Glenn Robinson III Is Forging His Own Path
If it’s 5:30 a.m. on the West Coast, there’s a good chance that Glenn Robinson III, between laughs and bites of cereal, is crooning the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse theme song or humming Baby Shark into his iPhone.
Because of the three-hour time difference between Sacramento and Indianapolis, 8:30 a.m. ET is one of the few openings the Kings forward has to FaceTime with his two-year-old daughter, Ariana, before she gets ready for her day and he heads off to shootaround or boards a cross-country flight.
That rise-and-chat routine began last season, when Robinson, a Gary, Ind. native who’d never lived outside of the Midwest, signed with the Golden State Warriors. Now that he’s back in Northern California, he’s recommitted to his daily breakfast date, no matter if he played in an overtime game the night before or landed in an outside city in the wee hours of the morning.
“That’s really the highlight of my day,” he said. “We try to do it every day. Being across the country isn’t easy, especially during COVID. I get to see her [in person] every once in a while, but I miss seeing her and my family the most.”
Their tight-knit relationship inspired Robinson to launch a non-profit organization named after Ariana, Angels are Real Indeed (A.R.I.), which provides fathers with resources to be the best dads they can be, and offers assistance to single mothers. One of the foundation’s first initiatives was furnishing an apartment with nearly two dozen pieces of furniture for an impoverished family that was sleeping on the floors.
Balancing long-distance parenting with the near-24/7 time commitment demanded of a professional athlete also made Glenn III recognize why his famous father, former NBA All-Star Glenn Robinson Jr., was constantly on the other side of the country. Raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Glenn III now understands why the most extensive time he spent with his dad was limited to summer stays at Glenn Jr.'s then-city of residence across his 11 NBA seasons.
At 27, Glenn III is at an age and place in his pro career, he says, where he can apply more of the lessons Glenn Jr. tried to instill in him over the years. These days, Glenn III frequently dials his father’s number to share a funny anecdote or pick his brain on anything from how an Epsom salt bath can aid in recovery to what items he should order from the room-service menu.
Fatherhood and sports have become their points of commonality, allowing the pair to grow closer and strengthen a bond that was more difficult to develop during Glenn III’s childhood.
“Throughout the years and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated my dad more and more,” Glenn III said. “Obviously, we both have the same career, and I’m able to call him and get advice, on and off the court. That’s something that I can never replace. I’m forever grateful for that.”
As kids, Glenn III and his younger brother, Gelen, enjoyed some of the perks that came with being the sons of an NBA star, including front-row seats to marquee matchups in Chicago and Milwaukee. On Jan. 2, 1998, near four-year-old Glenn III jubilantly watched his father and Michael Jordan score 44 points apiece in a memorable duel at the United Center, and was overjoyed when “His Airness” scribbled his signature on the youngster’s sign.
Even more memorable was Glenn III’s first encounter with Allen Iverson, a brief back-and-forth conversation that still gets him overcome with laughter.
“I went into the Sixers locker room when my dad played for Philadelphia, and Allen Iverson comes up to me and says, ‘What’s up, shorty?’” he recalled. “I looked at him — at the time, I think I was in middle school — and I was like, ‘Man, I’m your height right now! Who are you calling shorty?’”
But as Glenn III grew, so did the expectations and pressures of living up to his father’s legacy. Glenn Jr., a No. 1 Draft pick and career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer, cast a long shadow and saddled his namesake with massive expectations.
At first, Glenn III resented having the same name as his more accomplished dad. Beginning in grade school, peers teased the son of “Big Dog,” a talented but less imposing player than the elder Robinson, and at Michigan, he was heckled with chants of “Little Dog” and “Daddy’s better.”
“I didn’t like having his name at the beginning, because there was a lot of pressure growing up in Gary, Ind.,” Glenn III said. “That was a big thing for me. He was from there, he went to Purdue; he was a legend in Indiana. But then, as I started to get older, as I started to compete more, I started to just fall in love with the game for myself. That was the biggest thing, because my mom and dad always told me, ‘You play basketball, or any sport, because you want to play, not because we’re forcing it on you.’”
Robinson III began developing a passion for hoops when his mother signed him up for a Boys and Girls Club league at age five, but he was inseparable from a basketball, he insists, since birth.
Born three months prematurely, at 3 pounds, 4 ounces, he was so small, that his entire body fit in the palm of his father’s hand. Robinson III spent the first two months of his life in an incubator at Gary Methodist Hospital, accompanied by a miniature Purdue ball.
“I’m still even in awe sometimes [that I was] a premature baby and now I’m 6-foot-7,” he said. “I help with the March of Dimes Foundation, which helps premature and infant babies. I’ve actually given a speech and done some work with them. I’ve tried to give some inspiration, because you can definitely find it in my story.”
Robinson had an early start on life, but when it came to basketball milestones, he was often a late bloomer.
The 2017 Slam Dunk champion surprisingly couldn’t dunk until his sophomore year of high school, no matter how much the effort he put in or how hard he trained. He purchased DVDs advertising tips and tricks to jumping higher, slept with weights around his ankles, and invested in sneakers from an infomercial that promised to boost his vertical leap.
Few major college programs offered him a scholarship, and none until he completed his sophomore year at Lake Central High School in Northwest Indiana as a first-team all-area selection. Despite his rise in the recruiting rankings, from No. 118 all the way to No. 11 nationally as a senior, his father’s alma mater didn’t express interest, and neither did Indiana.
Many projected Robinson as a potential Lottery pick after he helped lead the Wolverines to the national championship game as a freshman, but he elected to return for his sophomore season to focus on shooting and fundamentals. Although he improved as a scorer and guided Michigan to the Elite Eight, he dropped to the No. 40 pick in the 2014 Draft.
Buried on the Timberwolves depth chart, Robinson didn’t take off his warmups in 35 of his 60 games with the team, and was stunned when Minnesota, armed with a surplus of wing players, opted to release him.
“I remember that day vividly,” he said. “I was sick, and you have to get a doctor’s note if you’re sick. So I went to get a doctor’s note, and when I came back, they told me, ‘Hey, you’ve been cut.’ I’m like, ‘I never miss a day! I’m always two hours early and I do everything right. Is this the reason why I just got cut?’ I was pretty upset.”
Two days later, he was claimed off waivers by Philadelphia, where he played more consistent minutes and scored in double-figures in two of his last three outings, before entering free agency.
But everything happens for a reason, Robinson believes, and if it weren’t for those fleeting moments of disappointment, his career may have gone down a different path.
Fueled by being doubted by the Timberwolves and overlooked by the rebuilding Sixers, Robinson latched on with the Hawks in Summer League, and showed so much potential that then-Pacers president Larry Bird inked him to a three-year contract.
In Indiana, Bird and head coach Frank Vogel tasked Robinson with defending Paul George, a perennial All-Star, in every practice. By then end of that summer, Vogel routinely singled out Robinson as the best player in the gym, and the following year, the athletic wing emerged into a key rotation player, averaging 6.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 20.7 minutes across 69 games (27 starts) for the Playoff-bound Pacers.
That same year, Robinson, less than a decade removed from struggling to dunk a basketball, was crowned the best high-flyer in the NBA. The Pacers wing earned a perfect score in the final round of the Slam Dunk Contest, when he soared up and over George, as well as the Pacers mascot and a team dancer, and finished with a two-handed reverse.
“I always wanted to win a dunk contest, so that was a special moment for me individually,” he said. “And then I think for my career, as far as the fans getting to know me, I think it changed a lot of things. I think it was something I needed to ignite myself and my confidence in this league.”
Robinson, wary of being perceived as strictly a rim-rattler, aimed to prove there was far more to his game than his 40-inch vertical leap. He admired how Zach LaVine, a former teammate with the Timberwolves, shifted to the Three-Point Contest after winning two Dunk Contests, and marveled at Vince Carter’s transformation from the most athletic player in the gym to one of the League’s top shooters by the time he finished his career.
His round-the-clock schedule, jam-packed with games, practices and travel, prevents him from launching 1,000 shots each morning as he did in high school, but Robinson, a career 38-percent shooter from beyond the arc, refuses to leave the practice facility until he drills at least 100 three-pointers.
That mentality and work ethic culminated into his first full-time starting job last season in Golden State, and Robinson rewarded the Warriors faith in his undervalued skill set by setting career bests in points (12.9), rebounds (4.7) and assists (1.8), while shooting 48.1 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range. A midseason trade brought him back to Philadelphia, where he averaged 7.7 points on 51.8 percent shooting in 14 games, and tied his single-game career-high with 25 points on March 3, 2020.
In Year 7, Robinson is now an acknowledged veteran leader, on the court and in the locker room, on a youthful Kings team with a scarcity of NBA experience. He’s witnessed the drive of Paul George, the fiercely competitive spirit of Draymond Green and the shooting clinics of Steph Curry, and sharing his wealth of knowledge with his Sacramento teammates, Robinson says, is part of the job description.
“I try to use my voice as much as I can,” he said. “I’m not always a vocal leader; I like to lead by example, as well […] I’ve gotten a chance to learn from some of the best players and I try to take something from each of them.”
He’s also resuming a charitable campaign he initiated last season, when he donated $22, the number on his jersey with the Warriors and Sixers, to the A.R.I. Foundation for every point he scored; with 727 points, his total contribution amounted to nearly $16,000. Robinson, wearing No. 30 with the Kings, has already pledged $2,760 by virtue of his 92 points so far in 2020-21.
As a father, as a philanthropist, as a basketball player, Robinson is striving to get better every day and helping those around him do the same.
“It’s pretty fun to be able to give back and do what I love at the same time,” he said. “I just look and see how important I am to my daughter, how she’ll be raised and the way that she’ll think. You have a big influence on your children’s lives, so I just want to make sure to help as many people as I can [go in] the right direction.”