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Inside the Game: Nate Robinson and the art of high energy basketball

03.24.10 at 12:54 am ET

Growing up, Nate Robinson was supposed to stay away from sweets. All that sugar would keep him awake, his mother told him. He found a way to get into it anyways.

But Robinson never needed sweets and sugar to get going. He has been high-powered for as long as he can remember. The 25-year-old is the oldest of nine siblings (the youngest is 4 years old), and being a ringleader of energy was something he says fell into his lap.

‘€œIt just came naturally, I guess,’€ he said. ‘€œI was always energized and always wanted to have fun and mess with people. I always wanted people to have as much fun as I’€™m having. I think that’€™s what it was for me. I feel like if other people are not having fun or not being energized, I think that I didn’€™t do my job that day. So I always have to bring that energy.’€

Robinson has made a career out of channeling that energy on to the basketball court. The former University of Washington standout was selected by the Suns with the 21st pick in the 2005 draft. He spent past 4½ seasons providing an instant spark for the Knicks in a backup role before being traded to the Celtics in February.

Robinson’€™s ‘€œready whenever’€ mentality was showcased this season in his return from being benched for 14 straight games with the Knicks. On Jan. 1, he exploded for 41 points in just 38 minutes off the bench. He scored 11 of the Knicks’ 13 overtime points in a victory over the Hawks. To Robinson, he was just doing his job.

‘€œIt’€™s funny,’€ he said. ‘€œI felt the same like I always do.’€

Robinson instant energy has enhanced the C’s second unit in the second half of the season. While the Celtics lost one sharpshooter in Eddie House, they gained another confident offensive player who has the potential to make an impact in the postseason. After less than two months on the team, Doc Rivers told WEEI’€™s Dennis & Callahan show, ‘€œNate is a guy who has the chance to be a one-game sensation. He’s going to win a playoff game for us.”

Robinson may not know when Rivers is going to call his name, when he does, he’€™ll be ready to go.

‘€œFor them, they don’€™t need much because they’€™re a smart team,’€ Robinson said of the Celtics. ‘€œThey’€™re a fun team. Baby [Glen Davis], he brings the energy as well, so they have guys that do that. Me, I’€™m just adding a little more fuel so they can go a little faster.’€

As part of’€™s ‘€œInside the Game’€ series with the Celtics, Robinson explains what it means to be a high-energy player:

Call him ‘Garbage Man’€™: Providing a spark off the bench may not be appealing to every player, but Robinson enjoys doing the dirty work on the court.

‘€œIt’€™s kind of like, it’€™s a job that has to be done. It’€™s kind of like a garbage man, that’€™s how I look at it, kind of like a garbage man. Everybody needs their garbage picked up and I’€™m that guy to do it. I’€™m the energy guy. I’€™ve got to bring enough energy for everybody, enough for the whole building.’€

Energy fostered at home: Robinson grew up in a very active household where he and his family played pick-up games against other families at local parks. He recalled his favorite memory from one of the many times they all took the court:

‘€œI remember one time I was like 15 or 16 and I was in Oakland, California. There was this park where I grew up called Bushrod, it’€™s in north Oakland, me and my family took a little trip up to another park called Mosswood. It’€™s like rival parks and my family went up there and we played against another family. I remember we put the money in a hat, everybody put in five dollars. ‘€¦ We played for hat, played for the money.

‘€œI remember this one big dude, my cousin threw me an alley-oop and I caught it and I dunked on him. I was screaming and yelling. He was like, ‘€˜If you do that again, I’€™m doing to kick your butt.’€™ I was like, ‘€˜Oh, man.’€™ So I’€™m going through the game, I was scoring, and it was game point. My cousin who was on fast break, she threw another lob and dude goes up and I was like, A) Do I catch it and dunk on him? B) Do I let the ball go out of bounds and I lose and my family beats me up?’€™ (Laughs) I didn’€™t know what to do.

‘€œSo I just went with my first instinct, caught it, and I dunked on him again. We got the money and we ran home. They were chasing us [laughs], they were mad.’€

Ready at a moment’€™s notice: Robinson doesn’€™t have to be a starter to make an instant contribution. That’€™s why notions of ‘€œwarming up’€ and ‘€œfinding his rhythm’€ don’€™t factor into his game.

‘€œIt’€™s just something that I picked up coming in this league as a rookie behind Stephon Marbury, Jamal Crawford, Steve Francis. I knew I wasn’€™t going to be able to be a starter so I knew my role was going to be coming off the bench, kind of like a Vinnie Johnson type of guy, and just coming in and playing my game. Coming off the bench I guess has worked for me in the past.’€

Fueling the engine: It isn’€™t a big basket or a jam gets the defending slam dunk champion hyped on the court. Rather, his favorite moments involve the intangibles.

‘€œWhen you’€™re just out hustling the other team and they just can’€™t do anything about it. Hustling for loose balls, having that extra help, diving in the crowd, saving the ball, things like that I think get the crowd involved, they get your teammates hyped up, and it gets you going. I think that’€™s kind of like your fuel to your engine. If you’€™re driving a train, you just keep filling the fuel with all the little things and it just keeps going.’€

Athletics and academics: In order to help the Huskies on the court ‘€” he led them to the Sweet 16 in 2005 ‘€” Robinson had to maintain enough energy to balance athletics and academics. (He also played football at the University of Washington during his freshman season.)

‘€œIt was tiring at times but to be able to play basketball, I had to stay eligible. So I had to muster up enough energy in my books as well, and I made sure I was smart enough to ask for extra help if I needed it. I always had two or three tutors that worked with me night and day because I’€™m a workaholic, so I just put extra time into my books knowing that it was going to be tough, but I could do it. I had to put the same effort in in basketball as well, give it the right amount of time in practice and I just did it like that for the last three years.’€

Inspiration in the end zone: While Robinson admired the play of basketball greats growing up, it was an athlete from another sport whom he looked up to the most.

‘€œMichael Jordan was my ultimate favorite, but the main guy that really got me going when I was a kid wasn’€™t a basketball player. It was Deion Sanders, Prime Time. He always brought a lot of energy. He always was in good spirits, smiling. And he always said if you look good, you feel good, you play good, so I went by that motto my whole life. I make sure I always have to look nice with my sleeve or my leg things and I feel like I’€™m on top of the world and I go out there and I play like that.’€

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