Press: The Athletic “Thompson: The NBA bubble through the eyes of a vet trying to make the most of it”

Glenn Robinson III made it a point to spend some time with Ben Simmons. He’s known Joel Embiid for six years. But he and Simmons, it was time they build. So Robinson sought to spend time with Simmons, who welcomed the company. They ate dinner together. They hung out in the lounge.

During one conversation, they talked ball. Simmons said he knows Robinson can run the floor. So the 6-foot-10 point guard told one of his newest teammates to get out on the break, and Simmons would look for him.

Then in the first scrimmage. Robinson did just that. And Simmons kicked the ball ahead, just as he said he would. Robinson got a backwards dunk out of it. Most important, he developed a rapport with Simmons, on and off the court.

“If we weren’t in the bubble, maybe we don’t spend this time together,” Robinson said in a phone interview on Sunday. “And maybe we don’t build that chemistry. But the connections on our team are getting better because we’re forced to be around each other.”

It wasn’t that long ago Robinson was barely hanging on in the league. But six months with the Warriors, where he started 48 games before being traded to Philadelphia, has unlocked another layer to Robinson’s repertoire. Leadership.

Steve Kerr built his confidence, showing him the game in a way he’d never seen it before. Stephen Curry showed him the value of a bonded team. Even though Curry only played four games, Robinson watched the star guard prioritize being one of the guys and keeping the positive vibes during a losing season. Draymond Green taught him the quiet work of leadership, behind the scenes. He watched Green alter his approach based on the player on the moment, giving a fiery speech or some uplifting compliment.

Robinson is on his fifth team in six years, his second stint in Philadelphia. But he knows why he’s there, in the bubble vying for a championship. Yes, to play defense and hit 3-pointers. But also to be a steadying influence. To be the lane assist for a high-powered vehicle that can veer a bit.

This is a bit unconventional and he knows it. Before he averaged 12.9 points for the Warriors, who was 12-40 when he was traded, Robinson hadn’t averaged more than 6.1 points per game. He averaged 18.9 minutes with Philadelphia before the league shut down as he returned to a reserve role. Plus, he is a free agent to be. He’s trying to find some stability in the league. He’d love a home. He should be thinking about how to show he’s worthy. If he can make 40 percent of his 3-pointers as he did with the Warriors, he’ll probably find the stability he desires. 

But Robinson can bring more. He saw the value of team chemistry, of empowered and supported teammates. So he wants to help solidify that for the 76ers. And now that the pandemic has changed everything, and landed them inside the bubble, his calming presence is even more handy.

“I’ve noticed that since the first day I got on this team,” Robinson said. “I think I was brought on this team for some of that. I feel like they know how I am in the locker room. I get the respect of every teammate I’ve had a chance to play with. I may not say a lot. But I get the respect because you’ve got my respect and I have your best interest as my teammate.”

At 8 a.m. each morning, Robinson wakes up. He meditates before his workout. During quarantine, he started a regimen of push-ups, stretching, lifting and band work. So he brought a push-up machine, weights and bands with him to the bubble so he can keep the routine going.

The buffet style breakfast starts at 7 a.m. He’ll hit that up. Then it’s a waiting game for practice. The time varies, from night to afternoon to evening, as teams rotate the time slots to keep it fair. But there is usually lots of time to kill. There is even a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X in each player’s room.

He’s been spending his downtime working on the Ari Foundation, Robinson’s non-profit. It’s named after his daughter Ariana — or Ari, which doubles as the foundation’s acronym Angels are Real Indeed — and seeks to “empower fathers with essential resources” and provide assistance to “fatherless children and families.” He launched the campaign to raise funds in June and is now working on deals and hammering out programs he’s envisioned for years.

Lots of phone calls are happening in the bubble, especially with his financial advisor. This bubble time he’s using to play a more active role in his financial plans and goals.

Robinson’s primary interest is serving his hometown, Gary, Indiana. He’s got some innovative things brewing in his city, thanks to the bubble.

“All the thoughts and visions I had are coming to fruition,” he said. “Gotta think outside the bubble while I’m in it.”

When he’s not plotting community development, he’s bonding with teammates.

Robinson said the 76ers have the best lounge, at least of the five teams at the Grand Floridian. Philadelphia took requests from players and loaded up. Arcade. Ping pong. Couches and TVs. A bunch of board games. They’ve got cards, and Uno.

“We walk past Houston’s lounge,” he said. “Orlando. Indiana. Ours is best.”

The amenities are secondary. The time together is what Robinson believes is benefitting the 76ers.

The courtside argument between Embiid and Shake Milton, which was caught on TV, would suggest the contrary. But Robinson considers that clash among the typical variety. It’s their ability to move past those easily that will prove how much this bonding time helps.

What hasn’t been shown on TV is how many times they’ve shut down the one restaurant open in the hotel. Narcoossee’s has already hosted bubble birthday parties for Simmons, Tobias Harris, Furkan Korkmaz, Mike Scott, Alec Burks and two-way player Marial Shayok.

As good as Embiid and Simmons are — Robinson said the two stars talk about winning a title for Philly a lot — the 76ers best chance to win it all is contingent upon maximizing the talent on the roster. But that encourages Robinson.

Not only are they bonding in a way that wasn’t happening, or possible, before the bubble. But he sees that as an area he can help, especially after his stint with the Warriors. The potential is there for the 76ers, but the pressure and potential for dissension is ever present with Philadelphia. How they handle adversity will go a long way to determining their bubble fate.

Al Horford signed a four-year $109 million last offseason and is now coming off the bench. Coach Brett Brown is experimenting with Simmons at forward and Milton as the starting point guard. The entire globe it seems is begging Simmons to shoot 3-pointers and Embiid is under immense pressure to play near perfect ball if Philadelphia is to survive an Eastern Conference postseason ahead of Milwaukee, Toronto or Boston.

On top of that, they’re in a bubble participating in what will be the longest AAU camp they’ve ever experienced. Chemistry will be everything. Which means leadership will be vital. Which means Robinson’s disposition and credibility as a teammate will come in handy.

“If the team needs that,” he said. “I want to be a vet to some of these young guys and still be able to prove myself.

“The freedom that Steve Kerr gave me and the confidence he gave me and the trust he gave me — that’s what I needed for my career as a player. We’ve got a great team in Philly. We got a lot of guys who are good. So I know when I step out there, I just have to play my game and be that same player. It might not be as many minutes. But I’ll still do everything I can to help this team, because we’re here for one reason.”

Proving himself will be vital for the Sixers and Robinson’s pending free agency. He went all out in the camp leading up to the restart. Robinson likes to go hard in camp. As one who has never been much of a lock, he believes those are the times coaches are looking the most. He doesn’t want to miss those opportunities.

Robinson stood out in the Sixers’ scrimmages. His athleticism stood out and his stroke was clicking from 3. He has yet to play in the bubble, missing the 76ers’ first game with a hip pointer. But he doesn’t expect to be out long. He and Matisse Thybulle figure to be key wings off the Sixers bench.

It’s a small sample size — 12 games, 228 minutes per — but the 76ers offensive rating was 124.8 points per 100 possessions when Robinson has been on the court, pre-bubble. The next highest on the team is Milton (114.1). Robinson is shooting 62 percent inside the arc, making up for his 6-for-21 on 3-pointers so far.

“I believe in Shake,” Robinson said. “I’m real interested to see young fella as we get deeper into the playoffs.”

When Robinson was a second-year forward with the Pacers, Paul George called him up and told him to come over. George, who had five years under his belt and was a burgeoning star, wanted rap with Robinson and get to know him. George made himself available.

And Robinson just stared at him. He isn’t a big talker. But that wasn’t the time for silence.

In hindsight, he realizes he squandered the moment. He knows he was supposed to come to the table with questions, an eagerness to pick the brain of a veteran.

It was the last time he wouldn’t take that shot. Now, he’s the one giving it.

‘I was sitting at a table with Kyle O’Quinn and Alec Burks,” Robinson said. “And we were talking about how that vet is dying. That leadership we used to have in the league is dying out.”

Not yet. Not in Philly.

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1 year ago