NBA Veteran Nate Robinson Returns to Football, Expands Talents Off the Court
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Nearly four years have passed since Nate Robinson last set foot in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean the three-time Slam Dunk champion has been any less busy.
On the court, the high-flying guard has taken his talents from Israel and the G League to Venezuela and Lebanon, and is now in his second season with the BIG3. Off of it, he’s acted in the Uncle Drew movie, dabbled in media with Sports Illustrated and re-ignited his love for football by way of the American Flag Football League—all while raising his three children, Nayvi, Nahmier and Ny’ale.
CloseUp360 recently caught up with Nate at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center about getting back into the sport that his father, Jacque, played—and that he played as a freshman at the University of Washington—along with his growth as a multi-talented personality over the years.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Nate Robinson played football and basketball as a freshman at the University of Washington before transitioning to hoops full time. (Griffin Harrington)
CloseUp360: What brings you out here to play flag football?
Nate Robinson: It's fun for me. One of the things I do take pride in is definitely being a father, and then playing a game that [my father] loved and I loved growing up. I mean, this is fun. I haven't got in yet, but I'm here to support my team, for sure.
CU360: What advice did your dad give you about playing football?
NR: Honestly, just have fun. He used to always say, "Try not to get touched, try to score as many touchdowns as you can. Just look for the big play and just enjoy what you're doing. If you're not enjoying it, there's no reason for you to be playing."
CU360: How does it feel to be back on the field?
NR: Being out here with the guys, putting on the cleats and throwing the football up and down the field, I mean, I want to play. I can't wait since childhood memories are just circling all over again.
CU360: Are you having flashbacks to your football days at Washington?
NR: Always. Whenever I come to do anything with football, I think about that all the time. They gave me an opportunity to come out and do the 40[-yard dash], and do all the workout stuff. It was fun.
CU360: What's the style of this flag football league like?
NR: Honestly, it's fast. The rules are a lot different. How fast should I get rid of the ball? But it's fun, man. Whenever you're playing football and you're playing some kind of game that you love with superstars and GOATs, it's awesome. And I'm just here having a good time.
CU360: What's your strategy out there?
NR: Just don't get beat. And then just try to contest every shot and just play, have fun.
CU360: This is your second year doing this. Tell me about the first time.
NR: The first time was fun. It was a challenge because it was outside in the grass, a lot of bugs, but the fans came out and showed love. We lost. But overall, ultimately, it was a great experience and we had a blast. I'm back here again, so hopefully I can come back next year.
CU360: How do you want to bring that experience from last year to this year?
NR: Same approach. I just want to win. I don't care what it takes to win, but I just want to give my team an opportunity, showcase my talent, go out there and play hard.
Nate and his flag football teammate, former NFL star Michael Vick. (Griffin Harrington)
CU360: Do you feel like guys really know about this league yet?
NR: Nah, not really. It's beginning, making more hype, playing on the field that NFL players’ cleats have been on and all the greats that have been playing. It's like they're all watching, so you've got to go out and perform.
CU360: How does it feel to be back in New York doing this, considering your past with the Knicks?
NR: It's pretty cool. I mean, you see how dope the facility is. You see, they got the trophy up [from Super Bowl III]. They've got autographs on the wall. It makes me feel a part of it.
CU360: What was it like for you to be a Knick and live in New York?
NR: Honestly, it was, it was unbelievable. The fans welcomed me with open arms—the whole city did. I played with my heart and soul and they knew that...but playing for the Knicks, guys were awesome. Fans were great. The Big Apple welcomed me with open arms, and for me, I was just looking for an opportunity for a team to actually love me—the person I am and the player I am.
CU360: Off the court, you're doing a lot these days. You're acting, working in media, playing in the BIG3. Where does that versatility come from?
NR: Being blessed, man. God blessed me with a great opportunity to do cool stuff. Me being a people's person and being not afraid to try things that I'm not familiar with has been a blessing. It's fun. Honestly, I can't even explain in words, but I'm having a blast doing everything that I'm doing, being a great father to my children, being a great role model and inspiration to other kids around the world. You couldn't ask for anything better than that.
CU360: How have you been able to build yourself as a social media personality over the years?
NR: For me, I live for the moment, and I just want them to get a glimpse of what I post, and kind of my life and what I'm doing with it. For me, I live for my kids, and every day is a step of trying to get closer and being a better person, being a better father, even a harder worker. So I'm just trying to figure out my next couple of steps stepping into the 35-plus years—just getting ready for that.
Nate has built a robust social media profile, with over two million followers on Instagram. (Griffin Harrington)
CU360: I know fatherhood is big for you. Do you encourage your kids to play basketball and football?
NR: They do everything. Honestly, they play all sports, but for me, I just want them to do what they love. Whatever that is, I'm going to support it no matter what because I'm dad, so I'm here for them.
CU360: It's a big summer for you with the BIG3 and supporting your kids on the AAU circuit.
NR: We're doing all that, yep. We're getting ready for that as well, on top of the BIG3. So I'm doing that and BIG3, running from different places and meeting my kids in different states playing AAU ball.
CU360: Are you coaching them?
NR: No, I'm just on the sideline. The dad that gets kicked out of every game, that's me.
CU360: What was it like playing a featured role in Uncle Drew?
NR: Honestly, that was one of my favorite highlights in my life right now, being able to act and be a part of something so special, and one of the best basketball movies, I would say, ever made. So being a part of that with Shaq, Kyrie [Irving], Lisa Leslie, Chris Webber and Reggie Miller was awesome.
CU360: Is acting something you want to pursue further?
NR: Maybe. I mean, I'm not saying no to it. If another opportunity presents itself, I'm there.
CU360: What about Space Jam 2?
NR: I wish. Man, I wish they would've came to me with that. That would have been awesome. But we'll see who they pick for the little guy, for Muggsy Bogues' part. So probably like Isaiah Thomas, somebody that's in the league. They probably want to do somebody that's in the league that's still playing.
CU360: What's next for you?
NR: You've got to stay tuned. You never know. I might have my own show. Just doing cool stuff, man. But I might be coaching soon. Who knows? Coaching high school basketball. Wherever God has me blowing with the wind, I'm going with it.
On-site reporting by CloseUp360 Founder and President Jared Zwerling.
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.