Nate Robinson is one of the greatest players to have ever graced the basketball arenas across Israel when he arrived during the 2015/16 season and signed with Hapoel Tel Aviv for the final two and half months of the campaign. Although his time was short in the Holy Land he left a lasting impression that hoops fans throughout the country will never, ever forget.
“I’m feeling great and I’m enjoying life.” Robinson said as he is at home obeying the COVID-19 regulations. “I have some time to relax and spend with the family which is very important.”
How did you end up coming to Israel?
“I just wanted to play basketball with Tre Simmons who is like a brother. He told me about the team and that they were interested in me coming. He said that Hapoel Tel Aviv really wanted to get into the playoffs and they needed me in order to help them get into the postseason.”
One of the big questions was how would a star like Robinson, who had played in historic arenas like Madison Square Garden, the Staples Center and the Boston Garden adjust to arenas in Israel. However, the guard explained that he very much enjoyed the playing in the quaint arenas in his first time overseas.
“It was a lot of fun. The American fans watch sports like it is a movie or show and in Israel it’s like a party. The fans are always yelling and screaming and it’s a blast for the players.”
Robinson had some memorable performances in Israel but the most unforgettable one was game one of Hapoel Tel Aviv’s quarterfinal series against Hapoel Jerusalem. He was unstoppable scoring 41 points in regulation time including the shot over Donta Smith that sent the game into overtime. When the game ended Robinson had clocked in 46 points, but Jerusalem took the 99-97 victory after a dramatic finish that saw the series go the full five games.
“Of course I remember that game,” Robinson exclaimed. “It was a fantastic game, enjoyable but very tough. Jerusalem had a huge arena and it was terrific to play there. I scored and scored and the team just believed in me. I tried my best to help them win the series but it wasn’t to be.”
Over the years there have been a number of NBA stars that played in Israel including Amare Stoudemire, Tom Chambers and others. Where would you rank yourself?
“Rankings don’t really interest me. I play basketball for the fans and to just have a good time. I know what I’m worth, what I can bring and I know that I can play as hard as I can. The names who listed are great players and Amare was one of my teammates where we did a great job together. There are many players who have been in the NBA that are playing around the world and that’s great.”
Looking back on it, are you happy that you came to Israel? It looks like you had a great time with on and off of the court.
“For sure, it was great and it was something that I had never experienced. I have been to many places around the world but never a place like Israel. It was incredible to see the history.”
Do you think that you could play in the NBA today?
“For sure I could play, but they don’t want me. I hope that someone will.”
Robinson who will celebrate his 36th birthday at the end of May hasn’t played in the NBA since 2015 but has featured for some short stops in the G-League, Venezuela and Lebanon but has also spent time playing in the BIG3 as his cultural appeal has not wavered one bit.
In 2018 Robinson took part in Uncle Drew alongside Kyrie Irving, Shaquille O’Neal, Reggie Miller and other NBA stars of past and present.
“We don’t stop playing because we get older, we get older because we stop playing,” said “Boots”, Robinson’s aging character in the film. When asked if he is thinking about retirement and the day after basketball, he replied emphatically, “Nate Robinson will never retire. I’ll play basketball until I die.”
Of course, with the “Last Dance” documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominating the sports headlines these days, which camp is Robinson in, Jordon of Lebron?
“I’ll always be in Jordan’s camp.”
Finally, what would happen if Hapoel Tel Aviv would call you today and ask that you return to the club?
“If they would want me to come and play, I’d come. I’m ready to return to Hapoel Tel Aviv today.”