Nate Robinson, in a past life. (Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)
Most NBA fans know that Nate Robinson was a standout Seattle high-school cornerback, and that he played for a year at the University of Washington before deciding to go all-in on hoops before the start of his sophomore year with the Huskies. The decision certainly seems to have paid off — the Phoenix Suns wound up selecting Robinson in the first round of the 2005 NBA draft and flipping him to the New York Knicks, and Nate's had his fair share of odd, very odd, head-scratching and memorable moments in the league.
Plus, he's entering the ninth season of a pro career in which he's earned more than $20 million in salary, is in line to make $4 million more as a member of the Denver Nuggets, and may well be able to extend his career as an energetic reserve scorer, isolation ball-handler and floor-spacer well into his 30s. That sort of longevity is rare for an NFL player; the average NFL career lasts "about 3 and a half seasons," according to the NFL Players Association, and that doesn't factor in the potential for post-career health issues and complications.
Still, despite carving out a career as a colorful and often overlooked Microwave in the NBA, Robinson's never totally been able to put his NFL dreams behind him. He called for an NFL tryout with his hometown Seattle Seahawks back in 2011, but while head coach Pete Carroll seemed up for welcoming Nate into the fold, that pesky professional basketball career apparently got in the way, and Robinson's workout never materialized. He said he'd have once again sought an NFL opportunity if no NBA team reached out to him, but he eventually caught on with the Chicago Bulls, and his new deal with the Nuggets (should he exercise his 2014-15 player option) will take him right up to the edge of his 31st birthday, which only lengthens the odds of his ever actually becoming a two-sport pro.
If he was to head into camp with his beloved hometown Seahawks, though, and vie for a job in a top-flight secondary featuring dynamic defensive backs Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, how does he think he would fare? As he told Jamieson Welsh at Believe the Hype during a recent visit with the Nuggets guard, "I don’t know — I’d be pretty damn good, though."
Just how good, exactly? Let's hear the extraordinarily confident Mr. Robinson tell it:
If I was in the NFL, I’d probably be at least, like, the first or second DB in the NFL. One, two or three, I’d say, because [Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback] Darrelle] Revis is pretty solid, [Arizona Cardinals corner] Patrick Peterson is pretty solid and you got my man Sherman holding it down. It’d be a tough position, but the level that I was playing football at at the time, I was — you know, it was fun for me and it came pretty easy. [...] And I only gave it a year in college, so for me, it’d be pretty scary to think about, you know, my future in football. If I really gave it my all, and stopped focusing on basketball, and gave everything I had on football, I’d probably be one of the best corners the NFL has ever seen.
Let it never be said that Nate's stricken with self-doubt.
On one hand, it's difficult to envision a 5-foot-9-inch corner — even one as fast, strong, spring-heeled and athletically gifted as Robinson — carving out that sort of all-time greatness in the modern NFL. On the other, Darrell Green — who spent the better part of two decades patrolling the secondary for the Washington Redskins and was enshrined in Canton in 2008 — measured at 5-foot-8 and 176 pounds. So it's not unprecedented, even if it's unlikely. (Green's one of just three DBs under 6 feet tall in the Hall of Fame, joining former Green Bay Packers safety Willie Wood and Detroit Lions DB Yale Lary.)
That said, even though we know Nate's got jets, hops and ball skills, and that he can both take and deliver hits, it's probably better for him to leave the NFL aside, just as it'd probably be best for Greg Hardy to avoid tossing spitballs at the King. Being confident is fine, well and good, but there's nothing wrong with skating your lane ... even if it keeps you from broing down with "Night Train" Lane.
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