Cliff Robinson, UConn Star Who Played 18 N.B.A. Seasons, Dies at 53

Cliff Robinson, the 6-foot-10-inch forward and center who led the University of Connecticut to the 1988 National Invitation Tournament championship when the Huskies had yet to become a national collegiate power, and who played for 18 seasons in the N.B.A., died on Saturday at his home in Portland, Ore. He was 53.

The cause was lymphoma, his family told The Athletic, a sports website.

Playing for Jim Calhoun, the future Hall of Fame coach who developed UConn teams that became a formidable presence on the national collegiate scene, Robinson was a two-time Big East All-Conference selection. He averaged 15.6 points a game his four seasons at UConn, the last three under Calhoun.

Robinson, who was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round of the 1989 N.B.A. draft, was a forerunner of the “stretch forward” who can drive for a layup and also hit 3-point shots, and he was an outstanding defensive player.

He was durable as well, playing in 761 consecutive regular-season games for Portland — still a team record.

Robinson was named the N.B.A. Sixth Man of the Year while playing for the Trail Blazers in the 1992-93 season. He was an N.B.A. All-Star in 1994, and he was selected for the league’s all-defensive second team in 2000 and 2002.

He played with a flourish, wearing headbands before they were popular and sometimes donning as many as three color combinations in a single game.

Following a Trail Blazer victory over the Utah Jazz during the 1992 N.BA. Western Conference finals, Robinson performed a dance in the locker room that became known as the Uncle Cliffy. It was his nickname from then on.

Robinson had a career average of 14.2 points. He played eight seasons with the Trail Blazers and four with the Phoenix Suns, followed by stints with the Detroit Pistons, the Golden State Warriors and the New Jersey Nets. He retired after the 2006-7 season.

He was back in the news several times after his playing career.

Robinson was among several retired N.B.A. players recruited in 2014 by Dennis Rodman for what was to be a good-will, private diplomacy visit to North Korea.

It became a much criticized tribute to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with Rodman singing “Happy Birthday” to him when Mr. Kim was among some 13,000 fans who watched the Americans play a North Korean squad.

While he didn’t rebuke Rodman, Robinson said afterward that he was unaware of Rodman’s plan for a musical tribute.

Robinson was a contestant that year on the reality TV series “Survivor” during a season filmed in the Philippines that was billed as “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty.” Assigned to the Brawn tribe, he was the fifth person voted out. “It’s tougher than the N.B.A. without a doubt,” he told People magazine.

A longtime advocate for the benefits of marijuana use, Robinson was twice suspended by the N.B.A. for five games for violating its antidrug policy.

He opened a marijuana dispensary in Portland in 2017, after Oregon legalized marijuana sales to adults.

Robinson viewed marijuana as especially beneficial for pro athletes.

“There’s a lot of physical and mental stress that comes with that, and to have something available to you that has health benefits, I don’t see the issue with it myself,” he told The Portland Business Journal in 2016.

Clifford Ralph Robinson was born on Dec. 16, 1966, in Buffalo. His father died when he was young and his mother, now Helena Horne, raised the family.

In addition to his mother, Robinson’s survivors include his children Jessica, Jaylen, Isaiah, Savanna, Clifford and Lyle; his brothers Craig, Torrey and Rashard; and his sister, Alisa, his family said.

Jim Calhoun did not forget Robinson’s contribution to UConn’s basketball history.

“He was our first great player,” Calhoun told The Associated Press. “He gave legitimacy to the program. As a player coming in, here’s this guy playing on TV for the Trail Blazers, watching him play, watching UConn being mentioned. You could not pay for the exposure that he gave us.”

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