NBA world champion Flynn Robinson passed away Thursday morning at 10am at the Keck Medical Center of USC in Los Angeles after a courageous battle for the past two years with cancer. He was 72 years old.
Robinson won the world championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972 with Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Keith Erickson and a host of other great players. That same year, the Lakers won a record 33 games in a row; a feat that still stands as the longest consecutive winning streak in professional sports history.
As I sat with Flynn in his hospital room over the past few days and watched his loving wife Nancy and so many other wonderful people spend precious final moments with him, I couldn’t help but think what a strange world it truly is.
I can still hear the crowd counting down to victory at the 1972 world championship game. I was 12 years old and my dad had taken me to the game. “Can I run out on the court,” I asked my father. “Of course,” he said. I never got near Wilt, Elgin or even Flynn but just being there on the same court as my heroes was a blessing.
Then about 30 years later, I get a call from Flynn Robinson. “You don’t know who I am,” said Flynn “but I got your number from Laker trainer Gary Vitti and was wondering if we could take some kids fishing.” Even though I insisted to Flynn I did know who he was and was in fact thrilled to be able to talk to one of my childhood heroes, Flynn remained humble.
Flynn’s phone call set in motion getting thousands more kids out on the water. There were the Christmas trips that we did with Brian Shaw, the Laker Girls and of course Flynn when we took homeless kids and their parents fishing. Of course we were visited by Santa Claus who was bearing gifts for all.
Even in the hospital, when Robinson’s body was being ravaged by cancer, he only wanted to speak about when we were going to do the next fishing trip. On Monday, I was able to present Flynn with over 50 letters that the 4th grade class from Avalon Elementary had sent his way after being on a kids trip last week. As I read those cards to him, you could just see his spirits being lifted.
Then there was the time at the Rosarito Beach Hotel where thanks to Hugo Torres, the then gracious mayor of Rosarito Beach and owner of the hotel, we treated 300 orphans to a day of fishing on the Rosarito Pier, America football with my sons Philip and Patrick and basketball lessons from an NBA world champion. “I will never ever forget the magic of that special and memorable day,” said Torres.
On Tuesday afternoon, Flynn woke up out of a deep sleep to look over some fantastic photos that Bleu Cotton had brought to the hospital. Flynn smiled and looked happy as Cotton showed him some of the wonderful images he captured on that special day.
Flynn would come to my house in Torrance and tutor my kids out back in basketball. While he played it down, I was thrilled to have him over and truly felt honored that he had made time for me. But Flynn was always making time for others especially if they needed some help. He was just that kind of man.
On Sunday, Bill and Joyce Sharman dropped in to see Flynn at the hospital. Sharman coached Flynn in the 1972 world championship year and was truly saddened to see his former player in his present state. Robinson was asleep for the entire time Sharman was there. Just as Sharman and his wife stood up to leave, Flynn came to. He motioned for Sharman to approach and too his hand. Then with those kind eyes, Flynn looked at his former mentor and said, “goodbye coach.”
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