Heart Over Height: The Legacy of Nate Robinson

Heart Over Height: The Legacy of Nate Robinson
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The biggest little man in the NBA, Nate Robinson truly is the best pound-for-pound athlete in all professional sports. The Good Nate/Bad Nate situation has seemingly [and predominantly] gone by the wayside since he was with the Chicago Bulls two seasons ago, and his game has matured to the point that he is now dropping buckets on young bloods with the likes of Uncle Drew and Maya Moore. Robinson is one of the most fun players to watch in the NBA. Whether he's dribbling under defenders, playing through the flu (throwing up on the sidelines during timeouts), getting ten stitches and still leading the team to an upset victory, or single-handedly bringing a team back from a 14 point deficit with 3 minutes to go in Game Four of a playoff game to force overtime, Nate the Great is an inspiration to many people around the world.

Being sick and throwing up on the sidelines won't stop Nate Robinson from playing. He could take hard hit after hard hit, whether it's on a drive to the hoop or getting screened, and he will get up and continue grinding. Robinson is one of the toughest and grittiest players in the league today. Robinson has said many things, but this may be his greatest quote of all-time.

I have charisma and a lot of energy and I hope that the crowd can see that. All I can do is hope so that the crowd will get behind me. If not, then I will have to steal the crowd away from someone else. If that happens, that is what I am going to have to do.

You could see it in Chicago two seasons ago, or during his stints with the Golden State Warriors, Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder and New York Knicks. Robinson absolutely feasts off an energetic crowd, whether they are cheering him or booing him. When asked about Game Four against Brooklyn, Robinson stated:

For me, I was just carrying my team and the city on my back. It's a must-win game; I was just in the zone. My teammates were feeding me. The coaches, the fans gave me energy, but I couldn't do it without my teammates; they believed in me. And it just made it easy for me to go out there and have fun. I was just having fun. That's it.

That game alone should have earned Nate Robinson the respect [that he has deserved his entire life] of fans, players, and teams around the league. That was a once in a blue-moon moment in the NBA, something you don't see even once every season.

With Derrick Rose out all of the 2012-13 season due to an ACL injury, a lot of people were skeptical about the Bulls bringing in Nate Robinson. No one thought Tom Thibodeau would give Nate Robinson the time of day due to the fact that he is listed [generously] at 5'9" and can be taken advantage of on defense. However, Thibodeau was one of the reasons/factors that caused the Bulls to pursue Robinson. Thibodeau was an assistant coach of the Boston Celtics while Nate played there, and during the time where Rajon Rondo went down with an injury during the playoffs, Nate proved that he could handle himself on both sides of the ball, obviously earning the respect of Thibodeau and leaving a lasting impression on him. There is a reason why Thibodeau had a substantial amount of trust in Nate Robinson (more than most coaches had for him). Some say he was forced to trust Robinson due to the injuries to Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich, but I think on the contrary. If Thibodeau didn't trust Robinson, he wouldn't have played Robinson. With Robinson playing on a veteran's minimum contract, he was also easily expendable. Obviously, as time went on, Thibodeau's trust in Robinson was expanded, but Thibodeau and company gave Robinson something that both the Bulls and Robinson needed at the time: a chance. The rest is history.

Sure, Robinson's shot selection may be bad at times. Sure, Robinson may be a liability on defense at times. Go back to his time before Chicago, and those two things would've been the first things that came to mind when Robinson was brought up. People thought Nate was just an athletic guy that would never be starter material in the NBA. They thought that his personality and attitude would be too immature to ever truly make a mark. The only time you ever really heard his name was because of one of his highlight reel dunks. People didn't truly know how hard Nate Robinson was working. During his tenure with the Bulls, however, the public perception of Nate Robinson changed. Nate Robinson supporters rejoiced with his [predominantly] good play in Chicago backing up Kirk Hinrich and often starting in place of the often-injured Kirk Hinrich. The State of Nate truly showcased his talent when given the opportunity, and he never shied away from any moment. He absolutely feasted off of the United Center crowd, and the crowd at the Madhouse on Madison absolutely gobbled him up.

People don't truly understand how hard Robinson works. Some people are blessed with natural born skill and ability. When you are a 5'9" person trying to succeed in the land of the giants, however, that takes a lot constant practice. There's a reason why no one has ever outworked Robinson on the court. There's a reason why Robinson has a nickname called Nate the Great. Robinson is creating his own legacy. He is one of the hardest working athletes in professional sports. In terms of athleticism, he may be the most athletic person in the NBA. How many 5'9" people could jump over Dwight Howard and throw it down? While playing with the Bulls, playing for a city distracted by the injury to Derrick Rose (and hopes crushed by the injury as well), Robinson proved to be the heart and soul of the city of Chicago. Playing on a minimum contract, Robinson performed more than admirably. He meant more to the team (and city of Chicago) than stats could show, because stats could not measure just how much he meant to the depleted Bulls roster and city. Stats showed that he averaged 13.1 points, 4.4 assists and 1 steal per game on 40.5% shooting, including 45% from beyond the arc and 79.9% from the charity stripe. All Bulls fans know that Robinson truly performed much better than the stats indicate. Nate Robinson was one of the sole reasons that Bulls fans kept tuning in to games. Whether you were like me, and have followed Nate's career since his tenure at the University of Washington, or just recently discovered your respect for Nate, one thing is for sure: it's truly hard not to appreciate everything Nate Robinson has done everywhere he has gone. The State of Nate got cut short last season in Denver for the Nuggets. When Robinson tore his ACL, my heart sunk the way it did when Derrick Rose tore his ACL. The State of Nate has been hard at work, constantly rehabbing and trying to make himself stronger than he was before. Many people think that this could start a downfall in Robinson's career. Others, like me, think that this will give him a boost and could turn into something positive for Robinson. There's a reason why coaches around the league now have the respect for Robinson. Simply put, no one works harder on and off the court.

UPDATE (06/20/14): Robinson doesn't have to prove anything to anybody, though that won't stop him from being the work horse of the NBA. On his one season tenure with the Bulls, Nate had this to say:

This is something special to me just because of the season from last year and what we did. It was a special season, man. A great group of guys, and I miss it. I would be lying if I said that I didn't. The guys over there, they showed me so much love -- the coaching staff, the organization, the fans. I had a hell of a year, and it was a great run.