Cliff Robinson passed away last night, gone way too soon at 53.
When Robinson retired from his 18-year NBA career and returned to Portland, I was happy to get a couple of opportunities to get together with him. We shared some laughs over those days and his relationship with his coaches here,
I covered the Trail Blazers during Robinson's heyday in Portland, when he was the best sixth man in basketball and a terrific defensive player. He was able to play any position on the floor -- because he could guard just about any position. And he was one of the very first "stretch 4s" in the league, a power forward who could make threes.
He was a tough customer on the floor, in spite of being more slightly built than many he had to defend,
The most interesting thing about him in Portland was his cultural impact. I'm not sure if it was the headband or the wide smile, but he had a huge fan base for a player who spent a lot of his Trail Blazer career coming off the bench. He became "Uncle Cliffy" to Trail Blazer fans and, truth be told, I was never quite comfortable with that.
I got a phone call during that time from a man who told me he thought it was demeaning to a Black man to have such a nickname. I talked to Cliff about it and he disagreed, but I refrained from using it after that. And once, Robinson told me that he preferred "Clifford" to Cliff, so I went with that for years. It was only after he retired and I mentioned it to him that he laughed and said it didn't matter.
When he left the NBA, he had a brief run on the TV series "Survivor" and became an activist for legalized cannabis. When it became legal, he got involved in that business with a dispensary.
He suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2017 and worked through a long recovery from it. I reached out to him via text last May for a comment about the Michael Jordan documentary and got this reply:
Unfortunately I haven’t watched it Dwight. Still trying to get over health issues.
I wasn't able to reach him again and it saddened me. He left behind so many friends in the league and so many fans through an incredible 18-year run as a pro. He had a wonderful sense of humor, was terrific with fans and a fierce competitor on the floor.
Rest in peace, Clifford. Trail Blazer fans will never forget you.