ISSAQUAH – It’s crazy to think Nate Robinson is 30 now. The memories of his athletic exploits remain so fresh, so personal.
Most every Seattle sports fan has a favorite Nate moment, and they remember it in such vivid detail that you feel like you were there. In some tales, he sounds like he’s from another planet, a 5-foot-9 athlete who can jump cloud high, run cheetah fast and compete with mountain-man toughness.
He’s catching a lob from Curtis Allen against Arizona to re-energize Washington basketball. He’s intercepting a pass over 6-foot-6 Washington State wide receiver Mike Bush and later explaining, “Maybe he didn’t know I could jump.” He’s at Rainier Beach High School breaking the state record in the 110-meter hurdles, or returning a kickoff for a touchdown during an upset of O’Dea, or leaping over a center for a tip-dunk.
Some of Robinson’s highlights date back 13 years, but they seem timeless, just as Robinson seems like he’s from another time, a specimen from the future.
But he’s 30 now, considered by many the true age of adulthood. He’s a proud father of three children: Nahmier (9), Ny’ale (7) and Navyi (4). He’s a nine-year NBA veteran who has earned $22.4 million.
Robinson, one of the best all-around athletes in Washington state history, celebrated his 30th birthday on May 31 by flying family and friends to Los Angeles, renting a house and hosting a party with guests such as rappers Drake, The Game and Fabolous and R&B stars Ne-Yo and Brandy.
“I really don’t do the party thing, but you’ve got to throw a party for your Dirty 30,” Robinson said, smiling.
This Rip City reunion may very well end on Monday night, with the San Antonio Spurs up 3-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and looking so very capable of finishing off Portland’s beloved Trail Blazers on their home floor.
And still, Damian Lillard – not to mention the shoe company that recently gave him a blockbuster deal that caught so many by surprise – will have won.
When it comes to the business of basketball and one man’s brand, no one has won in these playoffs quite like the Blazers’ second-year point guard whose Adidas deal is believed to be the third largest in the entire NBA. The contract – which his agent, Aaron Goodwin of Goodwin Sports Management, told USA TODAY Sports could be “well over $100 million” with very-reachable incentives and is expected to eventually include a signature shoe and apparel – was seen by some as a head-spinner when it was first revealed on April 14.
Lillard was a rising star, to be sure, having won Rookie of the Year in 2012-13 and earned his first All-Star berth in his second season. But he had only received the 22nd most fan votes in the All-Star affair that is widely deemed a popularity contest, and two months later Adidas was making this monumental investment that would put Lillard above the Kobe Bryants and Dwight Howards of the basketball world in terms of shoe deals.
Then came the shot that fit so snug into Adidas’ preferred script, Lillard’s game-winning dagger from three feet behind the three-point line that not only buried the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the first round but remains the most memorable moment of this postseason. It was instant bedlam in the Moda Center building, with these loyal fans whose team hadn’t reached the second round of the playoffs for 14 years going wild and Lillard spiking his approval rating yet again even after the shot by grabbing the courtside microphone and yelling, “Rip City!” as he let everyone in on his moment.
Such is the power of the playoffs, that memorable time of year when the mainstream audience tunes in and players’ images are so often buoyed or broken.
So how does a guy who just hit the biggest shot of his career spend the next day? By stepping away from his craft, as Damian Lillard did, and watching his older brother, Houston, throw for 159 yards and six touchdowns on Saturday in his Indoor Football League game in Kennewick, Wash.
“I just wanted to relax,” Lillard told Bleacher Report. “There’s still more work to be done,” which, starting Tuesday night, means trying to take out the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
But that doesn’t mean the All-Star point guard has overlooked the impact of his buzzer-beating three-pointer that finished off the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs. “I’ve seen [the shot] a bunch of times,” he said.
On Sunday, when Lillard was back on the practice court with the Portland Trail Blazers, he reflected on how the franchise-changing play unfolded, propelling the team to the second round for the first time in 14 years.
“I was standing and I felt [Chandler Parsons'] arm on me, and I was just watching the referee to see when he was going to give the ball over,” he said. “And [the Rockets] were communicating whether or not they were going to switch, and as soon as [the referee] handed the ball [to Nicolas Batum], I just took off running. I think I kind of caught them off guard. I just took off. I was able to get a step on [Parsons] and get a look at the rim.
“The most exciting thing was just to see how everybody reacted to it. You got to see how valuable that game was, how much it meant to everybody, how much it meant to see that ball go in and to win that game—from the fans to the coaches to the training staff to the ball boys to our team. That’s what made me feel the best about it.”
The net snaps crisply as another corner three-pointer from Damian Lillard skims through. Lillard sees the ball drop through the hoop, turns and jogs back toward the foul line. He is visibly tired—the Trail Blazers have just wrapped up a full practice at their Portland practice facility—but his shots still sail with a perfect arc as he works through a few post-practice drills with assistant coach David Vanterpool.
Two Trail Blazers bench players, casually playing one-on-one at a nearby hoop, follow Lillard with their eyes as he prepares for another rep. “Dame!” The player with the ball calls out as Lillard approaches. “How should I do him?” motioning toward his teammate guarding him.
The player then imitates one of Lillard’s signature moves, a stutter-step-to-pull-up shot. “Or what about this?” he asks, busting out a hesitation crossover.
Lillard slows, gives the question some thought and performs a stutter step of his own. The bench players laugh; then the one with the ball does his best Lillard impression and heaves the ball toward the hoop. Lillard gives the players a small smile and gets back to work, satisfied to have shared a little expertise.
“As a point guard, you are in charge of making sure the boat keeps floating,” Lillard says later. “That means you have to keep everybody happy, because when guys aren’t happy at this level, things can go south quickly.”
RELATED: Master the Screen-to-Floater With Damian Lillard
Despite his short NBA career—he is in his second season (he was Rookie of the Year in 2012-13)—Lillard is already the Blazers’ team leader. His teammates look to him for guidance and approval, and with good reason. At 23, Lillard is older than his years. He had to grow up fast.
After two days of talking, thinking about and replaying a Game 1 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, the Toronto Raptors were ready to tie the series on Tuesday night.
With DeMar DeRozan taking a page out of Paul Pierce’s crunch-time playbook, the Raptors held off the Nets 100-95. Toronto will head to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4 with the series even.
“We weren’t going down 0-2,” Amir Johnson said. “We were the desperate team. We had to play desperate. There was no way we were going to lose that game. It was a must-win for us.”
After struggling in Game 1, DeRozan was huge when it counted for Toronto. Finishing with a game-high 30 points, he weathered the storm and pieced together a brilliant fourth quarter.
“I’m just happy for him,” Kyle Lowry said. “A lot of people were saying he had a bad game. But everyone has a bad game once in a while. And for us, he’s had a bad game, I’ve had a bad game, but the fact that he’s an All-Star and he knows how to get his thing done, tonight just showed what he can do. And he just did an unbelievable job tonight of attacking, being aggressive and he got his rhythm going. Once he gets his rhythm going, he’s a hard guard.”
Throughout the first half of Game 2, DeRozan looked much calmer than he had in his playoff debut. He had 11 points. He looked confident rather than rushed. The jitters he’d spent the previous 48 hours atoning for seemed to be gone.
When the third quarter hit, DeRozan was served another helping of postseason difficulty. Shooting 4-for-9 in the first half, DeRozan went cold in the third, connecting on 1-for-7 attempts. After picking up his fifth foul with more than seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, he was sent to the sideline. He wasn’t happy about it.
Pleading with his coach to no avail, DeRozan sat on the bench and wore his frustration all over his face. With Lowry taking care of business until he could return, the game was tied when DeRozan returned with less than four minutes remaining. He made the most of it.
Drilling back-to-back jumpers in a 35-second span, DeRozan gave the Raptors a four-point lead. When he turned the ball over on a drive to the basket with less than a minute remaining and the lead down to two, rather than losing his composure, he remained poised.
DeRozan’s fourth quarter ended up looking like this: 17 points on 4-for-5 field goals, 9-for-11 from the free throw line, and a perfect 6-for-6 from the stripe in the final 20 seconds in 8:35 minutes played.
For the first time in his five-year career, DeRozan was the closer in a postseason game. He was who his team needed him to be.