Throughout his teenage years, the closest thing to a permanent address in Eddie Robinson's life was the Berston Field House, a rec center in Flint, Mich. While his parents coped with personal problems, Robinson and his sister, Dequala, who is four years older, bounced among relatives' homes. Berston's basketball courts were Eddie's sanctuary, and he spent even more time there after dropping out of Flint's Northern High in the 10th grade, playing ball with older men during the day and then with future NBA players such as Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson once school let out. "That was my getaway," Robinson says, "from the streets and everything else."
These days Robinson, 24, plays his basketball at Charlotte Coliseum, where he is developing into one of the league's most exciting young players. The 6'9", 204-pound swingman is an electric dunker—his 42-inch vertical jump is the highest the franchise has ever measured—with a silky shooting touch that Charlotte coach Paul Silas terms "almost magical."
That's a fair description of Robinson's path from Berston to the Bee Hive. During one Berston pickup game when he was 17, he drew the interest of Raymond Jones, the coach of the Flint J's, a successful AAU team. The high school dropout played alongside schoolboy stars such as Peterson, who says, "You knew he was going to end up in the NBA."
First Robinson needed a GED. With that in hand, he played for two junior colleges between 1994 and 1997. After he scored 22.7 points a game in 1996-97 at Brown Mackie College in Salina, Kans., Robinson declared for the NBA draft.
The league hardly noticed, and Robinson went undrafted. Fortunately he hadn't signed with an agent, which enabled him to play at Central Oklahoma, where in his second season, 1998-99, he led Division II in scoring with 28.0 points a game. That and a strong workout intrigued Charlotte enough to offer Robinson a two-year, $1.6 million free-agent contract. With so little experience against top competition, however, Robinson has had much to learn.
Nevertheless, with Robinson as a game-changing sixth man since the All-Star break, Charlotte had gone 14-5 through Sunday. Take last week's game against the Raptors. The Hornets trailed 30-23 when Robinson entered; when he sat down less than eight minutes later, he had scored 11 points, and Charlotte was leading by three en route to a 111-95 victory. Robinson's barrage included a pair of fierce dunks and two quick-fire perimeter shots that teammate P.J. Brown calls "rattlesnake jumpers."
At week's end Robinson had shot at least 50% from the floor in 20 of his past 21 games, averaging 10.3 points in that span. "You see him on the highlights every night, and people must be saying, 'Who is this guy?' " Brown says. "It's only a matter of time before he's a household name."
For Robinson, though, the best thing about his success is that he can afford a household in his own name. He knows exactly the kind of home he wants after he signs this summer with Charlotte or with another team as a restricted free agent. "I'm not going to go crazy," says Robinson, who has reconciled with his folks. "I'm just going to get a nice house where I'm comfortable." Considering how far he's come, that's not too much to ask.