Bulls early star Flynn Robinson dies at 72


May 25

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

Flynn Robinson was one of the most popular players early in Bulls’ history and one of the team’s most prolific and exciting scorers, holding the Bulls’ playoff scoring record for 18 years until it was broken by Michael Jordan in 1986.

But Robinson’s trade to the Milwaukee Bucks, as unpopular as it was Nov. 22, 1968, put in place the first piece, All-Star to be Bob Love, for the Bulls great run of the early 1970’s.

Robinson, 72, died Thursday after a two-year battle with multiple myeloma, according to the Los Angeles Lakers. Robinson, a native of west suburban Elgin, played for the champion 1972 Lakers and lived in Los Angeles, where he was active in adult basketball leagues well into his 60’s and participated in programs that exposed underprivileged children to fishing and ocean life.

Flynn Robinson

When the Bulls opened their second season 0-4, team president Dick Klein amidst declining attendance traded Rodgers, who had a poor playoff in 1967, to the Cincinnati Royals for Robinson, draft picks and cash.

Robinson played only parts of two seasons with the Bulls in the late 1960’s. But he was involved in many of the Bulls‘ most memorable transactions and some of the biggest games of that era. He later was dubbed, “Instant Offense” by Lakers’ broadcaster Chick Hearn. But as a Chicago fan favorite he was “Flingin’ Flynn,” who was the Bulls’ second leading scorer at 16 per game in their second season, 1967-68, after being acquired four games into that season.

Initially, it was not a popular trade as Robinson came for classy guard Guy Rodgers, who was an All-Star in the Bulls’ inaugural season in being tied for the team lead in scoring and leading the NBA in assists. The Bulls were 33-48 that first season. But they made the playoffs, still the only expansion team to make the playoffs.

But when the Bulls opened their second season 0-4, team president Dick Klein amidst declining attendance traded Rodgers, who had a poor playoff in 1967, to the Cincinnati Royals for Robinson, draft picks and cash. Robinson, in the way things often would go in the early years of the NBA, eventually ended up in Milwaukee as well playing with Rodgers. Robinson would average 21.8 per game for the Bucks in the 1969-70 season, second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and made the East All-Star team. He played eight minutes off the bench and had six points. Flynn was always flingin’ it.

Robinson was drafted by Cincinnati out of the University of Wyoming No. 15 in the second round in the 1965 draft, 11 selections after Jerry Sloan went to Baltimore. But Robinson is perhaps best remembered in Bulls’ lore as the player who pretty much single handedly won the first playoff game in franchise history.

Though making the playoffs in their inaugural season of 1966-67, the Bulls were swept 3-0 by the St. Louis Hawks.

The Bulls then moved into the Chicago Stadium for the 1967-68 season after playing in both the Amphitheater and even a playoff game in the old Coliseum at 15th and Wabash where attendance for the only home playoff game that season was under 4,000.

The late 1960’s was a vibrant expansion time in the NBA as Seattle came in the season after the Bulls and Milwaukee the season after that. The Bulls lost center George Wilson in expansion and Erwin Mueller tried to jump to the ABA. So the Bulls after trading for Robinson acquired one of the classic players in NBA history, seven-footer Reggie Harding.

Harding was infamous for one of the great stories in NBA history. Often troubled with drug issues, he was one of the first ever NBA players not to attend college. He had troubles with the law and eventually was shot dead on a Detroit street in 1972. He famously wearing a mask went in to hold up a store in his neighborhood. The storekeeper recognized Reggie as there weren’t that many seven-foot stickup men around, anyway.

The storekeeper supposedly said, “Reg, don’t do it.”

Harding responded: “It ain’t me.”

Yes, you’re 1967-68 Man in the Middle, Reggie Harding.

No wonder Flynn was flingin’.

It perhaps was no surprise Wilt Chamberlain set the opponent scoring record which still stands, scoring 68 points in a 143-123 Philadelphia win that season. And Wilt missed 14 free throws.

The Bulls fell to 29-53, but they qualified for the playoffs. They would face the 52-win Lakers. But they had one great moment as Robinson with 41 points led the Bulls to a 104-98 win in Game 3, the first playoff win in franchise history.

In the excitement, the Bulls sold 2,000 more tickets for Game 4. But Jerry West switched to guard Robinson, and he shot four of 16. But in a sign of how things are always the same, Robinson was quoted after the game by Chicago Tribune beat writer Bob Logan wondering how he could play the entire game driving to the basket and not get to the free throw line once. West, whose image is said to be the NBA’s logo, was then regarded as a player protected by the officials.

The Bulls went on to lose the series 4-1 and coach Johnny Kerr was fired and replaced by Dick Motta.

Motta, despite coming from the college ranks, immediately got into a dispute with team president Klein in trying to force him out and benched a shocked Robinson for second year player Clem Haskins, who had been a little used No. 1 draft pick the previous season. Motta was anathema to offense, preferring a deliberate game and not Robinson’s high flying, shooting attack.

Robinson, though averaging 19.1 points off the bench, was traded 18 games into the stormy season for Bob Weiss and Love. Initially, Motta didn’t care for Love and the team acquired forward Bob Kauffman. But Love began to recover from injuries and starting in 1969-70 averaged at least 21 points for six straight and then teamed with Chet Walker to form perhaps the most potent forward combination in the league and help the Bulls to average more than 50 wins over a five-year run through 1974-75.

Robinson went on to Milwaukee and then to Cincinnati in the trade that brought Oscar Robertson to the Bucks to team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Robertson’s only title. Robinson then was traded to the Lakers to finish the 1971-72 season and backup West and Gail Goodrich for the team that won 33 straight and an NBA title.

And it certainly was a different time as Robinson told the Los Angeles Times in an interview in 2008 that winning was the prize back then.

“We won 33 games in a row and (Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke) gave us a $5 pen set,” Robinson said. “It was an embarrassment, but we were focused on winning the championship.”

Robinson played the following season for the Baltimore Bullets and then finished his pro career in the ABA with San Diego in 1973-74. He averaged 14.5 points in seven NBA season and also led the league in free throw shooting for the Bucks in 1970. His best scoring seasons were in Milwaukee, where he averaged more than 20 both years.

Robinson returned to Los Angeles in retirement and remained an accomplished senior basketball player, being ranked at one time among the top five players over 60 in the world and playing almost to the end.

“I can’t say how long I’m going to play because all that’s up to God,” Robinson told the Times in that 2008 interview. “But I’m going to play as long as I’m living.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below: