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How to Play Basketball If You’re Short

Nate Robinson’s Guide to Playing Basketball Short

By Fred Meyer

We’ve all been there. The shortest guy on the court. Or at least too short to snatch rebounds from the sequoias vacuuming up all the boards. But hoops isn’t really just a game of the immense. At 5'9”, Nate Robinson has the game to dictate play, night in and night out. And he’s won two slam dunk contests, including jumping over 6’10” Dwight Howard as “KryptoNate” in 2009. In the tradition of Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues, Nate’s proof that there are advantages to being short on the court. We talked to him about how he does it.

1. You’re Faster Than They Are

shinya suzuki/Flickr
Lesson No. 1 is the simple fact the smaller ballers are quicker with their reflexes and fleeter of foot. It’s not that easy, though. As Nate says, “Smaller guys, we gotta work harder than the bigger guys. We gotta burn more energy.” It’s not enough to be out there and have more speed – you have to have the stamina to run your tail off. This starts off the court. “You gotta eat right,” Nate says, “And always be in shape more than the next guy. Have great lungs like what a swimmer would have. I just stay in the gym. I always played three or four sports growing up as a kid, always stayed active.”

2. Abs Rule

Nate Robinson
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
You’d think boosting your speed game would be all about working out your legs, and that’s certainly part of it, but Nate’s focus is clear: “A lot of abs. It helps you on your jumping. It can help you a lot with balance, moving left and right.” Make sure you concentrate on core strength because it not only helps you move better, but jump higher.

3. “Smaller Guys Tend to Have Bigger Hearts”

Nate Robinson
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Now it’s time to press your weapons into action. “You’ve gotta be feisty. You’ve gotta be determined to win no matter what, no matter how small you are.” Speed and stamina give you physical tools, but what are you going to do with them? Nate’s key is “having the determination to get every loose ball on the floor.”

4. You’re Elbow Height

Nate Robinson
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
What’s your reward for all this hard work? Sticking your nose in where your opponents don’t want it? Diving to the floor, swiping at dribbles, and being a royal pest? “You get hit by elbows in the face and knocked over a lot.” That’s where your heart comes in, pounding double-time. You’ve shown heart just by getting in the scrum. When you get trashed, double-down on that. Wear it like a badge of honor: “As long as you’re tough, like I said, have a big heart. Small guys always get up no matter what.”

5. Put the Focus on You

Nate Robinson
Nick Laham/Getty Images
Use your physical advantages, be the most active guy on the court, but most importantly, in basketball or anything else you ever do, never give up. “There's a lot of people who are always going to put you down and try to steer your mind to negative thoughts,” Nate says. “Always think positive about yourself knowing that if the next person is not going to believe in me I'm going to believe in myself. I'm not going to listen to somebody who’d tell me if I can or I can't. I'm going to make sure I do it for myself. I just focus on me.”

Hear the words straight from Nate on MSG video
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