At some point around the #ALLCAPSGAME, a big shiny Robot began appearing at Butler's Horizon League contests games. A Ron5Robot! Ron5Robot is a tribute to Ronald Nored, the Bulldogs' exceedingly unselfish Secretary of Defense, whose battered legs contain surgically implanted metal rods, making No. 5 not exactly man or machine, just something in between. The idea caught like wildfire on Butler fan blogs and message boards, a suit and a Twitter feed were born, and they're lovin' every minute of it Last weekend in New Orleans, there was Ron5Robot in the Butler section, with that metallic grin, even when the Bulldogs were down double-digits to Florida in the second half.
We have now interviewed a chicken, Mr. Zooperstar and Seth Davis, but never a Robot. While we always defer to the Butler Collegian in all professional and personal matters, we had our own cybertronic sitdown with the No. 1 proponent of the Botler Way... and the humans who created him. We talked about the Howard Test, the viral video with Hink and Blue 2, Ron5Robot's role in the upcoming Robocalypse... and tinfoil. [Equal time! Check out our interview with VCU superfan Chris "Pav" Crowley] TMM:What exactly are your specs, Ron5Robot? Ron5Robot: I doubt the humans who made me would want me to give away my exact specs, on the chance that we would have copy-bots and an inevitable complete infiltration of the Horizon League. The only specs I really care about these days anyway are the fancy new ones Coach Stevens is wearing. He can't match my laser eye yet, but I wouldn't put anything past that human with a little more time.
TMM:I know that Robots are generally incapable of feeling human emotions like happiness or pain, but seeing the Butler Bulldogs reach the Final Four again must have triggered something inside you. How does this feel, or what joy algorithm is this triggering? Ron5Robot: I have a pretty sophisticated system, but the joy codes running through me after these games have caused a few near-meltdowns. I can run millions of permutations of what this team can do, and they still manage to come up with something shocking and thrilling every time that I didn't expect. No robot has ever shed a tear, but I've calculated a pretty decent chance of the team making me break that barrier in Houston.
TMM:Can you calculate why the Butler Bulldogs are so good at basketball? Ron5Robot: The Botler Way is a huge part of it. I also think we have a great human coaching staff that always comes in with a game plan well-designed for destruction of the other team. We have very talented human players as well, but what they've been able to accomplish is something that's beyond even my comprehension. Forget the Turing Test --- we robots will have arrived when we can pass the Howard Test.
TMM:You shot a video with Hink and Blue 2. How did that go? Ron5Robot: No better way to spend a day. Those two are real professionals. HAL 9000 was a big role model of mine growing up, and I'd love to get into acting. When my work here is done, maybe that video will get my foot in the door for a Jetsons remake or something, who knows.
TMM:I've studied your dance moves from across the court, and I'm convinced that your programmers put in some extra "funk.c" code. What do you consider your best moves to be, and how did you get better at dancing than humans (at least the Caucasian ones)? Ron5Robot: It doesn't take a very complicated code to dance better than most humans (most human Butler players included). Dancing is the closest thing a bot can get to spontaneity--I just go with whatever the humans around me seem to like. Plus, my friend DJ Roomba comes over every now and then and we get funky, so I have had some practice. I'd say that my signature dance move would be whenever Butler does something spectacular and I spin my head around. It is a shame that humans aren't capable of doing this, because it is an amazing move.
TMM:At The Mid-Majority, we employ Robots that keep track of Red Line Upsets and draw the star maps and keep track of how Gordon Hayward is doing in the NBA. But we're always cognizant of a possible takeover of the site by the hired help, and live in constant fear of the Robocalypse, and always capitalize "Robot" out of respect. I have to know: do you come in peace? Ron5Robot: Depends on who is asking, of course. Mercy is something that still usually doesn't compute when it comes to opposing human teams. But, without naming names, I'll let you know that there are other bots lurking beneath the Red Line, and most of us are happy just to blend in. We are a shy bunch by programming, and I'm not sure many of us could take this sort of publicity. When it comes to the Mid-Majority, of course, I most definitely come in peace.
* * *
We were also fortunate enough to talk to Ron5Robot's human creators and programmers, two Butler graduates. We are protecting their anonymity, in the interest of Hoops National security and upon request, with the Butler school colors. TMM: You created/programmed Ron5Robot. So, who are you? Ron5Robot has hinted to me on more than one occasion that the release of my identity would cheapen his brief yet wondrous existence. Suffice it to say I am a huge fan of the program and what Butler has been able to accomplish in my years as a student in the pharmacy program (all 6 of them). TMM:How was the Ron5Robot body constructed, and how long did it take? And how much tinfoil is that? Ron5's mainframe was constructed entirely out of a box I found in my closet, some packing tape, and about 75 feet of aluminum foil. This was all thrown together hastily about an hour before the home game against Detroit. This was undoubtedly the best decision I have ever made in my life. The Ron5 joke had been going on between my friends for quite a while before there was ever an actual robot. Then one night, while out at dinner, I get a text saying, "We're going to make a Ron5 robot for the game." And sure enough, I get a picture text an hour later and can't believe it. I can't take any credit for the actual construction, but there is something about the look--you can tell it was done quickly, but it was done quickly and so well. Having later worn the suit, I can tell you it's even got better airflow than you would expect from a bunch of cardboard, and the ladies love it. TMM:Not only is the Robot awesome, so is the Twitter feed. Who did you base the character on? Are there Robots that you were particularly inspired by? He reminds me a lot of Plex from "Yo Gabba Gabba," which I watch every morning in my slippers during the offseason. To be quite honest, the robot isn't really based on anything. My friends and I have our own brand of humor which has been infused into the robot. I was hesitant about how that would be received by the masses, but it seems to me that people are enjoying it. It's been sort of interesting to see how that feed has progressed. There are actually a few of us who tweet, which has caused some confusion here and there, but I doubt anyone comes to a Twitter feed for a basketball robot mascot looking for a lot of internal consistency. I'm actually surprised how people have taken to it. At the games, you can just see him dancing around and spinning his head, so I think the Twitter feed really has helped give the whole thing a personality, which is the best way to keep it going. TMM:As Butler fans that have lived and died with the team, how is this run different than last year's? It's really hard to compare the two, and I've heard good arguments on both sides (better or worse). I would say that this year's run has been more thrilling for me because it made what I think most of us thought would be a once in a lifetime experience into a twice in a lifetime experience. This year has also served as a testament to how high the quality of the program as a whole is, especially the coaching staff. I still can't sort it out. Last year, while watching Duke celebrate, I could not understand how it could possibly be over, how there wasn't another chance, that the moment was just simply gone. It's just so unreal that they've managed to recapture that moment, after a season with so many struggles. And those thoughts say nothing about what it means for the program going forward to have accomplished something so unique. Right after the regional final, I kept saying that no matter what happened, we got another week of exposure, another week to sell what we have going on. In the days since, I've moved away from that--the good press isn't enough; I want the championship.
My friends and I used to joke about winning National Championships. We drove to St. Louis in '07 because it was at least theoretically possible for someone like us to beat Florida. Last year we just sort of floated along on the wave of good feelings, and then were surprised when losing still hurt so badly after accomplishing so much. This year, despite a season with some pretty low lows, is different. The sense I get from everyone now is that the next few days are a mission, not a dream.
TMM:As David Woods and others have noted, Ronald has had a great sense of humor about Ron5Robot. And he signed the outer shell. He is a fantastic human being with such an incredible family background; what's inspired you about him? I think the easy answer is his amazing leadership abilities, which I do think could be a source of inspiration for anyone he meets. But what I admire the most is how he seems to genuinely enjoy life and all the things he does. He's always smiling and just simply enjoying life. He does have a great story, and a terrific personality. He's actually made the whole robot thing pretty easy, because it's not hard to imagine a player sort of not getting it or being put off, in which case the whole thing would have had to go away. He's a huge asset to the program and the school without even stepping on the court, and I think that will continue long after he graduates.
Ron took over at the point as a freshman for Mike Green, and did so for a young team that lost five crucial seniors, so it took a long time as fans to adjust to such a huge change. But he really came into his own last year in the tourney, chasing Rautins or Pullen or whoever was the threat du jour. I've always loved watching the great BU defenders --- Streicher, Veasley, etc. --- and Ron is carrying on that tradition. TMM:Are you going to be able to be there in Houston? I'll see what I can do. My schedule is a bit hectic but I may be able to build a few miniature jetpacks for a group of us to fly in and out between work. Sick days may be utilized. I've graduated from Butler, worked for a bit in Indy, and then left town to go back to school, so I'll be watching up in Chicago with a pretty strong alumni contingent.
TMM:Finally, what do you hope people out there learn about Butler, thanks to the global-level ambassadorial work that the men's basketball team has done over the past two years? I hope people will get to see the true quality of the program by exposure to the characters of the young men on the team. Everyone on Butler's team is someone you'd want to be friends with. And it will be great when people realize you can win through hard work and quality of character rather than by spending the most money on your training facilities and recruiting the biggest players. Only a special type of person can truly subscribe to the heart of Butler basketball on and off the court. Quite simply, I think it's the best college basketball program in the country, and I think people are beginning to see that. Butler, like any school, is not a perfect place. I certainly liked it, and my degree has served me well. And the team does an absolutely terrific job of representing some of the best things about the school. But I've always gotten the sense that these two runs have been treated by the public as something to project onto rather than some sort of window on the school. I was traveling a few days before and a few days after the Final Four last year, decked out in Butler gear the entire time, and I was stopped everywhere I went.
As I talked to people, they seemed less interested in learning about Butler than in just loving the fact that this group of kids was doing something so special. Maybe it gave them hope for their team, or maybe they just needed some hope in general during pretty crappy times; I don't know for sure, and I've never really cared. People, on the whole, just seem to be happy that we're doing what we're doing, and I think that appreciation probably does say something very positive about whatever it is they see in the school and the team.