Flynn Robinson gave NBA stars the star treatment

Flynn Robinson is honored along with other members of the Lakers' 1972 NBA championship team.
(Gus Ruelas / Associated Press)

Players come and go in the NBA. They have their glory, get old and live later lives out of the limelight. Unless your name is Michael Jordan or a few others, you depart Earth in the company of family, a few friends and a neighbor or two.

Then there is Flynn Robinson.

Saturday, at noon at a church in Los Angeles, many tall men with faces and names familiar and revered in basketball will gather to say goodbye at a special memorial service. According to the record books, Robinson wasn’t a superstar. According to what people say about how he treated others, he was.

He was a 6-foot-1 shooting guard who played for five NBA teams over seven seasons. After that, he just kept playing. Not for money. Just for the joy.

He proudly told The Times’ Jerry Crowe in 2008 that he had been selected “one of the top three players 60-and-over in the world.”

He told former UCLA star Lynn Shackelford, Chick Hearn’s broadcast sidekick in the early 1970s, that he expected to keep playing after he turned 70, which he did.


When he died May 23, he was 72. The multiple myeloma cancer that was diagnosed in 2012 and ended his life had left him in a wheelchair, his spine damaged from chemotherapy. The bounce he always had in his step on the basketball court needed to find an outlet, and it did in his upbeat attitude.

“When I called, he always told me to call any time,” Shackelford says. “The last time I talked to him, he was so excited because Kareem had called him, and that meant so much to him.”

Robinson’s wife, Nancy Pitts-Robinson, says, “Even though he was battling cancer, he never complained.”

Robinson was the backcourt star when Abdul-Jabbar joined the Milwaukee Bucks as a rookie in 1969. Robinson was second on the team in scoring that year and made his only NBA All-Star game appearance.

“When I moved to Milwaukee,” Abdul-Jabbar says, “Flynn was living in the same apartment complex, Juneau Village. He was just an easy guy to know, a really friendly person.”

Abdul-Jabbar will be among the dozen or so speakers at the memorial service.

Robinson’s best days were with the Bucks, who traded him for Oscar Robertson and went on to win the NBA title; and with the Lakers, where he got his own NBA championship ring. That was the famous 1971-72 Lakers, the 33-game winning-streak team that went on to win the title. Robinson backed up Jerry West and Gail Goodrich and averaged 10 points off the bench. It was Abdul-Jabbar and his old Bucks teammates who broke the winning streak.

Bill Sharman, the coach of that legendary team, says, “Flynn was a great shooter and very, very quick. He was a good player and a good team member. We reconnected in the past few years and enjoyed some good times together. He was such a good man, and will be missed by so many.”

Robinson never led the league in scoring, but he might have in nicknames.

Hearn labeled him “Instant Offense.” Eddie Doucette, the Bucks announcer who placed the perfect label on Abdul-Jabbar’s bread-and-butter shot when he christened it the “skyhook,” called Robinson the “Electric Eye.”

Even in Chicago, where Robinson spent the 1967-68 season with the Bulls and scored 41 points in Game 3 of the playoffs against the Lakers to spark the city’s first-ever NBA playoff victory, he had a moniker, “Flingin’ Flynn.”

In the next game in that playoff series, some guy from the Lakers named West switched over to guard Robinson and Flingin’ Flynn shot four for 16.

Keith Erickson, a teammate of Robinson’s with the Bulls and the Lakers, will be the master of ceremonies at the memorial service. He says, “Lots of guys get their nose in the air when they make it in the NBA. Not Flynn. He was never bigger than anybody else.”

Shackelford says, “He treated strangers like they were a big deal.”

Between pickup games at the Westchester YMCA, where he was a fixture, Robinson volunteered, pitched in, helped people. One of his favorite things was to go fishing with a bunch of youngsters, many of whom had never been on a boat before, much less fishing. The man who runs the foundation that organizes those trips, Phil Friedman, has said that one of his favorite memories is of Robinson, dishing out high-fives for hooked fish.

The memorial service will be in the performing arts theater adjacent to the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, 3020 Crenshaw Blvd. It will be open to the public.

Robinson would like that.