (for possibly the next 6-8 years), and he’s no superstar that will land a max contract.

    • gmsingh - May 7, 2013 at 3:04 PM

      You might want to listen to his comment regarding playing on the Bulls vs. other teams. If what he says is true money won’t be the major factor.

      • therealhtj - May 7, 2013 at 4:46 PM

        Why wouldn’t it be? Why is it always a Nate Robinson who has to take a discount when the Rose’s, CP3’s, Howard’s, Kobe’s et al settle for nothing less than Max Money/Max Years? Those guys have shoe contracts that make them more money than a good rotation player sees in an entire career, but it’s always the rotation player who’s expected to take less money to come to a contender. Outside of Lebron/Bosh giving back a few dollars while still getting 6 year guaranteed deals, none of these so-called superstars has budged an inch off their max contract demands.

        In an era where the CBA makes it increasingly difficult to field a top-to-bottom quality roster, the true superstars will be the ones who give up a few dollars in the interest of championships.

  6. kb2408 - May 7, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    @rodge1, Miami will “probably” still win this series, but not only did we watch last year’s Finals we also watched LeBron get toasted by Dallas and come up short, and we watched him wet the bed and walk around in a daze against Boston. It’s funny how his fans conveniently forget all that. LeBron has come up short in the spotlight more times than he has come out on top. That’s why, imo, he will never be comparable to MJ.

    • louhudson23 - May 7, 2013 at 2:27 PM

      Hard to disagree with the recitation,but…we shall see….the Heat are clearly the class of the league based on the rest of the teams futile record against ….them…failure to win it all will be regarded as just that…failure….however,if they do win it all,well,Trophy’s talk in a way that no amount of stats or contract dollars can…

  7. sdelmonte - May 7, 2013 at 2:22 PM

    He’s one of those guys we loved to bits in NYC but knew that wouldn’t get us to the next level. And someone I think a lot of us are happy to see doing well even now.

  8. chitownmatt - May 7, 2013 at 2:25 PM

    Nate missed a Triple-Double last night by just 1 assist and 3 stitches…lol!

  9. fnc111 - May 7, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    Da Bullssssssss

  10. norcalsportsknowledge - May 7, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    That’s why Nate is a great back up. If he’s on, you ride him, if not back to the bench. He is usually on in big games, like last night. As a Dubs fan, I wish him well.

  11. joj0420 - May 7, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    lil Nate has always been one of my fAvs cuz we are the same size hope he stays with us bulls

  12. eagles512 - May 7, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    What’s not to love? How about a guy who plays zero defense and goes way overboard with his antics.

  13. rodge1 - May 7, 2013 at 3:31 PM


    LeBron came up huge against the Celtics the past 2 years in the playoffs, and came up huge against the Bulls in the playoffs 2 years ago. I understand you haters only pick & choose so its convenient to bash LeBron, but also remember the great things he has done… Go Heat and go haters, you make the winning extra-special.

  14. fredagsedb - May 7, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    Great article. Though Nate did not totally lose in the ‘physical lottery’. Most people at 5’9″ will not get that kind of hops, if they put the work in that Nate did.

    • gmsingh - May 7, 2013 at 9:19 PM

      How did he lose the physical lottery when he makes it look easy to drive by five Heat players on the way to the bucket?

  15. iowahbr - May 7, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    I haven’t watched the whole Nate Robinson caareer but I hope he can stay with the Bulls along with Hinrich for next year. Even if the Bulls don’t win another game against the Heat he has already given us some great memories from the games he has played. Deep dpwn Thibs knows that.

  16. stlducks - May 7, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Am I the only one who can’t stand Robinson and his cockiness? Never have I seen a bench player run his mouth so much and for you guys to start bashing Lebron in this thread is just dumb. He is hands down best player in the league and has grown over the years from the guy who chokes to a champion and he will have another ring this year.

    Last night you can tell the Heat were rusty missing those shots and that’s exactly what the bulls coach said, he knows that got away with one.

  17. cfos00 - May 7, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    I’m not sure exactly how we can keep Nate next year if he gets much of an offer with our payroll situation, but I would love to see him stay. From the sound of it, it seems like he’d like to stay too. Thibs seems to actually accept Nate, and for lack of better wording, let Nate be Nate and at the same time handle him correctly. And the team is built with guys like Noah that seem to keep everyone pulling in the same direction. Not sure that a lot of coaches in the league would really get him or how to use him, and have a club house like that. If he does leave after the season, I think most Bulls fans would just be happy for the guy and say thanks for the memories. He’s been better than we ever had a right to hope for as a player for us.

  18. orangandblack - May 7, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    Nothing but a thug, but hey, it is basketball

  19. gwylie1 - May 7, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    “….and his emotions on his sleeve (well, if the NBA allowed sleeves).”

    I do believe that the Warriors played a game with sleeves this year.

  20. glink123 - May 7, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    Rose-PG, Butler-SG, Teague-PG, Hinrich-PG/SG are all Guards under contract next year. Belinelli-SG, Robinson-PG, Cook-SG, and Hamilton-SG are all not under contract next year. There’s no way the Bulls will keep six Guards on their roster, and there’s no way they’ll dump Teague, their 1st round rookie draft pick, after one season, to keep Nate. He’s going to make $$$ next year though. He deserves it.

  21. stephanrey210 - May 7, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    Robinson won the dunk contest 3 times, not twice; 2006, 2009, and 2010. Sorry If I missed anyone else correcting that.

  22. jprcox - May 8, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    Kinda a mean article to say Bulls fans don’t want him back next year – this guy is giving his all.

    OK, Nate, just come back to Seattle where you belong – play for Sonics….oh, wait, maybe not…

    I’ll get back to you next week.

  23. kavika6 - May 8, 2013 at 3:30 AM

    He’s a legend in his own mind.

    I can’t stand his arrogant antics, regardless even I cheer for him against the Heat.

  24. 24thesho - May 8, 2013 at 7:32 AM

    Antics? Really? Willing your team to win is an antic? This young man, Nate Robinson, has been playing in the NBA for at least 7 years. So, his antics are OK when you’re cheering against the Heat? Arrogance? How is he suppose act?
    Like a p _ _ _y? He’s making a huge impact in the 2nd round of the NBA playoffs against the number 1 seed and defending World Champions. Antics. Yeah, OK.

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