HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Nate Robinson said it best, “God blessed me with a lot of heart and no height, and I’ll take that any day.”
So will the Chicago Bulls.
Krypto-Nate devoured the Miami Heat in the fourth quarter of the Bulls’ Game 1 upset in the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.
The best fourth quarter scorer in these playoffs, Robinson served the Heat by scoring the final seven of his game-high 27 points (he also had nine assists) in the defining minutes of the game. He did all this after needing 10 stitches to close a gash over his lip, courtesy of a LeBron James elbow and head smash during a scramble for a loose ball.
“Get stitched up and continue to battle,” Robinson told reporters after the game.
LeBron’s already snagged the “King” nickname. But after watching Robinson the past eight games (and, really, the past eight seasons), is there any doubt that he’s the pound-for-pound king of toughness in the NBA?
Yes, that’s high praise for a third-string point guard. And Robinson remains one of the more unpredictable players in the league. His highs, though, trump his lows every time. Tell me the last time a third-string point guard outdueled the MVP on the night he received his trophy? Robinson became the NBA’s first three-time Sprite Slam Dunk champ and built a cult fanbase from New York (where he spent his first four and half seasons in the league) to Boston to the Bay Area and now Chicago and beyond.
Nowhere is Robinson more beloved than in his native Seattle, where he was the big man on campus at Ranier Beach High School, where he was a three-sport (football and track, too) star. Unlike many of his NBA colleagues who love to fantasize about being crossover stars in the NFL, Robinson could have pulled it off.
He was a All-Pac-10 Freshman Team pick at cornerback at the University of Washington, where his father, Jacque Robinson, was a Rose Bowl and Orange Bowl MVP. Nate Robinson was believed to have a much brighter future in that sport.
But he chose basketball instead and the rest is pound-for-pound history for a player who says he’s having the time of his life with this Bulls team.
“There’s something special about this group,” Robinson said. “It feels like we’ve been playing together for, like, 10 years. I told [Bulls] Coach [Tom Thibodeau], we just love to play for each other.”
Hoops fans love having players with Robinson’s toughness on their team. That’s why he’s the king/captain of the Hang Time Pound-For-Pound Toughness Team. These are the guys still working in these playoffs who give up every ounce of what they’ve got on a nightly basis for their respective teams, be it blood, sweat, tissue, tears or whatever else is needed.
The other starters:
David West, Indiana Pacers
6-foot-9, 250 pounds
An absolute bruiser, West changed the entire culture of an organization in Indiana with his reserved-but-unwavering leadership style. The Pacers have become the picture of defensive toughness and consistency since West arrived. West is a physical specimen who has found a way harness his brute strength and play under complete control at all times. He’s a huge reason why the Pacers are up 1-0 on the New York Knicks in their Eastern Conference semifinal.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
6-foot-7, 220 pounds
Another reserve who has moved into a starring role during this postseason, all Butler has done is play every single minute in three straight playoff games (Games 6 and 7 against the Brooklyn Nets and Game 1 against the Heat). That’s 48 straight minutes for three straight games while guarding the likes of the Nets’ Deron Williams and Joe Johnson and the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. With his tireless work on both ends of the floor, Butler has done a masterful job filling in for Luol Deng while also showing the sort of mettle of a future star.
Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies
7-foot-1, 265 pounds
The Memphis branch of the Gasol basketball family tree is much sturdier than the Los Angeles version in every way imaginable. Pau Gasol has always been considered the most skilled big man in the family. But the toughest Gasol, the recently crowd Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year, does his home work near Beale Street. He’s got it all … brains, brawn and he can ball.
Tony Allen, Memphis Grizzlies
6-foot-4, 214 pounds
A defensive stopper everywhere he’s been, Allen’s junkyard dog attitude inspired the Grit and Grind movement in Memphis (where you could fill out a Pound-For-Pound roster with the likes of Zach Randolph and others). Allen’s greatest trait is his fearlessness, which was on full display during the Boston Celtics’ title run in 2008 and has been as identifiable as his No. 9 jersey is since he joined the Grizzlies three seasons ago.
Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls; Jarrett Jack, Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks; Chris Andersen, Miami Heat.