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Thomas Robinson: Bigger Than Basketball


 4.5 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game and 0.4 assists per game. Sounds like the typical stat-line of the average NBA scrub coming off the bench to indulge themselves in some ‘garbage time’ minutes, right? Statistically speaking, sure. But sometimes the full story doesn’t end up making its way to the box score.

Every player in the league has had their own unique journey to get where they are today. A lot of them were born with natural god-given talent, while others had the work ethic to put them on the same level. After years of blood, sweat and tears, the ultimate goal is to have your name called out on draft night: an invitation to the world’s largest basketball stage. While making the NBA may even be a backup plan for some, others see it as their only option. After all the years of dedication, that six-figure rookie contract equals total salvation for someone who’s left with close to nothing.

The 6’10” powerhouse Thomas Robinson has pulled through more challenges and dire circumstances than most could imagine going through in a lifetime. He did not simply survive; he thrived and managed to accomplish his one and only dream.

T-Rob (as many like to call him) was born on March 17th, 1991 in Washington, D.C. Robinson first attended Eastern Senior High but later transferred to Riverdale Baptist as his mother wanted to leave their crime-filled neighbourhood.  He recorded 23 double-doubles in his junior season at Riverdale. It was that year when he began to receive nation-wide attention from scouts and even his future head coach, Bill Self. Thomas eventually transferred to Brewster Academy for his senior season, averaging 16 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks per game. He was ranked a top 40 player in the country and committed to Kansas with the help of Self.

In his freshman season with the JayHawks, Thomas only averaged 7.2 minutes per game but it was clear to the entire team that he would be taking over very soon. Early in his sophomore season, Robinson received a phone call informing him his grandmother had passed away. Just two weeks later, he found out his grandfather had passed as well. Eleven days later, Robinson received another phone call, one that changed his life in a matter of seconds. He found out his single mother had passed away at the age of 37, the sudden effect of a brain aneurysm.

In a span of a mere 25 days, the 19-year old Robinson had lost three of his closest family members. The only person he had left was his seven-year-old sister. It was at that moment that Robinson made it a point to do everything in his life for his sister Jayla. “From that point on, my whole purpose for playing basketball was different” T. Robs stated in an interview with ESPN.

The morning after Robinson’s mother had passed, Kansas was playing a big game against Texas. That same morning, Robinson showed up in uniform to shoot-around as many expected him not to play. He told the team “nobody treat me different. I don’t want anybody to baby me. Babying me is not going to help me get through. I don’t need the coaches not to yell at me. I’m a grown man.”


Thomas Robinson and sister Jayla at his mothers funeral service.

He became the JayHawks’ leading scorer and rebounder in his junior season averaging 17.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 31.8 minutes per game. In a game against the University of North Dakota, Robinson poured in 30 points and snagged 21 rebounds, becoming the first player to have a 30/20 performance since 1961. Robinson was named to the Consensus All-American First Team, NABC All-American First Team, AP All-American First-Team, USBWA All-American First Team, Sporting News All-American First Team, All-Big 12 First Team, and more. He was also named Big 12 Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year, Associated Press Big 12 Player of the Year and National Player of the year all in 2012. He led the JayHawks to the National Championship game against the Kentucky Wildcats in the same year. Though Kansas fell short 67-59, Robinson put on a stellar performance with 18 points and 17 rebounds. After all the hardships he had gone through the past two years, it almost seemed like it would be time for him to call it quits.

Two months later, Thomas Earl Robinson heard the words he had always dreamed of. “With the fifth pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings select…Thomas Robinson from the University of Kansas.” An emotional Robinson spoke to Craig Sager immediately after being drafted. “I kept my promise. I told her I was going to do it” Robinson responded after Sager asked what he would tell his mother had she been there. Robinson signed a 2-year, $6.9 million contract with the Kings.

On February 20, 2013, Robinson along with Sacramento teammates Francisco Garcia, and Tyler Honeycutt were traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich. Five months later on July 10, Thomas was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for the rights to Kostas Papanikolaou, Marko Todorovic and two future second-round draft picks. On February 23, 2014, Robinson scored 14 points along with a career-high 18 rebounds. The Trail Blazers have unexpectedly emerged as one of the best teams in the Western Conference this season. Robinson’s minutes per game average has increased by exactly seven since the beginning of the season until now and is on an upwards slope as each month passes by.

As a true NBA fan, I’ve never been much for college hoops. I’m a casual March Madness fan. But do I remember watching Robinson play and knowing from that moment he was very talented. I could never have imagined all the tragedy he suffered, or his willpower and grace in their aftermath. I remember watching the National Championship game between Kansas and Kentucky and felt just as devastated as he was when the Wildcats were celebrating and he broke down onto the shoulders of his teammates. However, Robinson again used a loss in his favour, mobilizing it as fuel for his fire.

Thomas mentioned in an interview with Lee Hawkins that he wants to go back to school and get a degree in African-American studies after his career in the NBA. It’s clear that the 22-year old does indeed have a plan for his future and has fit into more of a father role for his younger sister as he often states. “For me I didn’t really have a lot of options when I was younger so it was basketball or nothing. It was basketball or you take the wrong route. […] I just want to give my sister options, and she can choose whatever she wants to be, whatever she wants to do, hopefully she’s successful at it.” Thomas’ love for his sister and late family members goes beyond interviews. He has pictures of Jayla on all of his social media platforms, tattoos in memory of his family and ‘F.O.E’ wristband which he also hash-tags on everything, standing for: Family Over Everything.

Though Thomas Robinson may not be putting up LeBron James numbers to get noticed, his story is universally captivating. His determination and single-mindedness is paying off more than even he could have surmised. To this day he remains my favourite player from the 2012 NBA Draft. I know he’ll find his place in the league soon enough. If T-Rob’s resilience doesn’t motivate you to keep working every single day of your life, I don’t know what will.

Joshua Din
Twitter: @JDin_

1 Comment

  1. hey

    February 24, 2016 at 4:05 pm

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