Despite standing just 5-foot-9, Nate Robinson is the NBA slam dunk contest's only three-time champion. He's swatted LeBron James. He's swatted Yao Ming. He's averaged as many as 17 points per game in an NBA season. He's electrified arenas from Los Angeles to Toronto to Miami while becoming a basketball fan-favorite.
Robinson is also, at the moment, unemployed. So what's an out-of-work hooper to do? If you're Robinson, you turn up on Instagram to tout your services.
About a week ago, James said his Cleveland Cavaliers need to add talent if they hope to repeat as NBA champs. He said the Cavs need a "fucking playmaker," to be precise. As it often does with such tidbits, ESPN posted a photo of James alongside his quote on Instagram. Below the post someone left a comment: "Nate Robinson is available."
"I just want to play basketball, man. Everything else comes after that."
Nate Robinson, NBA free agent
A couple days later, Robinson posted an Instagram photo referencing internal strife among the Chicago Bulls, one of his eight former teams. Robinson accompanied that photo with a caption again offering his talents.
He's likely the most accomplished former NBA star to job-hunt on Instagram, but Robinson contends the market has left him little choice.
"I really didn't want to do it," Robinson said in a phone interview. "But it's just like, how do they invite other players in for workouts and not consider bringing in a Nate Robinson to come in and work out and compete for a spot?"
Robinson, who just finished a workout before we got off the phone, trains in his native Seattle as he awaits his next shot.
The New Orleans Pelicans waived him two games into last season, in October 2015. He then played in just over a dozen games for an Israeli pro team last spring. His last approximation of a full NBA season came in 2014-15, when he averaged almost six points in 42 games for two teams. The three prior seasons, he averaged double figures in scoring for three different teams.
Stats don't quite capture Robinson's impact in the fan imagination, though. He's as short on shyness as he is on height, with a internet highlight portfolio full of freewheeling drives and explosive dunks that can eat up half your workday. From a pure entertainment perspective, it's easy to argue the NBA is more fun with Nate Robinson. He is, after all, the first player to have his jersey retired at its loosey-goosey summer league.
Robinson said a team should "let me bring what I bring — that's fire, that's passion, that's getting buckets, that's making my teammates around me better."
So what's the problem? The 32-year-old Robinson has considered the situation from all angles.
He's well-liked: "I've never heard from any one of my teammates that I've been a bad teammate."
He's a proven scorer: "I averaged 10 or more points for almost every team I played for. "
He's a good citizen: "Other players on other teams have done way worse things than anything I ever have."
Robinson believes the problem is difficulty discarding his image as an ebullient personality who can have trouble focusing or taking things seriously.
"I've been that immature Nate, I've been that person," he said. "Trying to shake that tag has been the hardest thing. But I've learned how to turn it on and turn it off, when to be goofy and when to be serious."
The quest for an NBA return isn't financially motivated, Robinson said. If the NBA well does prove dry, he's ready to play overseas again or even consider working his way back up via the NBA Development League. Teams have until April 14 to set their playoff rosters.
"I just want to play basketball, man," he said. "Everything else comes after that."
Sports photos of the week: 1/20 - 1/27
Sports photos of the week: 1/20 - 1/27
GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 26: Goaltender Mike Smith #41 of the Arizona Coyotes sprays water in his face during a break from the second period of the NHL game against the Vancouver Canucks at Gila River Arena on January 26, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 26: Kyle Washington #24 of the Cincinnati Bearcats goes to the basket against J.P. Macura #55 and RaShid Gaston #35 of the Xavier Musketeers in the second half of the game at Fifth Third Arena on January 26, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Xavier 86-78. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 26: A general view of play during game five of the One Day International series between Australia and Pakistan at Adelaide Oval on January 26, 2017 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz - CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22: Andy Murray of Great Britain is silhouetted as he serves in his fourth round match against Mischa Zverev of Germany on day seven of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Jim Nantz interviews Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 36-17 to win the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 22: Logan Ryan #26 of the New England Patriots attempts to break up a pass inteded for Cobi Hamilton #83 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 22: Jared Cook #89 of the Green Bay Packers fails to make a catch in the endzone in the first quarter against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome on January 22, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
TOLUCA, MEXICO - JANUARY 22: Silhouettes of Gabriel Hauche of Toluca struggles for the ball with Mateus Goncalves of Chiapas during a match between Toluca and Chiapas as part of the Clausura 2017 Liga MX at Nemesio Diez Stadium on January 22, 2017 in Toluca, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal is challenged by Dean Marney of Burnley during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22: A general view of Rod Laver court as Roger Federer of Switzerland plays in his fourth round match against Kei Nishikori of Japan on day seven of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20: A general view as Andy Murray of Great Britain plays a backhand in his third round match against Sam Querrey of the United States on day five of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 21: Serena Williams of the United States serves in her third round match against Nicole Gibbs of the Unites States on day six of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov compete during the pairs free short program of the European Figure Skating Championship in Ostrava on January 25, 2017. / AFP / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 23: Markell Johnson #11 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack dunks against the Duke Blue Devils during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 23, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 23: Derek MacKenzie #17 of the Florida Panthers lays a body check onto Connor Murphy #5 of the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of the NHL game at Gila River Arena on January 23, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 24: Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts after being fouled by Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the fourth quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on January 24, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 76ers defeated the Clippers 121-110. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 27/1/17 Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov reacts during his Men's singles semi-final match against Spain's Rafael Nadal. REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Figure Skating - ISU European Championships 2017 - Pairs Free Skating - Ostrava, Czech Republic, 26/1/17. Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy compete. REUTERS/David W Cerny TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - 26/1/17 Venus Williams of the U.S. celebrates winning her Women's singles semi-final match against Coco Vandeweghe of the U.S. .REUTERS/Edgar Su TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Jan 22, 2017; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett (88) celebrates after the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2017 AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY