Nate Robinson made his name on the basketball court. He was a very good football player too, though.
The 5-foot-9 Robinson, famous for his highlight reel dunks and diminutive stature, played cornerback for the University of Washington as a freshman in 2002. That was his only season as a two-sport athlete.
He played in all 13 games for the Huskies that season, and was quite effective. The true freshman took over as starter for the final six games of the season, including a Sun Bowl appearance against Purdue, and finished with 34 tackles and two interceptions.
He appeared on the latest episode of Sports Illustrated's "Holdat" podcast with fellow former NBA star Carlos Boozer. The conversation naturally turned towards the huge sports story du jour: the FBI's probe into college basketball.
Boozer discussed his experience with being offered impermissible benefits, including money and cars, as a recruit. Ultimately, he said he turned it down, and went to Duke instead.
"I’m going to be honest, I was a kid that turned it down. I was raised by my mom and dad—shout out Renee and Carlos Sr.—when I was getting recruited, and you probably went through this too Nate. I was one of the top players in my class and had a lot of schools coming after me. Obviously I’m not going to out anybody on this show, but I had a lot of schools coming out for me. I had schools telling me that if you come to my school you’ll start right away, we’ll give you a Jeep Cherokee, which at that time was one of the hottest whips out, we’ll give you $1,000 a month, you don’t have to go to class, you just gotta come play ball for us."
Nate Robinson says he was also offered cash, but his story is different.
He wasn't offered until he was already at Washington, and it was to stay on the football team instead of walking away to focus on basketball. From the podcast:
“When they fired Rick Neuheisel my freshman year that made it easy for me to make my decision to quit and go play basketball, which I wanted to do anyway,” Robinson explained. “For my three years at UW, I had a booster offer me $100,000 per year to come back and play football because they needed Nate Robinson back on the football field because we weren’t winning any games, it wasn’t exciting. It was crazy, we went through a dark age at the University of Washington. When Tyrone Willingham was the coach years later, we didn’t win not one game. It was just crazy.
“But a booster came to me, my mom sat down and my mom was like, ‘That’s a lot of money.’ And she was looking at me like, ‘What you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘I want to hoop, I don’t want to take money from a booster and not knowing if this handshake is for us to keep this money, because people don’t do nothing for free.’ And that’s what my mom taught me. What do I owe you after this? My mom was just like, ‘What do you want to do? It’s up you. This is your life, not mine.’ I told my mom I going to have to kindly say no thank you, but my dream is to play basketball and earn everything that I got.
Things clearly worked out for Robinson. He played three seasons for the Huskies before becoming a first round pick in the NBA Draft.
Robinson went on to an 11-year NBA career. He is a three-time winner of the NBA Dunk Contest, and had some pretty impressive individual seasons, including when he averaged over 17 points per game for the New York Knicks in 2008-09.