AGE IS JUST A NUMBER FOR THREE-TIME NBA SLAM DUNK CONTEST CHAMP NATE ROBINSON
By Varun Raghupathi, 24/Sevens Insider
“Prince the musician said something before he died. He was like ‘age is all in the mind’. They asked him how old he was and he said ‘I don’t know, I don’t remember’.”
The iconic showman died almost a year ago, on April 21, 2016. His message of agelessness has stuck with Delaware 87ers point guard Nate Robinson nonetheless.
“I feel young, I feel energized,” the 32-year-old Robinson said after helping the Sevens to a win over the Reno Bighorns. “I feel nothing but positive energy flowing and once you have that in your mental and you add that to your game and your life, for me, I’m going to stay young forever.”
Robinson and his 5-foot-9, 183-pound frame are in season number 12 of professional basketball. He was drafted 21st overall by the Phoenix Suns back in 2005, the same year Prince went double-platinum for the final time in his career with Musicology. The Washington product has played for eight different NBA teams and one Israeli squad over the course of his celebrated career.
He joined the Sevens in early February to much fanfare and has appeared in 12 games since, embracing his role as a back-up point guard who, when needed, can get a bucket or two in a pinch.
“I love the game. I just want to play basketball, man,” Robinson said. “That’s it. It’s been a part of my life probably since the day I was born.”
The road (back) to the NBA, where Robinson ultimately wants to be again, favors no one, especially not people on the other side of 30 with a decade-plus of Association mileage. Talk to Robinson, though, and you won’t hear his actual age without it being accompanied by a different number.
“I’m 32 and I feel like I’m 21 again,” Robinson said. “So, that’s the good thing. My body feels good, I feel young and I just want to get another crack at it. Jamal Crawford’s 37 years old and out there looking like he’s 21 years old, man.”
Against Reno on Wednesday, March 22, Robinson looked like he had Father Time’s blessing to turn back the clock. The diminutive guard finished with five steals, which means that in half of the dozen games he’s played with Delaware, Robinson’s had multiple thefts. The Seattle native also hit a three-pointer in the win over the Bighorns, giving him eight straight tilts with one or more three-balls, and dished out six assists – two better than his 87ers average of four per game.
The three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion doesn’t just rack up stats quietly, however. Robinson performs with a flair and a fire that is uniquely his and universally accessible. He may not pace the Sevens in any counting stat, but Robinson is the clear leader in the clubhouse when it comes to fan adoration. People show up just to see him play, wait after games in the hopes of getting his autograph and cheer whenever his name is announced.
“That just shows the hard work that I put in, man,” Robinson said. “I’ve been playing basketball for what, twenty, almost thirty years. A lot of it is just hard work; they just pay homage, man.
“It just shows, me being a fan favorite, I play for them, I play for God, my family. I play just to play hard and show kids that, you know, it doesn’t matter how tall you are, you can go out and make it and play as hard as you can and accomplish anything, man.”
Perhaps part of the reason Robinson feels so young and continues to contribute to a team vying for a playoff spot is because he is surrounded by youth. The Sixers and Sevens are at the forefront of the league-wide trend of making the D-League affiliate more of a farm team than an island of misfit, 30-something toys.
“They’re young,” Robinson said of one of his favorite parts about playing in Delaware. “The coaches give us the freedom to play and make the decisions that we need to make.”
Freedom to play. Not only can it apply to a well-coached basketball team, it can account for what made Prince so special. The versatile musician has a plethora of landmark albums and singles, none of which sound the same. If you ask Robinson what his favorite tune in Prince’s discography is, he’s got a crowd-pleasing answer.
“Purple Rain,” Robinson said almost immediately after being asked the question. “Let me see, there’s so many different songs, man, that Prince made. He’s just, he’s an icon, bro. Him and Michael Jackson. I mean, the movie Purple Rain, all his songs with Vanity and all this stuff, I grew up on all that.”
Though the soon-to-be 33 Robinson only grew up to be six inches taller than Prince (he’s 5-9, the late genius was 5-foot-3), he looms much larger in the landscape of his profession. Be it leaping over 7-footers or scurrying under them, Robinson’s back-catalogue of tricks has thrilled fans for years. They don’t, however, have anything to do with why he’s back in basketball.
“I’m just trying to help this team get to the playoffs and, you know, if you can’t win an NBA championship, win a D-League championship,” Robinson said. “Gotta start from somewhere.”