By Steve Rushin
May 08, 2013
With a spectacular 27-point performance in a playoff win over the defending champion Miami Heat, Chicago's Nate Robinson (left) is quickly moving up the list of all-time Robinsons.
NBAE/Getty Images/

Nate Robinson is ascendant, and not just because ascension is a job necessity when you're 5-foot-9 and playing in the NBA, where Robinson has memorably blocked the shots of Yao Ming and Shaquille O'Neal, to mention two men more than a foot taller than he is. In the last week, the Bulls guard has barfed into a trash can while leading Chicago to a Game 7 win over Brooklyn and taken 10 stitches in the mouth in his team's Game 1 win over Miami, leading us to wonder: Where does Robinson rank all-time among Robinsons, one of the most regal names in sports and entertainment?

20. Mister Robinson

Eddie Murphy's parody of Fred Rogers on Saturday Night Live started with the theme song to "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood," sung in the same kooky cadence of Mr. Rogers' own: "I would like to move into your neighborhood some day/The problem is when I move in y'all move away."

19. Wilbert Robinson

The Hall of Famer was a catcher at the turn of the last century, then managed Brooklyn to its first two National League pennants, but Uncle Robbie remains best remembered for attempting to field a grapefruit dropped from an airplane during spring training.

18. Truck Robinson

The two-time NBA All-Star was a fearsome physical presence whose given name didn't quite do him justice. There's no shame in being knocked to the ground by a Truck, which is why few in the league ever called him "Leonard."

17. Will Robinson

No, not Will Robinson from the classic 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space though that character did give us the timeless catchphrase "Danger, Will Robinson!" We refer, rather, to the Will Robinson who coached Spencer Haywood in high school in Detroit, then became the first African-American head coach in Division I college basketball history (at Illinois State in 1970) and spent the last 28 years of his career as a legendary Pistons scout, retiring at age 92 before passing away in 2008 at age 96. Somehow, somewhere along the way, Robinson was also a scout for the Detroit Lions.

16. Nate Robinson

And still ascending as the Bulls take on the Heat in Game 2 tonight.

15. Glen Robinson

At Purdue in 1994, The Big Dog was the first Boilermaker to be named national college player of the year since John Wooden, whose number (13) Robinson wore and whose trophy (the Wooden Award) Robinson won. He's now better known as the father of Michigan's Glenn (Trey) Robinson III, who puts us in mind of Thurston B. Howell III, who was shipwrecked on an island -- Gilligan's -- in the manner of ...

14. The Swiss Family Robinson

They were washed ashore en route to Australia and survived, evidently, by building an awesome tree house at Disneyland. Never mind that Robinson isn't a Swiss surname: The name in the novel was meant as a tribute to ...

13. Robinson Crusoe

The fictional British explorer was shipwrecked on the Island of Despair with a dog and two cats and -- eventually -- a wingman named Friday. And yet -- at least to anyone reading this list -- he is no longer the most famous person with that first name, having been well overshadowed by ...

12. Robinson Cano

Which accomplishment is more impressive: Playing nine superlative seasons at second base for the New York Yankees or leaving Scott Boras for Jay-Z?

11. Larry Robinson

The 6-4 defenseman won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens (and another as coach of the Devils), earning Hall of Fame enshrinement and the nickname Big Bird.

10. Bill (Bojangles) Robinson

Orphaned in early childhood, Robinson became a film and stage who also co-founded the New York Black Yankees of the Negro Leagues. But he'll forever be known as the Father of Tapology, the Thomas Edison of Tap: "I knew a man Bojangles and he'd dance for you, in worn out shoes."

9. David Robinson

Three-time Olympian, two-time NBA champion, one-time league MVP, all-time good guy.

8. Smokey Robinson

The onetime Miracles frontman still has a voice as smooth and sweet as honey, contradicting his own mellifluous assertion that "A taste of honey is worse than none at all."

7. Mrs. Robinson

It's impossible to think of this pioneering cougar from The Graduate -- "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me"-- without also thinking of Joe DiMaggio. For that, we should thank Simon & Garfunkel. Coo-coo-ca-choo.

6. Brooks Robinson

Called The Human Vacuum Cleaner for hoovering any ball in the vicinity of third base, this vacuum did not suck, and that goes for the plate as well. Robinson drove in 118 runs in his MVP season of 1964.

5. Eddie Robinson

In an astonishing 56 years as the coach of Grambling, he won more Division I college football games than anyone in history, eclipsing another Eddie Robinson, actor Edward G. Robinson, renowned for playing gangsters on film in the '30s and '40s.

4. Sugar Ray Robinson

Frequently cited as "pound-for-pound" the greatest boxer of all time, the former Walker Smith Jr. lived for a time as a child on the same Detroit block as Joe Louis. When Smith tried to enter an AAU boxing tournament as a teen, he was told he required an AAU membership card. He fatefully borrowed one from a guy named -- what else? -- Ray Robinson.

3. Frank Robinson

His years on Oakland's McClymonds High basketball team -- alongside Bill Russell -- were mere prelude to 20 sublime years in the big leagues (where he was earned MVPs in both leagues, hit 586 home runs and finished 57 hits shy of 3,000), which were in turn prelude to him becoming major league baseball's first African-American manager.

2. Ray Charles Robinson

He was born in Albany, Ga., and Georgia remained on his mind -- and thus on ours -- as he went on to global stardom as a musical polymath, "the only true genius in the business," according to one who ought to know: Frank Sinatra. In the early days of Robinson's career, in the late 1940s, there was already in full bloom a famous figure in the popular culture named Ray Robinson (see the boxer, at No. 4). By the time this Ray Robinson became a household name, seated at a piano, he had trimmed his stage name to Ray Charles.

1. Jackie Robinson

Forty-one years after his death, with 42 in theaters, his influence is still everywhere: In the first name of the Yankees' second baseman, in the 42 on their closer's back, in the schools all across America -- from Brooklyn to Chicago to Long Beach -- named for a real American hero.


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