As we immerse ourselves in another holiday weekend, I couldn’t help but think how one of Hollywood’s best little big men, Gary Coleman, passed away this past Friday early morning at around 12:05pm. I recalled how the diminutive former child star’s light once shined so brilliantly but was later typcasted and left to the side as the stamp of novelty lost it’s effect and inhibited the young Gary Coleman’s breadth of prospects. Rest in peace Gary. I’ll remember all the laughter and good times your TV shows brought to my household.
For some reason I thought how Nate Robinson has also been at times received by fans and the NBA game alike as some sort of Novelty, a great gimmick, a good side show. Perhaps as a result Nate has become best known for the circus atmosphere of the NBA All Star weekend where he has captured 3 NBA Slam Dunk titles. No one will doubt that Nate can certainly electrify due to the meeting of polar opposites of diminutive NBA stature and freakish athleticism and skill rolled up into one super-charged individual. Nevertheless, many also believed Nate was yet another undersized guard not fit for either the role of a shooting guard, due to his size, or the role of a point guard due to questions about his ability to set up his teammates, in particular down in the post. Many critics pointed to Nate Robinson’s antics on the court — in particular the perceived lack of discipline in Robinson’s game — perhaps with a dismissive eye towards the young guard and perhaps anticipating the decline of what many thought to be Nate the novelty, not Nate the player.
However, Nate found himself in the fortunate position to be in coach D’Antoni’s dog house and on a quick ticket to a Boston Celtics franchise that was willing and capable of dealing honestly and squarely with Nate and his role with the Celtics as an additional reserve. Perhaps in a manner similar to Gary Coleman’s character, Arnold Jackson, in Diff’rent Strokes, Nate’s prospects went from rags to riches as Nate went from a dysfunctional organization with a coaching regime not known for player development and communication to a world class organization where the team’s head coach insisted to Nate that he would have an important impact for the Celtic’s all the while insisting that Nate hone his game to the Celtic’s disciplined and defensively-oriented style of play. The discipline Nate demonstrated in keeping himself focused throughout a thirty game span without significant playing time with the Celtic’s impressed Celtic’s coach Doc Rivers as much as Robinon’s contribution to the team’s return to the NBA finals.
In a span of about 13 minutes, Nate produced 13 points, 2 assist (Glen Davis’ missed a layup that would have given Robinson a 3rd assist), 1 steal and 2 rebounds. More importantly, Nate’s insertion on the court helped stem the tide of a series that was going the Celtic’s way but was stuck in neutral after two strong games by the rival Magic, who stood one game shy of tying up the Conference finals against the Celtics. More importantly, in a Conference Finals Series where the opposing teams big men and point guards had taken turns dominating and swinging momentum, Nate’s disciplined energy, scoring and direction helped re-establish the Celtic’s momentum and provide a brief but much necessary respite to a Celtic’s team that had suffered injury and shown signs of wear on their quest to return to stage of the NBA Finals. In a span of 13 much needed reserve minutes, Nate demonstrated to those who would typecast him that he is an NBA player capable of providing whatever was needed from his team and coaching staff, that he was more than just a sideshow. In a span of 13 minutes Nate, the smallest player on the court, had the biggest impact on a playground sandlot fight that had tested the mettle of some of the biggest and most bruising players on the court.