Nate Robinson has written a book, which naturally means Nate Robinson has written a short story.
That’s not a cheap shot – that’s the essence of what Robinson was targeting in his autobiography Heart Over Height, penned with co-author Jon Finkel. Released this week and available via Amazon, iBooks and Robinson’s Web site (StateofNate.com), it’s part memoir, part inspirational story of the irrepressible, 5-foot-9 guard’s climb to success in the NBA. From his undersized roots growing up – but not too up – in Seattle and wink-wink success in college football and basketball at the University of Washington, through his nine seasons in the NBA’s land of giants and reign as a three-time Slam Dunk champion, Robinson’s story is improbable and fantastic, even if it’s not exactly a tall tale.
“I pretty much wanted to pay homage to my life that God blessed me with,” Robinson said in a phone interview the other day. “I want to be some inspiration to pay it forward to the next guy. Kids look up to me. I have my own kids as well. … I just want my legacy to live forever, that Nate Robinson wasn’t just the dunker that everybody sees me.”
Now 30, heading into his second season with the Denver Nuggets after playing for six teams in nine years, Robinson said he’d been keeping a journal since he got to the league in 2005. He’s not so old, either, that the chapters of his life failed to spring to mind, once he committed to the project.
“Just from memory, man, you’d be surprised at what you reflect on and know about yourself, from what you’ve been through,” he said. “And nobody knows yourself better than you.
“I feel so young. But I’ve been through a lot, ups and downs, fun, bad times, good times, all that. I just want kids to know I didn’t wake up and be a professional athlete. It takes a lot of hard work and everybody’s story is different.”
Few – with the exception of some other famous NBA shorties, such as Muggsy Bogues, Spud Webb, Earl Boykins and a couple more – are as different as Robinson’s, though. Of all the sports he could have chosen, he happened to fall in love with basketball. That brought into play certain rules of verticality to which Roy Hibbert never has given a passing thought.
It’s been that way since Robinson went out for basketball as a 5-foot-4 high school freshman. He played his way onto the varsity with future NBAer Jamal Crawford, worked harder the next summer than everybody else at Rainier Beach H.S., and incredibly had a growth spurt that he figured would be the start of his dreams coming true. As he tells it in Heart Over Height:
When school came back around in the fall, I went in for my physical and saw that I had grown about five inches! I remember talking to the nurse after she measured my height, which was 5’9″ going into my sophomore year, and I said to her, “I have one more growth spurt in me. My dad is 6’1″ and I’m going to shoot up another three or four inches by the time I’m a senior.”
The nurse just looked at me and said, “Nate, you’re done growing. I’m sorry.”
“No way,” I said. “I’m only fifteen.”
“I’m telling you,” she said. “You come back to me your senior year and I promise, you’ll be 5’9″.”
I still don’t know how she knew this, but she was right. I’m the same height right now that I was my sophomore year in high school. Every summer I would go for my physical and watch them measure my height and it was always the same: 5’9″, 5’9″, 5’9″… Even in college I kept hoping for a few more inches. I knew plenty of guys who grew three or four inches at nineteen or twenty years old. But not me. My mom is short so I guess I got the short gene. I was 5’9″ then and I’m 5’9″ now.
Fast-forward 15 years and Robinson is on the phone, talking about selling himself short by playing the sport that most rewards those bigger than him.
“I really don’t look at my height as being an issue,” he said. “No matter what sport I played. If I did boxing, I could have mastered that and be similar to a Floyd Mayweather. If I did football, I could be one of the best in history – I believe. It could be soccer, baseball, any sport that I could play, I believe I could pretty much master because of the confidence level I have. It all comes from within. You have to be comfortable with who you are as a person, first and foremost.”
Certainly Robinson has maxed out his potential. Selected No. 21 by New York in 2005, Robinson has risen within his draft class to ninth in games played, ninth in points, sixth in assists and 11th in 3-point percentage. “Ninth in points and I’ve never started? That’s kind of cool,” he said, upon learning his ranking.
Chances are, though, when Robinson hung up, he got cranky he wasn’t eighth or seventh or higher.
“I always had that Napolean complex, that chip on my shoulder,” he said, “and I’ve learned to use it as a positive in my life, not a negative.”
The chip still is there. Ask Robinson to name the best moment of his NBA career and he can’t narrow things down: his first dunk in a game, a game-winning shot over Allen Iverson, his dunk contests, a trip to The Finals with Boston, that electric performance for Chicago in a triple-OT playoff victory, blocking a shot by Yao Ming. So many, he says, he can’t choose.
Ask him for the low point, though, and his answer is immediate.
“The darkest moment in my career is not getting the contract that I deserve,” he said.
Never mind that his career earnings top $22.4 million already or that he’s on the Nuggets’ books for another $2.1 million this season. To Robinson, being short means being shorted, in both cash and respect.
“I’m still able to play the game that I love – the money is to take care of my family, but I’m not money-hungry, so it doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “But it puts it in perspective – Isiah Thomas said it best: ‘If Nate Robinson was 6 feet tall, he’d be the No. 1 pick in the draft.’
“If I was 6 feet or 6-8, 6-9, it wouldn’t just be about LeBron James and Kevin Durant. People would be giving me more respect that I deserve. Some guys get stuff handed to ’em. Me, I’ve had to work for everything I’ve gotten in this league.”
Robinson said he’d like to keep at it for another “six or seven years,” though he thinks he could play 10. Eventually, he’ll focus on his family and maybe try coaching or even acting. First, though, he has that big heart of his set on a Sixth Man Award, maybe a championship ring while he’s at it.
“People look at me as the guy on the bench to come in and save the day. I’ve pretty much been that superhero my whole life,” Robinson said. “And I’ve been tagged being a villain. I’ve been on both sides, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve been blessed with three beautiful kids who look up to me, no matter who hates me. That’s one thing that really helps me get past people saying bad things about me.”
With his book, Robinson might have a whole new audience looking up to him, even as they’re looking down.