After Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the Playoffs last season, Chicago had to ensure they were equipped with sufficient backup while their MVP went through the daunting recovery. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau knew he had a reliable veteran in Kirk Hinrich, but he needed to acquire a suitable reserve to help shoulder some of the load.
That’s when Thibodeau reached out to the wily Nate Robinson, formerly of the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. Robinson is a guy who’s known for coming off the bench to put up buckets in a flash. And with Rose out indefinitely, Thibodeau knew he needed someone who could help replace Rose’s offensive production.
The Bulls (29-19) have played well without Rose in the lineup and sit atop the Central Division tied with the Indiana Pacers. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have stepped up to solidify their presence down low, while Luol Deng has accepted his role as the closer for the team.
But after the default starting point guard Hinrich went down with an elbow injury, it was time for Robinson to step in and assume the role of floor general. To that end, Thibodeau said of Robinson, “He’s had some big games and I think he’s put a lot of work into his defense—he’s been a catalyst for us all season.”
In the last five games, Robinson is averaging 18.0 points, 6.2 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game. He’s also scored in double figures in the last 10 straight. Since being placed into the starting role, Robinson has led the team to a 3-1 record, and earned his first ever Eastern Conference Player of the Week award.
Before taking on the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, Robinson sat down with SLAMonline to talk about what it’s like to play in the City of Chicago, his experiences at All-Star Weekend, and more.
SLAM: What’s it like to play for coach Tom Thibodeau?
Nate Robinson: Coach is a drill sergeant, and we’re his warriors. Everything we do, we go over and over. We got to be ready. It’s kind of like when you play Call of Duty, everybody has their job and if one person messes up, it messes up the whole operation. We’re a unit and we move as one.
SLAM: He’s known for his defensive coaching, and in that sense, how does he differ from other coaches you’ve been around?
NR: For him, defense wins Championships, and it wins a lot more games than offense. So we just go out there and try to play as hard as we can on defense, and the offense will take care of itself.
SLAM: How is the basketball culture in Chicago different from other cities you’ve played in?
NR: I mean you got so many historical guys who have played for this team. You got Michael Jordan, the face of the NBA and the best player to ever play the game. Then you got guys like Scottie Pippen…There’s just so much history, and being in Chicago is different because they really love their basketball. It’s just great to be a part of, it’s kind of hard to describe but the feeling is unbelievable when you put on this jersey and you’re representing the Bulls and all of the late greats, it’s been awesome.
SLAM: Your production is up and Jimmy Butler has been coming up big off the bench as well. How have the Bulls been able to step up without Derrick Rose running the show?
NR: Just playing and having fun man, that’s about it. That’s all we’ve been doing is just playing together and it’s been working.
SLAM: Do you feel like you’re getting a little bit more comfortable with your role on the team?
NR: I’ve been comfortable…We’re just flowing. It’s been beautiful. You can’t win every game, you can’t play perfect, but we play hard.
SLAM: What kinds of things have you been working on individually to improve your game?
NR: Just patience, getting a better shot selection, and just trying to find the open guy when I need to, you know, just picking my spots.
SLAM: You chose to sign with the Bulls this offseason, what were the main factors that led to that decision?
NR: Like I told you, Michael Jordan, playing alongside DRose, and the city of Chicago is like no other. Coach came to me and wanted me here, so that was another thing that made it easy for me to make my decision.
SLAM: What has it been like to participate in so many All-Star weekends, and to win the Slam Dunk contest, arguably the most entertaining part of the weekend, a record three times?
NR: It’s great, you know, you got your All-Stars around that have been playing at a high level. It’s been awesome over the years but for us we’re worried about bigger and better things, trying to focus on getting guys healthy, and stepping up and playing together as a team so we can win as many games as we can.
SLAM: Can you see yourself participating in the event again?
NR: I don’t know, probably one day. I’m probably getting a little too old now.
SLAM: After seeing the trailer for Isaiah Thomas’ upcoming documentary, you reached out to filmmaker TJ Regan to cover you as well. Can you just talk a little bit about ‘State of Nate’ and what you’re looking to do with that venture?
NR: We’re just doing a little series, nothing major. I’m not doing it for me. I’m just doing it for my children to have for the archives when they get older. For me it’s great because I get to let people see how I am off the court and how I am with my kids and how hard you got to work, so it just makes it fun.