Friends, family attend ceremony to retire No. 2 jersey of former Rainier Beach star Nate Robinson.

Nate Robinson soaked it all in.

Sitting in a chair in front of a gym full of Rainier Beach High School students, the Boston Celtics’ diminutive guard listened as people told stories, like the time Robinson picked off a game-changing pass in the Apple Cup as a freshman football player at Washington, or the time he scored 25 points to rally the Huskies hoops team at Oregon State as a sophomore.

But more than the basketball accolades, people told stories about the things Robinson did off the floor, things that happened when few people were watching.

Those are the stories the people closest to him remember. Those stories, combined with all the athletic highlights, are the reason the school retired Robinson’s No. 2 jersey Friday during a school assembly.

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“It’s great to come back here and get my jersey hung up in the rafters,” said Robinson, who led the Vikings to a state championship in 2002, his senior season. “At any level, when you get your jersey retired, I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s a blessing. For me, attending Rainier Beach High School was like a family.”

With friends, family and Atlanta Hawks guard Jamal Crawford seated around him, Robinson listened as Ron Howard, former Seattle Seahawk and current member of the Rainier Beach coaching staff, talked about a trip back east for a basketball tournament.

All of the players were at a store buying Timberland boots. One player didn’t have enough money. Robinson took up a collection to make sure his teammate could get a pair of shoes.

“There are a lot of stars who forget about the little people who get so high up on their horse that they forget about the little people,” said Crawford, also a former Rainier Beach star. “Well, Nate is little, so he can’t forget about the little people.”

Robinson was in attendance when Crawford’s jersey was retired, so there was no way Crawford was going to miss the ceremony. Robinson, the NBA’s first three-time slam dunk champion, is the third Rainier Beach boys basketball player to have his jersey retired, joining Crawford and Doug Christie.

“To have Nate’s jersey hanging up there with Jamal’s, I’m kind of speechless as a coach,” Bethea said.

Robinson made a point to thank those who helped him get to college and then the NBA, especially his mother, Renee Busch.

“A woman taught me how to be a man,” Robinson said.

The message of the afternoon was to remember what Robinson did when nobody was looking. It was a reminder of the kind of person Robinson is and a piece of advice for the students in attendance.

“You’ve got to understand what we’re seeing,” Crawford said. “This is a gift. Honest to God, we may never see anything like this again.”

Mason Kelley: 206-464-8277 or