I grew up in Chicago, where Michael Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, is king. But somehow, long after His Airness had retired, another guard on the Chicago Bulls played his way into my heart.
In the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Nate Robinson delivered the most incredible performance of his career, scoring 35 points, including 23 in the fourth quarter alone, en route to leading the Bulls to a triple-overtime comeback victory over the Brooklyn Nets. I never thought I’d be writing about that game—or Nate Robinson for that matter—for a Jewish publication, but this week, word came down that Robinson, 31, had signed to play for Israeli basketball team Hapoel Tel Aviv.
The team, to put it lightly, greeted Robinson with love.
— Hapoel Tel Aviv BC (@HapoelUTA) March 17, 2016
So what can Hapoel Tel Aviv expect from Robinson, a diminutive, 5’9” journeyman guard and three-time Slam Dunk Contest winner?
It’s hard to know how much Nate has left in the tank, as they say (he tore his ACL in early 2014), but if he’s anything like the upstart scoring machine he used to be—with the Bulls, Knicks, Celtics, Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers, Thunder, and Pelicans—Hapoel Tel Aviv is in for shots, shots, shots, shots, shots. Nate’s at his best—and, unfortunately, sometimes his worst—with the ball in his hands. He’s streaky, but has the clutch gene; and, after ten years in the NBA, it’s hard to argue with his experience.
Nate joins a long line of players who have moved between the NBA and the Israeli Basketball Premier League. Few are Israeli (like Omri Casspi, the first-ever Israeli player picked in the first round of the NBA draft). Most of them are Americans (e.g., Will Bynum, Anthony Parker, Member of the Tribe Jordan Farmar), who have looked to jumpstart a career that petered out elsewhere; or, as is likely in the case of Robinson, to squeeze a few more good years out of a career that’s hit a dead end in the States.
With five championships and twenty championship game losses, Hapoel Tel Aviv has long played second fiddle to Tel Aviv’s other IBPL team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, who own 51 league championships. Maybe Robinson is just what HTA needs to get them back over the hump; with no championships since the late ’60s, they’re due. And who knows: this could be a Stephon Marbury-type situation. Marbury left the NBA in 2009, his career in turmoil, before going on to lead the Beijing Ducks, his new Chinese team, to three straight championships. At the very least, Robinson will hype up the Israeli crowds and hopefully get to eat some good falafel.