When the Bulls sought an extra point guard to help fill in for Derrick Rose, they landed former slam-dunk champ Nate Robinson.
Considering Robinson is small (5-feet-9), offensive-minded and brings a loud personality, it’s easy to think that maybe he’s not a coach Thibodeau kind of guy.
“I thought the plusses outweigh any negatives,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He is loud and I prefer the loud to be on defense. But he’s mature and he’s grown a lot. He’s sort of an X-factor and I like that.”
Robinson was almost a novelty when he arrived in the NBA with the New York Knicks in 2005. He hit game-winning shots, dominated the dunk contest and made the New York locker room the noisiest place in the league.
Now Robinson is a 28-year-old veteran and father of three. He’s still got plenty of energy, but even he admits to mellowing out quite a bit.
“A lot,” he said. “I was 20 years old coming in. I was still star-struck by a lot of players I was always a fan of.
“I think me having kids really mellowed me down a lot, just having an understanding of a certain level of respect. Speak when spoken to, and always carrying yourself the right way. Knowing when to have fun and knowing when to be serious. It took me a while to understand it, but having kids helped me out a lot.”
Robinson credits his own father for helping turn him into an NBA underdog. Those who remember running back Jacque Robinson as a Rose Bowl hero for the Washington Huskies have to wonder: “Was he as loud and energetic as his son would become?”
The answer, of course, is yes. Nate figures his dad probably made the most noise in the Washington locker room.
“I think I picked that up right from him,” Nate said. “I picked up where he left off. My dad was an outgoing guy. He was real hard on me about wanting to be the best. He wanted the best out of me. He wanted me to be ‘Nate the Great.’ He always called me that. He always told me I’d be special.
“He made my heart what it is today. He said, ‘Don’t worry about your height. Don’t worry about none of that.’ As long as you play hard, you’ve got to keep God first and everything else will take care of itself. I took that and ran with it.”
From his mom, Robinson said he learned to keep a positive attitude. He’s bound to crank up the volume on the Bulls, but already he’s seemed to hit it off with guys like Kirk Hinrich and Joakim Noah.
“Hopefully, once my legacy dies down, they always remember me for being the guy that always tried to put a smile on everybody’s face, a well-respected type of guy,” Robinson said.
Thibodeau does have first-hand experience with Robinson. Midway through the 2009-10 season, Robinson was traded from New York to Boston and ended up playing quite a bit for the Celtics in the NBA Finals against the Lakers. So the Bulls had a pretty good idea what they would get by bringing him onboard.
“He was sort of helter-skelter (in Boston),” Thibodeau said. “He always loved to be in the gym, that hasn’t changed one bit. He’s not afraid of taking the big shot. So those are all plusses.
“He has to do a good job leading us. His job as a point guard is to unite and inspire and he has to do that in a very positive way.”
Robinson posted a career-high with 4.5 assists last season for Golden State, which could be a sign that he’s learning to be more of a true point guard. But in some ways, he’ll always be that loud rookie with the Knicks.
“I’m still the same guy bringing the energy and having fun,” he said. “I’m all about learning and trying to get better in every aspect of the game; being a better teammate, being a better person and carrying myself the right way.”
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