For Nate Robinson, Heart Over Height wasn’t just the perfect title for his autobiography. It was the mantra that carried him through a decade-long NBA career, during which he cemented himself as one of the most explosive leapers the league has ever seen.
Robinson electrified audiences everywhere he went, and at just 5’9, holds the improbable distinction of being the only three-time champion of the Slam Dunk Contest. His NBA journey might be over, but Robinson is still showing off his skills in the BIG3, where he will enter his second season as a co-captain for Tri-State.
It’s that same drive and entrepreneurial spirit that has him making his mark off the court as well. Among his many media ventures, Robinson hosts the Players’ Tribune show “Houseguest,” a modern update to MTV “Cribs,” and along with his business partner Carlos Boozer, recently launched the new clothing brand HOLDAT over All-Star Weekend in Chicago.
We caught up with Robinson via phone last week to talk about the brand launch, the dunk contest controversy, and much more.
DIME: Tell me about the brand launch for HOLDAT at All-Star Weekend in Chicago. What was that experience like?
Nate Robinson: The experience was great, honestly. A lot of fans came out and showed love, showed support, just trying to create some cool dope merch for the fans. It’s fun. It’s challenging, but it’s fun at the same time. Right now, we’re just in the mix of trying to create. We’re trying to create a women’s line, a kids’ line, trying to create a pretty cool brand from the ground up.
You’ve talked before about the origin of the name HOLDAT, and I just wanted to hear from you directly what that means to you?
I mean, HOLDAT is, I think, the alternative word for success. And you just really accomplishing your goals, accomplishing something somebody says you can’t. And when you accomplish that, you hit them with a ‘hold dat.’
Having played in Chicago, what was the significance for you of having the launch there?
It was just cool, playing a year in Chicago and then finding out All Star was out there and then having a launch. It’s just paying homage to the fans and just showing your appreciation of what the city meant to me. So, I wanted to kind of give back by doing a cool little launch and having some fun games and stuff like that. Me and Booze showed up, and people came to show love, and it was awesome.
The Bulls, as a team, haven’t really had a lot of reason to get excited over the past couple of years with all their struggles. What did you think it meant for the fans and just for the organization to be able to host All-Star Weekend and bring all of that fun and all that excitement for the city?
It was pretty cool. They needed it. Right now, the Bulls are not doing so well, but things can always change in the next year or two for them. They got Coby White. They have a couple of good, young pieces. Just having All Star in Chicago, pretty much the home of Michael Jordan, the winning atmosphere and the history behind the Bulls organization. It was just great. This is perfect. I think All-Star Weekend went extremely well. A lot of people came to show support. A lot of different celebrities pulled up. We had a great time just mingling and interacting with each other, and even though it was cold, the city was still hot. It was still fun.
You mentioned a couple of young pieces that the Bulls have. What do you think they need to do to kind of find their way back into contention here in the next couple of years?
They’ve got to just put a couple more pieces around Mr. [Zach] LaVine. I think they have a solid young group. They’ve just got to find some players that really want to be there and really want to play with the fire and the grit that the Bulls organization is known of playing. They make a couple of moves like that, get a couple gritty, defensive players, guys that want to share the ball, move the ball, play as a team, I think they’ll be okay.
I want to go back to the dunk contest for a moment. Obviously, as a three-time champ, I’m sure you had some feelings about what went on with Derrick Jones Jr. and Aaron Gordon. How did you feel about the outcome, in general? As someone who’s won before, how do you feel about the idea that’s kind of been thrown around about calling it a tie, having two trophies, etc.?
It should have been like that. If two players are dunking like they did and both got 50s, you have to have the tie. In times like that, you’ve got to bring two trophies to the gym to the All-Star festivities and give them both one. That was too good to pick one winner, I believe.
I believe that I would have given it to Aaron Gordon just because everything that he’s done in the dunk contest. Both of them were awesome, but they both should have shared it. I think Aaron got robbed. He should’ve definitely had two trophies right now. It’s just unfortunate. Mr. Jones does a great job too. He has some real crazy bounce. I just wish I was 6’9, just for one dunk contest.
I wanted to ask you more about making that transition to life after basketball. What has that challenge been like for you, and what advice would you give to players who are nearing the end of their career and figuring out what to do next?
I think what players should do is find something that they love and find something that they’re passionate about and attack it like they would do going into the gym. For me, I love clothes. I love sneakers. I love designing. I like looking fresh for myself. I love to interact with people. Why not do something that you like? I love clothes. I love wearing them. I love how they look. I love dressing my kids. I love picking out my shoes of the day, everything about it. I just wanted to start a cool brand.
I’ve got my own show with the Players’ Tribune, it’s called “House Guest.” I’m doing a show called “Yacht Talk” and doing so many different things and finding my way to do something with the cameras. I love to act. I love to do so many different things. I’m just finding my creativity off the court, and it’s been working. I just encourage those guys to do something that they love to do and find a passion in it and stick with it and see where it takes you.
The league today is more wide open this season than in a lot of years. Obviously there’s the two L.A. teams and then the Bucks out the other end. What’s been most exciting for you about watching this season?
I just wish I was playing at this time right now because my game would be perfect for this style of play. I think I came in the league a little earlier when I was trying to do the things that they’re doing now. Pull up three, shoot from deep, dancing, wearing the cool shoes, I was doing it all before a lot of guys were doing it. A lot of guys were, but now it’s not frowned upon. Back when I was in the league, it was more about tradition, and you’ve got to follow protocol and act a certain way. Now, it’s more freedom. And I like that. I like the fact that you could wear any kind of color shoes you want.
When I was playing, you could only wear either black or white. There were no orange and yellow shoes when you’re a purple team, none of that. I was trying to do it, and they were telling me I’d have to change my shoes and change my outfit or whatever I had on. So, it’s cool that they’re letting guys be themselves. The individuality is pretty cool. Guys can express themselves the way they are and who they are. I like that. I hope the league can continue to go in that direction. I hope that the league can go back to being a little bit tougher. I think the league is softer right now.
Yeah. I think that they need to go back to where a hard foul is not a Flagrant 1 or Flagrant 2. It’s just a hard foul. I love that everybody’s scoring more. Guys are going up to 156 points a game. It’s crazy. Last night, Trae Young scored 50 points, and he shot three or four threes from half court. Nobody was doing those Steph Curry threes back in the day. Now, the game is opened up, and it’s showing guys’ creativity, and I love it.
You mentioned Trae Young. Who are some of the other guys you like to watch today?
I love watching Damian Lillard. I love watching James Harden, of course. I love watching the Greek Freak play. Who else? Russ, of course. I like Tatum.
Does anyone remind you of yourself at all?
I haven’t really seen too many people that remind me of myself. I would say Isaiah Thomas, but he’s not in the league right now. I hope he can get back and play at the high caliber that he was playing. I like Carsen Edwards, even though he doesn’t get the minutes that he deserves. I like his game. He can play, but playing for the Celtics, he’s got to wait his turn behind Kemba and what they’re doing over there. Hopefully, one day he’ll get a chance to show what he can do. He’s a badass. Donovan Mitchell’s cool.
You’ve been part of the BIG3, and it’s been going through some re-branding of its own going into this next season. What can we expect to see from the BIG3 next season?
They’re changing some of the rules, and it looks pretty fun. I saw they’re taking out free throws, and they’re adding that if a guy fouls you, you get to go one-on-one with them. That’s going to be interesting and fun to see. I can’t wait for somebody to foul me to see who I get to go up against in a one-on-one battle. That’s going to be fun.
I can’t wait to see that myself.
I think that the BIG3 is taking the game to a whole other level. Competitive-wise, entertainment-wise. Ice Cube is letting guys be themselves. He invites all kinds of players. He lowered the age to 22, and you don’t have to be a professional to come play. If you feel you’re good enough to try out, he’s giving open tryouts for many people all over the world. I think that is pretty cool. Some professional sports will never do that, and for the BIG3 to go ahead and open it like that to give other people opportunities to chase their dreams of playing for a professional sport is awesome.
You talked a little bit earlier about the different ventures you’ve got going on. What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Hopefully, I’ll do my own production company. I have my restaurant, I have my clothing line. I’m just trying to create, so stay tuned. Watch out for HOLDAT. HOLDAT should be hopefully everywhere all over the world. I want it to be well-known worldwide. I want everybody to love the brand, to be a part of the HOLDAT movement. Just come to show love and support, and HOLDAT is here to stay. We’re going to be making cool stuff coming up in the spring and summer and the fall to winter. We just want to keep growing and hopefully do some cool collabs with some of the great designers and other brands that you see today. We’re gonna keep it going moving forward.