Will robinson, the first black basketball coach at a Division I school and a Detroit Pistons scout who discovered Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, died Monday in a Detroit hospital, team spokesman Matt Dobek said. He was 96.
Robinson had been sick for 15 months and in a nursing home for more than a year, Dobek said. The cause of death was not announced.
Robinson broke a racial barrier when he coached the Illinois State basketball team from 1970 to 1975. He finished with a 78-51 record and never had a losing season. His best player was Doug Collins, who was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 1 overall pick in 1973.
“I’m incredibly sad that I lost a guy that I loved as much as anybody in the world,” Collins said Monday. “He taught me the essence of life that has served me well from the age of 18 to 56 because he was more of a life coach than a basketball coach.”
Robinson joined the Pistons as a scout in 1976, and the additions of Dumars and Rodman were keys to Detroit’s 1989 and 1990 NBA championships. Those teams were coached by Chuck Daly, who took the job after Robinson declined former general manager Jack McCloskey’s offer.
Robinson scouted for the Pistons for 28 years and scouted part time for the NFL’s Detroit Lions for 22 years.
Midway through the 2003-04 basketball season, en route to their third title, the Pistons renamed their locker room the “Will Robinson Locker Room of Champions.”
Robinson joined Spencer Haywood in a successful legal challenge to the NBA’s ban on underclassmen. Haywood, a member of Robinson’s Detroit Pershing 1967 state championship high school team, left the University of Detroit to sign with the ABA’s Denver Rockets.
The ’67 Pershing team featured not only Haywood but four others who went on to play professional sports: Ralph Simpson (ABA, NBA), Glen Doughty and Paul Seal (NFL) and Marvin Lane (MLB).
Born in Wadesboro, N.C., Robinson quarterbacked Ohio’s Steubenville High football team and finished second in the state high school golf tournament despite not being allowed to play the course at the same time as whites. He won 15 letters in four sports at West Virginia State College before graduating in 1937.
While scouting for the Lions, Robinson scoured black colleges in the South for talent. His finds included Jackson State cornerback Lem Barney, who went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career.
The funeral will be held Saturday in Detroit.