Nate Robinson Q+A
Chillin’ with Nate the Great at his 3rd annual basketball camp.
words Nima Zarrabi / images sascha adabzadeh
Mercer Island, WA—Nate Robinson is leaning back on some concrete steps, staying cool in the shade on a hot day in the Pacific Northwest. As I interview him outside of the gymnasium at the Mercer View Community Center—the home of the 3rd annual Nate Robinson basketball camp—he’s eyeing one of his campers who has ventured out to the portable basketball hoop outside. The boy is rocking black knee high argyle socks and his jumper appears wet. Before I fire off a question about the ballplayers in the Seattle area that have made a positive impact in his life, Nate can no longer contain himself. “That’s a big time shot Socks,” he yells to the boy. “This kid has had a different pair of colored socks on everyday. That’s why we call him socks. Hey yo, Socks. That’s a nice shot, I seen that!”
I visited the camp on Friday, the final day for the 130 campers, boys and girls ranging from age 6-16. What I witnessed was an amazing camp run by a basketball player that has a remarkable ability to connect with children. As his two young boys ran around participating in drills, Robinson made his rounds to the various stations in the gym, laughing and dancing, all while teaching. It was a wonderful sight. During a break in the action, SLAM was able to sit down with Nate for a few minutes to talk about the vision for his camp, Sheed and that hilarious press conference with Big Baby Davis.
SLAM: Tell me about what inspired you to start a basketball camp for kids.
Nate Robinson: My main reason was Coach Lorenzo Romar, my college coach. He had a camp and he would always have his players come out and be coaches and work the camp. That’s where I got my start. Just having fun while the kids learn the basics of basketball. That’s my main thing: this is a camp for kids to have fun. Some kids are better than others but you teach them that they will get better as time goes on. You take the fundamentals that you learn here, take them home and practice.
SLAM: Your camp is an all day camp and runs four days. Longer than most. Tell me about that.
NR: Parents want their kids to go out there and have a good time while they’re at work in the summer time. My camp goes from 9am-to-4pm and the kids can come in at 8:30 and shoot if they want. Most jobs run from 9-to-5. I’m here at the camp from 9 until 4. I don’t leave until every parent has picked up their kid. I wait to make sure no kid is left here. It’s cool, man. The kids get to know Nate Robinson for who he is off the court. Of course I’m in my basketball environment, but by being here I’m saying, Look, I’m a normal guy just like your mom and dad and your friends. I want them to see me. Who I am inside—not just on the basketball court.
SLAM: Why did you want to focus your efforts in the Seattle area?
NR: It’s home for me, so I always knew I would be doing a camp back home. This is where I started. To be able to give back to the community and these kids. We start from kids and build on. Now, they are our life source, so we have to be there and teach them right so they can make the world a better place.
SLAM: Who were some of the people that did that for you when you were coming up?
NR: Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Detlef Schrempf, Nate McMillan. I’m a Seattle guy so I went to all those camps. In baseball it was Ken Griffey Jr. He used to come and donate Super Nintendos—do you remember when they came out? He donated Super Nintendos and TVs to our community center where I was from. It was cool. Always seeing the Griffey plates and knowing it was him. He would interact with us, play catch.
SLAM: When it comes to having fun with the kids—I saw you dancing with them and cheering them up and stuff like that—is it important to infuse your persona into a camp like this?
NR: You have to. For me, it’s who I am. If I see a sad kid—something like that kid earlier who was like ‘I don’t like it when people cheat’. You have to teach them that cheating is not cool. You have to play fair and play by the rules. Even though he didn’t win, he still understands I came over and saw that he wasn’t having a good day right now and I wanted to make his day better. I always interact with my kids. I don’t know them all by name but I know my faces and how their personality is. We have great coaches. They’re here everyday taking their timeout and doing the same thing I’m doing. It’s kind of cool that we’ve had kids come back three years in a row. Continuing to come back and get better and wanting to come to my camp because I’m here everyday with them and they get to know me and have fun. We have snack time; we have breaks where we play one-on-one, three-on-three, bump games. I just try to have our camp be so camp-friendly that all the kids want to come back and enjoy the Nate Robinson experience.
SLAM: It think it’s remarkable how you and several other guys in the area from your era have made it a point to give back to the basketball community here and make sure you mentor the talented kids at the high school and college level. Can you talk about that 206 bond a little bit?
NR: It started back in our AAU days. I remember Brandon (Roy) played for Rotary, Aaron Brooks played for Rotary and I played for the GP All-Stars. I remember when we were younger, we would always watch each other’s games no matter what. Anything to do with Seattle, we have always stayed together. It started with Jamal Crawford and Jason Terry, the Doug Christie’s the Michael Dickerson’s—the guys that had been around and showed us the ropes and now we can give back. It’s our turn. As a whole, Seattle basketball and basketball in the state of Washington is only going to get better. Now we’re watering our seeds and watching our plants and our trees grow. That’s how we look at it as basketball players. We have to be great gardeners. That’s what we’re trying to be.
SLAM: Isaiah Thomas at Washington is a young man I spoke to last year. He had many great things to say about you, how big of a mentor you have been. Talk about your relationship with him.
NR: We talk everyday. He calls me and asks me how I’m doing, wants to workout. He is a gym rat as well. He has a great head on his shoulders by thinking he can make it to the NBA, making his teammates better and wanting to work to get to where he needs to be. It’s kind of cool to have a younger guy kind of look up to me like that because I feel like he’s my little brother as well. He’s just as good as I am. It’s awesome to see his work ethic, his mentality, the way he thinks. He is going to be a phenomenal player. He just loves to play the game of basketball.
SLAM: The Washington basketball program was all over the place when you were growing up. How important was it for the University to bring Coach Romar here? He was a former player at the school and a man of high character and integrity.
NR: To me, that was the best decision they could have made basketball wise. Impeccable timing. I came in as a walk on. Brandon signed, Will Conroy, Tre Simmons, Mike Jensen, Jeff Day. We had a lot of guys who were from here all together. We knew the other teams in the Pac-10 had players from all over and we were from Seattle and wanted to put Washington on the map. We just went out and played Husky basketball. We all knew how we played on the court, so it flowed naturally. We had a phenomenal season. I had a great three years of being a Husky. Played a year of football—I fulfilled all of my dreams.
SLAM: It also made it a bit more difficult for out of state schools to pluck Washington’s talent. You cats made playing for the Huskies cool.
NR: My little cousin Tony Wroten is coming up and he doesn’t know if he wants to go to Washington. He has a lot of schools after him. I told him that home is where the heart is. Always. Being a Husky is more than just putting on that purple and gold.
SLAM: After game seven of the Finals, Kevin Garnett said that Rasheed Wallace came into the locker room and gave his thanks and regards and that it was very emotional.
NR: It was. Sheed is one of my all-time favorites, regardless of the techs. He speaks his mind and that is what I love about him. I have so much respect for him because if something isn’t right, he will let you know. He’s like that all the time. That was the one person who I would look to for advice and he always gave me his honest opinion whether I liked it or not. As a player he worked everyday. He came in and shot early, leave late. The main thing about him is he wanted to win. He has a ring but wanted to go out with a bang. We tried to go out with a championship but unfortunately we didn’t. The speech that he gave, saying stuff like he wouldn’t of had it any other way besides going to war with the guys that were in that locker room with us. It touched everybody. We were heartbroken that we didn’t win it for him. Of course I wanted to win my first championship but I wanted to win because I have looked up to Sheed since college. I played against his AAU team in Philly. My mom used to do his wife’s hair—my mom is a hair stylist. So I’ve known Sheed for a while, since I was real young. Playing alongside him was awesome. It was a dream come true. I just wish the tables were turned and we would have won that championship because I honestly believe if we would have won, Sheed would have played another year. One more year with Sheed.
SLAM: You and Big Baby set Twitter on fire the day after that memorable press conference.
NR: It was bananas. We had the Internet going nuts. Baby is a real good dude. He’s very respectful and he just loves to win. When we had that interview it was kind of cool because he’s big like Shrek and I’m short and talk a lot like Donkey so it was perfect timing with what went on. Coach let us play that game and we had a great game. Baby really put us over the edge that game. We were having so much fun. And we had a great press conference. One of the best of all time.