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How former NBA star Nate Robinson ended up boxing on Mike Tyson’s undercard

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Nate Robinson’s alarm goes off before the sun rises. The NBA’s lone three-time Slam Dunk Contest champion rolls out of bed — no snooze button allowed — to get ready to train. The 36-year-old isn’t currently focused on returning to the basketball court but is instead pursuing a new endeavor that has him to the gym six days a week, twice a day.

At age 36, with no prior professional or amateur experience, Robinson is getting ready for his first boxing match. “It’s brutal. Waking up early, running six or seven miles, it’s something I’ve never done in my life and I’m doing it at 36, so it’s definitely making me feel young and energetic,” Robinson told ESPN. “It’s really tuning me in to another part of myself that I never knew I had.

“But I just want people to respect me as a person, as an athlete and as a boxer because I’m going through it,” he continued. “I’m not taking it easy and going through the motions. What they’ll see Nov. 28 is a Nate Robinson that really put in work to really get to this point, and I hope I surprise a lot of people because a lot of people think I’m gonna lose.”

Robinson will enter the ring that night for a six-round bout against famed YouTuber Jake Paul (1-0, 1 KO) on the undercard of Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. Robinson’s camp started at the end of August and is expected to wrap almost a week and a half before the fight date. His team includes strength and conditioning coach Chris Denina — who typically works with Robinson in the mornings — and boxing trainer Francisco “Paco” Reyes of Tenochtitlan Boxing Club in Renton, Washington, who oversees the evening sessions.

“We’re really pushing him and molding him to be more of an endurance athlete. And Nate’s a very explosive athlete,” Denina said. “There’s certain things, which are nice, that I don’t really need to work on. It’s mainly just his conditioning and making him use his body in ways that he’s never really done on the basketball court.”

When the idea of training Robinson was originally presented to Reyes, his initial reaction wasn’t positive.

“Hell no,” Reyes said, not wanting his gym to become some sideshow for an ex-NBA player whom he didn’t know much about. Eventually he was persuaded.

“I realized that he was serious about it when he came back after that first sparring session,” Reyes said. “Not a lot of people come back after the first sparring session, but he came back, he wanted more, he wanted to keep going, and that really got my interest. A lot of people will come and spar and are like, ‘Oh, no, I’m good,’ but not Nate. He has the heart.”

At 5-foot-9 and less than 200 pounds throughout his NBA career, Robinson developed a reputation for toughness and athleticism. In high school, he excelled in track and football, as well as basketball. At the University of Washington, he also starred on the gridiron and hardwood before deciding to focus solely on basketball. But boxing is something completely different, especially experiencing it for the first time at his age.

“It’s been a challenge learning how to breathe and fight while you’re tired,” Robinson said. “That’s been the fun part. Like Mike Tyson said, ‘Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the mouth,’ and then you have to figure it out. I never understood that until I actually got in the ring for the first time with sparring, and I knew exactly what he meant.”


Since his last stretch in the NBA in 2015-16, on a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, Robinson played basketball in the BIG3, the NBA Developmental League (now the G League), the Israeli Basketball Premier League and the Liga Profesional de Baloncesto in Venezuela. He also signed to play in Lebanon in 2018, before an injury scuttled those plans.

Off the court, Robinson appeared in the 2018 film “Uncle Drew” with Kyrie Irving, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks in 2016 and collaborated with former NBA player Carlos Boozer to launch the HOLDAT clothing brand.

These other pursuits have kept him busy, but the idea of entering the ring started over a year ago, when Robinson’s manager, Napoleon “Polo” Kerber, met Paul at an event. As he continued his search for new challenges post-basketball, Robinson agreed to fight Paul despite no professional experience.

What Robinson does carry into his fight is a longtime appreciation for the sport.

“I’ve been a fan of boxing my whole life. Me and my brother, we used to slap box and use boxing gloves in the backyard with my dad. So, it’s nothing new, it’s just real business now,” Robinson said. “I’ve played in front of thousands of people my whole life hooping, so just being able to step into a realm that I’ve never been in before is challenging for me, but it’s also fun to try to see how far I really can go with this.”

Robinson’s father, Jacque Robinson, was a legendary athlete at Washington, who entered the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame after being named MVP of the game in 1982 as a freshman. He also enjoyed a brief NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987.

Jacque introduced his son to boxing through Muhammad Ali and, a bit coincidentally since he’s fighting on his undercard, Tyson. Growing up, if you stayed at Robinson’s home for a sleepover or just for fun, somehow the gloves would get pulled out as a teacher of life. Nate’s brother, Anthony “Chicken” Stewart — who also was a running back at Central Washington University — also wasn’t afraid to get busy, either.

“We had a heavy bag in our backyard. We had weights and we had boxing gloves and my dad was like, ‘At least y’all are going to know how to fight and y’all will know how to take care of each other,'” Nate recalled. “So my dad was like, ‘If you’ve got some homies that are coming around you, and guys are being around y’all and something happens, and they run or they’re not trying to fight or protect the crew, then y’all don’t need to hang around them.'”

Robinson got into a handful of fights over the years in middle school in high school, but that was the extent to which he used his backyard boxing experiences. Until now. These days he’s receiving advice from Floyd Mayweather Jr. via FaceTime, and although he couldn’t make it, was invited to train with welterweight champion Terence Crawford.


Robinson spent 11 seasons in the NBA, and hasn’t ruled out an NBA return if there’s an opportunity.

“I do. If it’s possible,” Robinson said. “I just want the chance to show a team, even at 36, I could still play and still ball out, still be a good spark off the bench. But times have changed, the NBA has changed so much. Naw, I will never say I’m retired. They retired me. I didn’t retire.

“Of course I would love to hoop,” Robinson added. “I would love to be able to finish my career playing the game I love and showing them that I really could still ball and be effective. Even if it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, just being there helping out with whatever they need. Whatever they need me to do, I’m there. That’s what I’m here for.”

Whether or not he plays another minute in the NBA, Robinson’s connections to the league are still deep. Fellow Washington native Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls has gotten to know Robinson over the years, and has watched the transformation of Robinson’s body into a boxer. He will be tuned in to the bout.

“He is a supreme athlete. Realistically, he was one of UW’s best cornerbacks and probably could’ve been an NFL cornerback. Obviously, you know how good he was in the NBA, and right now he’s in the best shape of his life. The dude is built like a fire hydrant,” LaVine said. “I mean, like, he is stacked, so whatever he puts his mind to, I know he can get it done.

“Boxing is a whole different world, so he’s been training for the last eight or nine months,” LaVine continued. “He’s transformed his body into looking like a real boxer, too, so I don’t think anybody’s gonna be stepping to him in Seattle anytime soon.”

Outperforming expectations has become Robinson’s calling card, and that boils down to his determination and effort in everything he pursues.

“I hope I surprise a lot of people, because a lot of people think I’m gonna lose,” Robinson said. “They don’t believe in me and that’s cool. I told them, ‘S—, people didn’t believe I could make it to the NBA. People didn’t believe I’d be able to score 40 points in a game, to average 18 as a 5-foot-9 point guard playing with the Knicks. Nobody thought I was going to win three dunk contests.’

“People have been putting me behind the eight ball my whole life, but it’s something that I’m used to. I’ve been the underdog forever, and it’s just going to be sweet to know that so many people didn’t believe in me and I get a chance to show them again.”

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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