Share this article

print logo

Buffalo’s Best / Men’s No. 8: Cliff Robinson

The Buffalo News polled sports staffers as to the top 10 male and female athletes from Western New York. Here’s No. 8 among men:

Name: Cliff Robinson.

Sport: Basketball.

Hometown: Buffalo.

High school: Riverside.

Career overview: Robinson had the greatest NBA career of any Western New Yorker not named Bob Lanier. He played 18 seasons and 1,380 games, which ranks 10th all-time. He’s 47th all-time in points scored at 19,591, which actually is 343 more than Lanier scored. Robinson is 44th all-time in blocks, 52nd in steals, 50th in field-goals made and 37th in three-pointers made. He made the playoffs in 17 of his 18 seasons. After starring at Connecticut, he was picked by Portland in the second round in 1989 draft. He helped the Blazers to the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. He was NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1993 and an NBA All-Star in 1994. He made the NBA All-Defensive second team for Phoenix in 2000 and Detroit in 2002. Robinson’s defensive versatility, at 6-foot-10, made him invaluable. He could defend small forward, power forward and center. He was multi-positional on offense, too. Of the top 37 most prolific three-point shooters ever, only three are taller than 6-9 (Robinson, Dirk Nowitzki and Rashard Lewis). For his career, Robinson averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and one block a game. In his four best seasons, he averaged 20.4 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s generally considered one of the top 10 Portland Trail Blazers ever.

Update: Robinson and his wife, Heather, live with their children in suburban Northern New Jersey. Robinson appeared on the reality TV show “Survivor” in 2014. Heather runs The Robinson Network, an organization to unite pro athletes and celebrities and encourage them to utilize their fame toward helping charities. Robinson has six children. His son Isaiah, is a 6-10 freshman averaging 2.3 blocks a game for Division I Houston Baptist University.

Memorable moment: Robinson still frequently is seen on replays from “The “Shrug Game” in 1992. That’s when Michael Jordan made his famous gesture, with Robinson directly behind him, after hitting a sixth three-pointer in the opener of the NBA Finals. Robinson was not at fault on the play, wasn’t actually guarding Jordan, and had a sensational first half, with three big dunks and 14 points.

“People looked at that shot and said, ‘Oh Michael Jordan was busting you,” Robinson said. “I’m like, ‘You obviously didn’t watch the game.’ ... But it’s cool because I’ve been in the opening television segment of the Finals every year since then. My kids say, ‘Daddy, there you are!’ It’s an iconic moment.”

Longevity: Robinson was amazingly durable, playing in 89 percent of the games every season until his last. “I have to credit genetics and a little bit of luck, as well. I was blessed. I tried to take care of myself, and I tried to get away from the game as well in the offseason to get myself mentally re-energized.”

Underrated: Robinson usually appears on lists of the top 10 most underrated players of the 1990s. “Right from the beginning as a second-round pick, I thought I was underrated,” he said. “Throughout my career, whether it be coming out of Buffalo, where they thought some guys were probably better than me, to when people thought some Big East players were better than me, I always was able to use that as motivation. But I knew what kind of player I was, so that tag never bothered me.”

Quote: “From that first practice after the draft and beyond, I could never believe how versatile he was,” ex-Blazers coach Rick Adelman told the Portland Oregonian in 2010. “He could play power forward, small forward, center. And his versatility in how he could defend is really what made our teams back then.”

Defense: The Blazers probably wouldn’t have made the Finals in ’92 if Robinson hadn’t filled in so well for injured center Kevin Duckworth in a playoff series win over San Antonio. Robinson shifted to the low post to defend David Robinson.

“I think it was really instilled in me coming out of UConn,” Robinson said of defense. “We weren’t a running, up-and-down team. We were a possession team. Carrying over to the NBA, that was the way I was going to get on the court.”

Uncle Cliffy: After a playoff win over Utah in 1992, Robinson did an impromptu dance in the locker room that a teammate dubbed “the Uncle Cliffy.” The nickname stuck, and it’s now his twitter handle (@unclecliffy30).