Trail Blazers, UConn great Cliff Robinson dies at 53

Liz Roscher
·5-min read
Cliff Robinson smiles.
Cliff Robinson, the great UConn and Trail Blazers player, has died at 53. (Brian Bahr /Allsport)

Cliff Robinson, 18-year NBA veteran and legendary UConn player, has died at age 53. Robinson’s family released a statement Saturday night announcing he had been fighting a year-long battle with lymphoma.

Robinson, born in Buffalo, New York, in 1966, was instrumental to setting up UConn as a national contender in college basketball. Coach Jim Calhoun was hired in Robinson’s sophomore year, and the change in coaching paid off in a big way. Robinson learned how to fit into Calhoun’s plans and together they helped UConn gain national notice for the first time ever when they won the NIT championship in 1988.

That set the stage for UConn’s future prominence, and Calhoun said on Saturday that Robinson was UConn’s first great player.

In 1999, Robinson was named to UConn’s All-Century Team. His number, 00, was retired by UConn in 2007.

After Robinson graduated in 1989, he was picked in the second round by the Portland Trail Blazers, kicking off an 18-year NBA career. He would play for the Blazers for eight years, making the playoffs each time and helping take the Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992, though they lost both times. He was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1993 and an All-Star in 1994. He played 461 straight games for the Blazers to start his career, which still stands as a franchise record.

After leaving the Blazers, Robinson signed with the Phoenix Suns, where he’d stay for four seasons. He spent time with the Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors, and New Jersey Nets before retiring in 2007. He violated the NBA’s drug policy a few times during his career, the first time in 2001 when he was arrested for marijuana possession and driving under the influence. He was suspended one game. He was suspended five games in 2005 and again in 2006 for marijuana use.

After retirement, Robinson turned his love of marijuana into a business. He became a supporter of legalization and established the “Uncle Cliffy” brand of cannabis products. He was also a contestant on the reality show “Survivor” in 2013.

Robinson suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2017, which caused him to have a stroke. He also had a tumor removed from his jaw in 2018, which Robinson announced on his Twitter account.

The basketball world mourns Robinson’s death

When the news of Robinson’s death broke on Saturday morning, the response on social media was immediate. Fans, friends, and players shared their memories and celebrated his accomplishments amid an outpouring of sympathy for the much-loved Uncle Cliffy.

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