Movies about basketball make it seem like all player-coach relationships have a father-son dynamic to them. Yes, there’s stress and anger, but underneath it all, there’s always love. Of course, the reality is much different (as it is with the fact most teammates don’t hang out off the court, as neither do you with most of your coworkers). Still, one of the more bizarre episodes in this never-ending story happened between Mike D’Antoni and Nate Robinson.
It was the 09/10 season, and the Knicks were, brace yourself, not good. The 2-9 Knicks were playing the Nets; there were 0.5 seconds until the end of the 1st quarter when the ball was inbounded to Nate Robinson. He drained the shot, but for a small detail – Robinson scored in his own basket. The shot didn’t count because he released the shot after the buzzer, but as you’d expect, Nate didn’t play in that game anymore. Mike D’Antoni wasn’t happy.
Robinson played in the following six games and then did not get to play for 14 straight games. From December 2nd to January 1st, 2010, he was glued to the bench. According to Robinson, he tried to talk to D’Antoni several times to get an explanation for his benching, but it never happened. Finally, in 2016, Nate gave his theory on his former coach.
“Mike D’Antoni was a cool coach, but he was just a bad person. He can coach. He was just mean for no reason. He had no reason to be a certain way toward players he liked and didn’t like. As a man, you would talk to somebody if you had a problem with them. You would tell them. He never told me exactly what his problem was with me. I didn’t know how to change it. I’d talk to him every day, but he would ignore me. It was crazy.”Nate Robinson, Bleacher Report
When D’Antoni finally put him in the game, Robinson didn’t move. He didn’t realize the coach was calling his name. When teammates told him it was him, Robinson jumped off the bench and got in the game. 41 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds later, Robinson made his case for getting more minutes. What was Nate’s secret for his monster performance against the Hawks?
In my head, I was thinking about “The Waterboy.” You know the Waterboy when everyone was like, “Waaater sucks!!”? I was picturing everybody on the team [the Hawks] was D’Antoni.Nate Robinson, Bleacher Report
The next month, Robinson won his third consecutive Slam Dunk Contest. Not a week after that, the Knicks dealt Robinson to the Boston Celtics. It just didn’t work out between D’Antoni and Robinson. But, the story did have a happy ending. Years later, Nate covered the All-Star game for the podcast he had with Carlos Boozer, and straight-up asked D’Antoni why he benched him for 14 games.
D’Antoni never refuted the claim he wouldn’t explain to Robinson why he got benched. I suppose after all the on and off the court antics the Knicks went through with Nate, D’Antoni felt he had more than enough conversations with Robinson. So either he’s going to get it, or he won’t. But to admit he regrets not getting the most out of Nate, implicitly admitting he could’ve done more, was great from D’Antoni.
P.S. For that one person that hasn’t seen Waterboy.