Robert Covington is one of the NBA’s most unique players, a 6’9 ”swingman who defends all five positions and lifts three without hesitation, qualities that every single NBA team would like to have on their roster. After the Rockets essentially swapped center Clint Capela for Covington in a four-team swap earlier this year, Houston staked the house on a small ball with a starting five who are all under 6’10 ”.
In addition to anchoring Houston’s futuristic basketball experiment, Covington is also one of only two NBA players to have attended Historically Black College and University. In a recent phone call with GQ, the seven-year veteran talked about his role in the NBA’s small ball revolution, how he’s taking care of his mental health inside the bubble, and what HBCU has taught him.
GQ: Rockets CEO Daryl Morey has defined you the key to unlocking the ball full-time for this team. Have you ever thought about how you were cut by Houston six years ago, and now you are essential to them winning it all?
Robert Covington: Not really, but if I was still here I don’t know if I would have had the same kind of development, so you never know. It all comes back ten times and to have that effect and to be praised like that, it’s just a testament to the hard work you put in and the daily toil you do that brought you to that point. Not everything happened. You had to get out what you were wearing, and I can say it was a lot.
Since the season restarted, over 60 percent of the Rockets’ hits have been three, an absurdly high number. Have you ever been on a team like this before?
The [Rio Grande Valley] Vipers [Houston’s G-League affiliate, which Covington played for after Morey signed him to his first NBA contract] was the first team that started it, really. That’s where I got the freedom to do it, from there. I guess it was a matter of time before all of this became prevalent. I would say we grew up in Philadelphia in exactly the same way. That’s how my role became what it is. Coach [Brett] Brown and Coach [Lloyd] Pierce, they saw how good I am at shooting and how things turned out for me at the end of the offensive, but they said you have to turn into Bruce Brown, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen, all these different people that can be things on both sides. sides of the court.
The main person I saw was Scottie Pippen because he was my favorite player. Coach Pierce was so adamant in watching movies and teaching me and it became a thing of habit. When we weren’t watching the movie, I thought ‘yo what are we doing? What happens? Are you all right, coach? But those are the kinds of habits we built, and he liked seeing that I was on him as much as I was.
What was the hardest part of the bubble to get used to?
Not having fans in the arena isn’t the most challenging thing, but it’s the weirdest part of it all. You don’t have that extra energy that gets you excited, keeps you going. So that’s okay, what do you do to change it and get that extra energy? Crowds play a significant factor. This is just the strangest thing.
How is more energy generated?
You just have to do it yourself. And among your team, take it from them. We have to do a good job at this. It’s crazy. But the team that can hook the most with that will have the biggest advantage because then you get that extra edge you can play with.