Like millions of sports fans across the globe, Robbie Hummel has been “glued” to the Michael Jordan documentary series, The Last Dance. Unlike many, he has played in the NBA, met MJ and has a strong chance of following his idol to the Olympic Games...
Robbie Hummel may have shot hoops in the NBA, played at the top level in leagues all over the world and be on the verge of representing his country on the biggest sporting stage of them all, but it seems, like half the known world, he cannot get enough of The Last Dance.
“They could have done 100 episodes and I would have been so hyped about all of them,” Hummel said of the documentary series focused on Michael Jordan’s extraordinary playing career at NBA franchise the Chicago Bulls.
“I grew up a huge Bulls fan. I got to see Jordan play three times as a kid live. I’ve read every book, whether that’s The Jordan Rules, Phil Jackson [the Chicago Bulls’ six-time NBA Championship-winning coach]’s book or any Michael Jordan book. I’ve got all the championship videos from when I was a kid on VHS. You talk about a die-hard Bulls fans – I was a die-hard Bulls fan.
“I mean, man, give us 50 episodes. I loved it. I was glued to the TV.”
The series is one of a number of wonderfully familiar distractions sought by Hummel during the restrictions enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Painting the house, working out and playing video games also feature heavily.
But despite his admirable everyman qualities, the 31-year-old is a sporting star in his own right. Hummel was in fact in Los Angeles with his USA 3x3 basketball 2019 World Cup-winning team-mates when the first serious implications of the pandemic hit. The squad’s pre-Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament training camp was immediately put on hold.
It was the first major setback Hummel has faced since a call from Craig Moore, an old college basketball friend, reignited his passion for basketball. Hummel was a stellar prospect through school and college in Indiana, breaking records aplenty for Purdue University. He was duly selected in round two of the 2012 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. But regular injuries set him back and, after narrowly failing to secure a season spot with the Denver Nuggets in 2016/17, Hummel found himself in Moscow, questioning his future.
“I was so burnt out by playing internationally,” said Hummel, who had spent a season in Italy and Spain respectively before signing with Russian team Khimki. “I really struggled [in] my last year in Moscow. I was the last cut [at the Nuggets] and after that I was like, ‘If I am not in the NBA, I don’t care to play any more’. It’s a tough reality for a lot of players.”
Always an enthusiast, Hummel had lost his spark.
“It was not good,” he admitted. “I would get to practice as late as possible, leave immediately, go to Shake Shack, eat a burger or two with some fries and [have] a Coke – that’s not the way you want to operate as a professional athlete, but I was just not happy.”
Moore came to his rescue. The former Northwestern player had discovered 3x3 basketball and was convinced his one-time rival would be the perfect fit for the fast-paced sport, which will be making its Olympic Games debut at Tokyo 2020. He was right.
Less than two years later, Hummel propelled the USA to their first World Cup win in June 2019, being crowned the tournament’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) along the way.
“Winning the MVP was cool. I don’t think I ever doubted my abilities. I knew I could still play, but I think I questioned whether I wanted to play,” Hummel said. “This [3x3] has been the perfect situation for me – you are leaving for the weekend, you are not leaving for nine months.”
Criss-crossing the planet with Team USA, and with Princeton 3x3 on the International Basketball Federation [FIBA] World Tour, has been a huge bonus.
“You go to places you would probably never go and you witness the way these places operate,” he explained. “You are so used to what you are used to, and all of a sudden you are in another place and there are animals walking down the street or whatever. That’s cool.
“We’ve been all over Europe, India, China a bunch of times, South Korea a bunch of times, Japan. Some of our guys went to Malaysia. Outside of Africa it has taken us all over the world.”
Amid the training sessions, the airport lounges and the hotel gyms, Hummel has grown super close to his new team-mates, an attribute he believes was reflected by the World Cup win last year.
“The Serbians [four-time World Cup winners] have certainly built a nice camaraderie together, and that’s why they are probably the most consistent country in the world,” he said. “It’s huge, 100 per cent a big part of the sport.
“It is a sport with a lot of feel, knowing where your team-mates are going to be.”
Bettering the likes of Serbia and their star man Dusan Bulut has naturally given Hummel and his team-mates “huge confidence”. Now they have shown they can “compete and win” at world level, the postponed Olympic Games are next.
But first Hummel and friends have to earn a spot in Tokyo via the Olympic qualifying tournament, now scheduled for May 2021 in Austria. Three berths per gender will be up for grabs, and Hummel is “hungry” for one. Should the team manage it and one of their newest recruits secure a place in the Japan-bound squad, he will again emulate his hero. A hero he once had the pleasure of meeting.
“It was the highlight of my life,” Hummel said of meeting Jordan in Las Vegas. “I was so scared, so afraid of it being one of those deals where he would be in a bad mood or I would annoy him… but he was really nice.”