Nate Robinson
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Now a star on the flag football gridiron, Nate Robinson still harbors fond memories and a positive outlook for the New York Knicks.

Geoff Magliocchetti

There hasn’t been much to celebrate when it comes to New York Knicks basketball since the turn of the century. Nate Robinson remains a welcome exception.

Robinson last played for the Knicks in 2010. He joined the team as part of a trade in the 2005 draft that sent his rights to New York. Five exciting seasons followed, ones that are still discussed to this day as the team wanders through basketball exile.

Though the Knicks have faltered, having not reached the playoffs since 2013. Robinson has been doing anything but.

While continuing his exploits on the hardwood through the Lebanese Basketball League, Robinson has more recently made a name for himself on the flag football circuit. He returned to the metropolitan area this weekend to partake in the American Flag Football League’s championship proceedings held at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.

16 amateur teams have descended upon the New York Jets’ New Jersey practice facility for Florham Park glory. Robinson partakes on a professional squad known as Florida Fury, a team consisting of former professional athletes like NFL alumni Michael Vick, Jason Avant, and Danny Wuerffel. The squad took on a team known as “Fighting Cancer” in a pro playoff, but they fell in double overtime by a 41-40 final.

“When you’re an athlete, you can play any sport, I believe,” Robinson said of his rediscovered football tastes. “There’s never a transition. If you can catch, you can run, you can play. You can play football.”

Robinson is no stranger to the gridiron. Prior to his foray into basketball, he was a cornerback for the University of Washington before choosing to focus on the former after his freshman year.

“More people are playing, more people coming out and enjoying themselves,” he said of professional flag football’s increasing popularity. “It’s a faster game, one where I love the fact that you can see the guys with the helmets and shoulder pads covering them up. That’s something that you can gravitate to when it comes to the teams. You can recognize them by the players. This is another game you get to play that we love and get to compete at a high level.”

A return to the area reopened Robinson’s memories of New York. He averaged 12.5 points and brought home three Slam Dunk Contest titles in his tenure. Many Knicks fans quickly recall the 5’9 Robinson blocked an attempt at two points from the 7’6 Yao Ming in a November 2006 showdown.

Robinson smiled when reminded of the block. But his favorite New York minute was a personal wish fulfilled in one of his first NBA contests.

A November 2005 visit from the Philadelphia 76ers afforded Robinson the opportunity to square off with childhood idol Allen Iverson. In an overtime thriller, Iverson torched the Knicks for 40 points. His final three were earned with six seconds left, as his shot from deep threatened to send the game into another extra session.

The Madison Square Garden faithful were more than happy to be denied extra basketball by Robinson.

Stephon Marbury drove down the court, with Iverson keeping watch. He of 33 points, Marbury appeared poised to take the final shot, but he dished it off to an open Robinson. Iverson jumped in desperation as Robinson’s ensuing shot beat the buzzer. It sank through the net, igniting a Manhattan celebration to the tune of a 105-102 final.

Robinson earned the win and a special gift from The Answer.

“(Iverson) told me ‘great shot’. I said, ‘can I have your sleeve?’ He gave me his sleeve after the game. I was a like a kid at candy store,” Robinson recalled. “For me, Allen Iverson is my favorite player ever, him and (Michael) Jordan. So for me to hit a game-winning shot over my favorite player that I watched growing up was, you could say, surreal. My favorite players knows who I am. I can die happy.”

The Knicks traded Robinson to the Boston Celtics in 2010. New York and Boston were the first two stops on NBA journey that took him to eight teams over 11 seasons. He last played in the NBA in 2016 as a member of the New Orleans Pelicans.

In terms of an NBA return, be it on the court or off, Robinson “wouldn’t count it out.”

“I’m going to stay in shape, good shape. Hopefully, I can get on somebody’s team for training camp,” he said. “Whatever it takes. I want to go out the right way. Play on a team, help a team win, bring energy, help the young guys.”

Despite racking up those NBA flyer miles, Robinson seemed to hint his heart developed by hoops will always be in New York. He referred to his Garden party as “a blessing” that “went by way too fast”.

He believes the Knicks can rise from the Association’s depths if they follow a model bestowed to them by a divisional rival and the most recent champions.

“They just have to keep chipping away. How long have the Toronto Raptors been in the NBA? 24 years with no championship. So it’s not like it’s over for the Knicks,” he said. “Hopefully they can get some pieces that form a real team like the Toronto Raptors did.

“Each guy from that team came from playing team basketball. Kawhi (Leonard) came from the Spurs. Kyle Lowry, from (Villanova), is a great team player. Danny Green‘s a great player, team player that’s played in winning programs. Serge Ibaka is as well, (Marc) Gasol too. Everyone’s been on winning programs, so putting them together and watching them win a championship was fun to watch.”

Robinson said the Knicks do have “great pieces right now”, calling out Allonzo Trier and Kevin Knox by name. He’s also hoping the Knicks could invite back DeAndre Jordan and anticipates the third pick in this week’s NBA Draft being used on Duke’s RJ Barrett.

“The Knicks have potential. They just have to keep finding pieces of the puzzle to make it a masterpiece.”

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