Former NBA player Nate Robinson says a University of Washington booster offered him six figures to return to the Huskies football team after he left to focus on basketball.
On the latest episode of their Sports Illustrated podcast, “Holdat,” Robinson and fellow former pro Carlos Boozer discussed the times they were offered impermissible benefits as college players. Robinson said he was offered “$100,000 per year” by a booster to resume his football career after leaving the team after his freshman season.
“When they fired Rick Neuheisel my freshman year that made it easy for me to make my decision to quit and go play basketball, which I wanted to do anyway,” Robinson explained. “For my three years at UW, I had a booster offer me $100,000 per year to come back and play football because they needed Nate Robinson back on the football field because we weren’t winning any games, it wasn’t exciting. It was crazy, we went through a dark age at the University of Washington. When Tyrone Willingham was the coach years later, we didn’t win not one game. It was just crazy.
“But a booster came to me, my mom sat down and my mom was like, ‘That’s a lot of money.’ And she was looking at me like, ‘What you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘I want to hoop, I don’t want to take money from a booster and not knowing if this handshake is for us to keep this money, because people don’t do nothing for free.’ And that’s what my mom taught me. What do I owe you after this? My mom was just like, ‘What do you want to do? It’s up you. This is your life, not mine.’ I told my mom I going to have to kindly say no thank you, but my dream is to play basketball and earn everything that I got.
“The grind of putting in the passion and showing how great I can be, because I was never a money guy. I didn’t care. I’ll play for free. I just want to hoop, I don’t care. For me, it was like I want to see where my path will go from doing the right thing instead of just taking what’s convenient now when I know in the long run I don’t want to owe anybody anything.”
In a statement issued to the Seattle Times, the Washington athletic department denied any knowledge of the scenario Robinson described.
“The events described by Nate Robinson had not been reported to our department in any way, and were new information to us this morning,” the school said. “Based on his statements it does not appear that any NCAA violations occurred, but we look forward to following up with Nate and any other relevant parties to learn more about this matter in hopes of continuing to foster a full environment of compliance within all of our athletic programs.”
The Times also caught up with Neuheisel at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, where he was also unaware of such an offer.
Robinson enrolled at Washington on a football scholarship and played in all of the Huskies’ 13 football games as a freshman in 2002, starting the final six games of the season. He also led the basketball team in scoring as a freshman. He then decided to focus on basketball and did not play football as a sophomore or junior. Robinson left school after three years and was a first-round NBA draft pick, going on to play 11 seasons in the league.