Nate Robinson: Taking the Bad with the Good


I think I'm starting to "get" Nate Robinson. At least, I'm beginning to understand how I feel about him, which is a big step -- my feelings about Robinson have been a roller-coaster since he was traded to Boston this past February.

This is what I've settled on (and yes, it will be a roundabout story):

I used to be a lifeguard at a public pool, which had its ups and downs. The ups were a nice tan, a job that doesn't actually require any semblance of working, and the ability to flirt with the better-looking mothers. And the downs? Well, the kids.

Actually, for the most part I loved the pool kids. There were just a few troublemakers who caused me headaches every day. There was one boy, and he was a kind little boy. He was also, sadly, the most annoying little kid in the world. You hate saying that about young children, but, well, I lifeguarded this kid for three years and I don't think there was ever a time when he stopped talking. Not even once. The best part of my day was always when his mother called out, "Time to go home!"

There was another boy who was bad news. He was the type of kid who would try to drown a "friend," then pretend like nothing had happened when I intervened. Even though, you know, I'd just seen him choking his friend out two seconds before. "We were just having fun!" he would inevitably say. Then I would look over at the friend, whose face would be purple because he could barely breathe.

The third troublemaker, I didn't hate. Not at all. Maybe I should have. This kid would break every pool rule, every single day. I would tell him to walk, and 0.2 seconds later he'd be sprinting full speed. I'd tell him to stop splashing, and the next thing I knew his friends would be under a barrage of splashing water. I'd tell him not to do a back flip, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- his next dive would be a back flip.

But there was a difference to the third boy's troublemaking -- it was all in good fun. He wasn't annoying, and he wasn't choking out any of his friends. Mostly, he didn't harm anything or anybody at all. He just broke a lot of rules because he was a free spirit, because he was so excited to swim in the pool he couldn't contain himself. Every time he broke a rule, he'd get a look on his face, like, "Oops. I can't believe I just did that. I'm so sorry." And he always had a smile on his face, so I couldn't stay mad at this kid. I just couldn't, no matter how many rules he broke. It wasn't entirely his fault. He just couldn't help himself.

In case you are still wondering, the third boy is the swimming pool equivalent of Nate Robinson. Nate does some really stupid things on a basketball court. He loves pulling up for threes on 1-on-3 fast breaks. He occasionally makes dumb passes, and his height can hinder him defensively. There was one play Sunday when Robinson took a shot, over his head, literally without even looking at the hoop. It hit the side of the backboard and bounced off, and I imagine Doc Rivers sat on the sideline shaking his head in disbelief.

But I can't stay mad at Nate. Because on that very same play, Nate chased down his rebound and somehow passed it to Ray Allen in the corner, who made a bucket. The play after that, Nate made a nice defensive play which resulted in a fast break lay-in. A quarter or two later, a loose ball bounced on the court, and three different Indiana Pacers were in pursuit. Naturally, Nate, farthest away from the ball, dove on the floor and beat all three Pacers to it. Two or three plays after THAT, Nate dove into the first row of the stands, after a ball he probably never had a chance of reaching.

What I'm trying to say is this: Nate Robinson is not the world's smartest basketball player, nor is he anywhere close to it. But I can live with his occasional brain farts because I know everything he does has the right intention, because he does it all with a smile on his face, and because no matter how many times he screws up, I know he's actually trying as hard as he possibly can. He loves basketball, loves being part of a winner, and plays with the exuberance of Pool Troublemaker #3.

Will Nate cause me frustration at some point in the future? Inevitably, and it won't just be once. But I will forgive him, because, well, I get the feeling he just can't help himself.

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