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John Schuhmann

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After leaping over Dwight Howard in 2009, what will Nate Robinson do for an encore?
Ronald Martinez/NBAE via Getty Images

Robinson shines his brightest on Saturday night


Posted Feb 13 2010 12:30AM

It's been an up-and-down season for Nate Robinson.

He was out of Mike D'Antoni's rotation for almost all of December, while the Knicks had their best month (9-6) in Robinson's five seasons in New York. When he finally played again, he exploded for 41 points in an overtime win in Atlanta. Two nights later, he shot 2-for-11.

Last week, Robinson got his first start of the season. Four nights after that, he was back on the bench.

"It humbles you," Robinson says of his experience this season, "knowing you can't take this game for granted, and just play for the love."

Whether or not you think he deserved 14 straight DNP-CDs, that's the one thing you have to appreciate about Robinson. He loves to play.

"The thing about Nate that I admire is that, win or lose, good game or bad game, he's consistent," says teammate and All-Star David Lee. "He's not a frontrunner. He doesn't just have energy when we're winning. He doesn't just have energy when he's playing well.

"I think it validates who he is as a person, and the coaches understand that, as long as he's consistent with it all the time, that's the most important thing"

But D'Antoni has never been entirely comfortable with the ball in Robinson's hands, clearly having more trust in the unproductive Chris Duhon to run the point for the Knicks. Robinson is an unrestricted free agent this summer, it's likely he isn't a part of New York's long-term plans, and it's unclear if he can be a productive rotation player on a winning team.

But none of that matters when Robinson walks onto the court for the Sprite Slam Dunk competition at the American Airlines Center on Saturday night. No matter what you think of Robinson as an NBA player, you can't deny that the man knows how to put on a show at All-Star Weekend.

On Saturday, Robinson will attempt to become the first three-time winner of the dunk contest.

"When you look at his size and you look at how many talented athletes are in the NBA," says Lee, "the thought of him even being in the dunk contest is pretty amazing."

Robinson has been in it three times, never failed to make it to the finals, and won it twice. And before you say that you're tired of seeing him in the dunk contest, remember what he did for his last dunk a year ago.

The man jumped over Dwight Howard.

Just attempting such a dunk takes onions. And Robinson pulled it off on his first try. That alone earns him the right to show us what he can do on the grand stage one more time. In his three appearances so far, Robinson has jumped over Spud Webb and he's emulated him, adding a twist or two to those toss-dunks that Webb wowed us with in 1986.

If you watched the dunk contest marathon on NBA TV on Thursday, you saw plenty of competitors who came without a plan, completed (or didn't complete) a couple of weak dunks, and never got another invitation to All-Star Saturday. Even two of the greatest dunkers in the contest's history, Michael Jordan and Dominique Wilkins, only did three or four different dunks, just taking off from different angles to mix it up a bit.

You probably don't have to worry about Robinson repeating much of what he's done before. Nobody in the competition's history cares more about putting on a show than he does. He appreciates the dunk contest as much as a spectator as he does as a competitor.

"That's the beauty of the dunk contest itself," he says. "Different guys got different charisma, their own kind of style, their own kind of swag with the dunks. And you've got different kinds of dunkers.

"It's all about bringing something different to the table. You've got to treat the dunk contest just like it's Thanksgiving. Everybody comes and brings their own plate, their own dish. And they see who has the best dish."

In addition to his showmanship, Robinson brings the site of his shoes almost four feet in the air as his head nears the rim. The dunk contest is all about visuals, and seeing a still shot or slow motion of such a small guy so high in the air will give you chills.

So when Saturday night arrives, don't worry about Robinson's value as an NBA player, whether or not he deserves to start over Duhon, or even if you've seen his dunks before.

Just enjoy the show. You know he will.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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