How former NBA star Nate Robinson boxed on Mike Tyson's undercard


8:17 ET

Eric WoodyardESPN

Nate Robinson's alarm goes off before the sun comes up. The NBA's only three-time slam dunk contest champion rolls out of bed – no snooze button allowed – to prepare for training. Right now, he's not focused on getting back on the basketball court, but instead pursues a new endeavor where he's in the gym twice a day, six days a week.

At 36 years of age with no previous work or amateur experience, Robinson is preparing for his first boxing match. "It's brutal. Waking up early, running six or seven miles, I've never done that in my life, and I'm doing it at 36 so I definitely feel young and energetic," Robinson told ESPN. "It really tunes me in to another part of me that I never knew I had.

"But I just want people to respect me as a person, as an athlete, and as a boxer because I'm going through it," he continued. "I don't take it lightly and go over the moves. What you will see on November 28th is a Nate Robinson who really did a job really getting to this point and I hope I surprise a lot of people because a Lots of people think I'm going to lose. "

Robinson will enter the ring that evening for a six-round bout against famed YouTuber Jake Paul (1-0, 1 KO) on the card from Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. Robinsons camp began in late August and is expected to be completed nearly a week and a half before the fight date. His team includes strength and conditioning trainer Chris Denina, who usually works with Robinson in the mornings, and boxing trainer Francisco "Paco" Reyes of the Tenochtitlan Boxing Club in Renton, Washington, who oversees the evenings.

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"We're really pushing him and shaping him into more of an endurance athlete. And Nate is a very explosive athlete," said Denina. "There are certain things that I don't really have to work on. It's mostly his conditioning and the fact that he uses his body in ways he never really did on the basketball court."

When Reyes originally came up with the idea of ​​training Robinson, his initial reaction wasn't positive.

"Hell no," Reyes said, not wanting his gym to be a sideline for an ex-NBA player he didn't know much about. Finally he was convinced.

"I realized he was serious when he came back from that first sparring session," Reyes said. "Not a lot of people come back after the first sparring session, but he came back, he wanted more, he wanted to go on and that piqued my interest. A lot of people will come and save up and say, 'Oh no, I'm good but not Nate. He has the heart. "

At 5-foot-9 and less than 200 pounds during his NBA career, Robinson developed a reputation for toughness and athleticism. In high school, he excelled at athletics, soccer, and basketball. At the University of Washington, he also starred on the rust and hardwood before choosing to focus solely on basketball. But boxing is something completely different, especially if you experience it for the first time at your age.

“It was a challenge learning how to breathe and fight while tired,” said Robinson. "That was the fun part. As Mike Tyson said," Everyone has a plan until you get slapped in the mouth, "and then you have to find out. I never got that until I actually got to first Mal got in the ring sparring and I knew exactly what he meant. "

Nate Robinson trained at the Tenochtitlan Boxing Club and received calls from Floyd Mayweather during the process. Sean Flanigan / A fist full of bolts

Since his last stretch in the NBA in 2015-16, Robinson has played basketball in the BIG3, NBA Developmental League (now G League), Israeli Basketball Premier League, and the New Orleans Pelicans under a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans Liga Profesional de Baloncesto in Venezuela. He also signed to play in Lebanon in 2018 before an injury thwarted those plans.

Off the field, Robinson appeared in the movie Uncle Drew starring Kyrie Irving in 2018, tried it out with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, and worked with former NBA player Carlos Boozer to launch the HOLDAT clothing brand.

Those other pursuits kept him busy, but the idea of ​​entering the ring began over a year ago when Robinson's manager Napoleon "Polo" Kerber Paul met at an event. As he continued his quest for new challenges after basketball, Robinson agreed to fight Paul despite having no professional experience.

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What Robinson brings to his fight is a longstanding appreciation for the sport.

"I've been a fan of boxing all my life. Me and my brother, we boxed in the backyard with my dad and used boxing gloves. So it's nothing new, it's just real business now," said Robinson. “I've played in front of thousands of people my whole life, so it's challenging for me to step into a realm I've never been to before, but it's also fun to try and see how far I really am can go with it. "

Robinson's father, Jacque Robinson, was a legendary Washington athlete who entered the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame after being named the game's MVP in 1982 as a freshman. He also enjoyed a brief NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987.

Jacque introduced his son to boxing through Muhammad Ali and, somewhat by accident as he fights on his undercard, Tyson. When you grew up, when you stayed at Robinson's home for the night or just for fun, the gloves as teachers of life somehow get taken off. Nate's brother, Anthony "Chicken" Stewart, also retired from Central Washington University, wasn't afraid of being employed.

"We had a heavy bag in our back yard. We had weights and we had boxing gloves and my dad said," At least you'll know how to fight and how to take care of each other, "recalled Nate. "So my dad was like, 'If you have some homies around you and guys are around you and something happens and they're running or not trying to fight or protect the crew, then you have to don't hang around them. & # 39; "

Robinson got into a handful of fights over the years in high school, but to that extent he used his backyard boxing experience. Until now. These days, he's been receiving advice from Floyd Mayweather Jr. through FaceTime, and while he couldn't make it, he's been invited to train with world welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

Despite the focus on boxing, Nate Robinson still hopes for an opportunity to return to the NBA. FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP / Getty Images

Robinson has spent 11 seasons in the NBA and hasn't ruled out an NBA return when the opportunity presents itself.

"I do. If it is possible," said Robinson. "I just want to have the chance to show a team that even at 36 I could still play and still get out, still be a good spark from the bench. But times have changed, the NBA has changed so much Changed. No, I never will. " say i am retired. You retired me. I am not retired.

"Of course I would love to have tires," added Robinson. "I would love to be able to end my career with the game I love and show them that I can really still play ball and be effective. Even if it's five minutes, ten minutes, go ahead to be and to help with whatever they need. Whatever they need I be there, that's what I'm there for. "

Whether or not he plays another minute in the NBA, Robinson's ties to the league are still deep. Washington-born Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls has met Robinson over the years and watched Robinson's body transform into a boxer. He'll be ready for the fight.

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"He's a great athlete. Realistically, he was one of UW's best cornerbacks and probably could have been an NFL cornerback. Of course you know how good he was in the NBA and right now he's in his best shape The guy is built like a hydrant, "LaVine said. "I mean, it's stacked up so I know whatever he imagines he can do it.

"Boxing is a whole different world so he's been training for eight or nine months," LaVine continued. "He's transformed his body to look like a real boxer, so I don't think anyone will be kicking him in Seattle anytime soon."

Exceeding expectations has become Robinson's calling card, and that boils down to his determination and dedication in everything he pursues.

"I hope I surprise a lot of people because a lot of people think I'm going to lose," said Robinson. “They don't believe in me and that's cool. I told them, & # 39; S —, people didn't think I could make it to the NBA. People didn't think I could get 40 points Game, averaging 18 as a 5-foot-9-point guard playing with the Knicks. Nobody thought I was going to win three dunk competitions. & # 39;

"People have put me behind the eight ball my whole life, but that's something I'm used to. I've been the underdog forever and it gets just cute to know that so many people didn't believe me and I have the chance to show it again. "


Melinda Martin