Former Michigan forward Duncan Robinson on fundraiser, finding his voice

By Anthony Chiang
Miami Herald

As Duncan Robinson sat in his Miami condo during the first few weeks of the NBA shutdown, he knew he wanted to help South Florida amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

But how?

Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson, a former Michigan basketball player, has been involved in fundraising efforts in South Florida during the pandemic.

“I was kind of looking at myself and thinking that I needed to do something for a community that has done a lot for me up until point and a community that has really supported me from a basketball standpoint,” the former Michigan starter said during a phone interview from the NBA’s Disney bubble, as the Miami Heat continued its preparation for the resumption of the season with a Sunday night practice. “I figured there were a couple things I could do. Two things I could really dedicate and donate, and that’s my time and my money.”

The Heat’s sweet-shooting forward began by partnering with Dunkin’ to donate to three local organizations in April. One of those organizations was Feeding South Florida, the local member of the Feeding America network that services Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties.

In addition, Robinson has recently partnered with the United Way for the “Duncan Robinson’s United Way Sweepstakes,” which is a fundraiser to help those in Miami affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prizes include autographed and game-worn memorabilia, the chance to join him on Instagram Live, an opportunity to volunteer with Robinson at a local food bank, a one-hour three-point shooting lesson from Robinson, and a Heat VIP experience, with all proceeds from the sweepstakes going to the United Way.

“The thing that has caught my eye the most is how it has really shown a light on and exacerbated the inequalities that already existed within communities,” Robinson said of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s very clear who this pandemic has really affected.

“Obviously, the economy has taken a hit. But we’ve learned how much we rely on these essential workers. These are the people that they can’t afford to go home and shelter in place because they have to be out there working. It’s not right, in my opinion, that they’re making minimum wage because obviously we rely on them so heavily as a community, as a country. So just any opportunity to give back to those people, I felt like I needed to take advantage of.”

Robinson, who chose the message of “Say Their Names” to wear on the back of his jersey when the season resumes, is also an active participant in the ongoing social justice conversation.

“Ultimately I chose that one just because I feel it demands the conversation to be had and it pushes it to the forefront,” Robinson said of his jersey choice, “which obviously so much of this movement has really done and it has forced uncomfortable conversations. I just wanted to continue that trend and continue to make it a priority of something that’s addressed.”

Here’s what else Robinson, who played at Michigan from 2015-18, had to say during a conversation on these topics:

Question: You’ve spoken about how Udonis Haslem’s piece for The Players’ Tribune inspired you to take action in the community. What does Haslem’s voice mean to this Heat roster?

Answer: “It’s no secret that he’s certainly our leader. But I think one thing that people may overlook is that’s not just on the court. Obviously, his basketball experience is renowned and well-regarded. But he just has so much experience in terms of what it means to be a leader amid a community, as well. Obviously, being in Miami for all of his career and growing up in Miami, he takes a ton of pride in giving back to his community. All of us younger guys and really the whole team turn to him in terms of stuff off the court, as well. When he spoke and when he shared that on The Players’ Tribune, I definitely think it woke something in all of us. I just remember our team group chat in those days following, that article being published and everybody was just inspired.”

Q: What has the journey been like to find your voice as a young NBA player during this time?

A: “It’s definitely a feeling out process. I feel like I’ve grown a lot this year in that area. I still want to have the reputation of kind of being a quiet hardworking type of guy. But at the same time, I do have this platform. For me, a big part of my growth this year has been realizing that and trying to pick my spots to take advantage of it, as well.

“To be honest with you, it has kind of been a struggle in some respects just because I haven’t always been comfortable kind of hearing my own voice and being out there in public like that. I am a very opinionated person and I have stuff that I believe in. But I’ve always struggled to find my niche amidst it all. I think the biggest influence for me has been watching guys who do it gracefully and do it with empathy, but also are poignant about it and stick up for people and causes that are genuine. I think Udonis is a great example. I think Andre (Iguodala), some of the stuff he does. Him and I have definitely gotten close and I just enjoy picking his brain.”

Q: How important is it for white players to make their voices heard on racial injustice?

A: “I think it’s absolutely paramount. The NBA is a predominately black league. And me kind of being the anomaly in that sense, I’ve always tried to commit myself to being an ally and taking those necessary steps. But especially in a time like this, if you’re doing it quietly, it’s really not serving anybody at all. So that has been a challenge for me. I know what’s right and I know that I now have a responsibility to speak up and speak out against what is going on. Something that I definitely really realized amidst this all is there’s a lot of power in a beneficiary of a broken system condemning it for what it is. That has been something that I’ve been more willing and open about addressing. It certainly comes with its challenges, just because for some reason these tend to be controversial issues. I don’t really understand why that is. But that’s just the reality of it.

“For me, that has been a big part of finding my voice and speaking out against these injustices and showing my teammates and also players across the league that I’m not just standing with them silently, but I also stand with them publicly. I also have a responsibility outside of that. A big part of that is educating myself, doing my due diligence in terms of understanding the history of this country and the history of racial injustices across this country. And then also actually enacting my rights, whether it be voting, whether it be creating awareness, whether it be amplifying voices of those who are leaders who I align with. All of those fall in the same category. So that has also been something that I’ve really been trying to prioritize and take very seriously because we’re at a very critical point in our country, I feel. In years and generations down the line, there’s going to be a right and wrong side of history, and I certainly want to be on the right side. That’s for (darn) sure.”