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Ex-UConn star, top NBA sixth man Cliff Robinson dies at 53

Robinson, an 18-year veteran, was the first NBA player to become a “Survivor” contestant.

Former NBA All-Star Clifford Robinson, who played for the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors and New Jersey Nets, has has passed away. He was 53 years old. JERSEY CITY, NJ - OCTOBER 01: Cliff Robinson attends Birdies For Breast Cancer Presents 2012 Celebrity Golf Classic hosted by Christie Kerr at Liberty National Golf Course on October 1, 2012 in Jersey City, New Jersey.
Fernando Leon/Getty Images

Cliff Robinson guided UConn out from the bottom and almost helped take the Portland Trail Blazers to the top.

He was one of the NBA’s best sixth men, a versatile player who became a predecessor of the modern center.

Not bad for a guy who was warned he might not even get a second season in Storrs.

“He averaged five points as a freshman and I remember I told him, ’You have two choices: I can kick you out if you keep doing what you do, or I’m going to watch you play a lot of years in the NBA,’” former UConn coach Jim Calhoun said. “He chose the latter, which was good.”

Robinson died Saturday at 53, remembered as much for his personality as his skills by the teams he played for during an 18-year career.

“His personality and energy were unmatched, and his contributions on the court were unmistakable, helping the Trail Blazers into the playoffs each of his eight seasons with the team,” the Blazers said.

“His streak of 461 consecutive games played with the Trail Blazers still stands as a franchise record, which is a testament to his hard work and dedication to the team. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Cliff’s family and loved ones. Uncle Cliffy will be greatly missed by the Trail Blazers and all of Rip City.”

No cause of death was given, though Calhoun said Robinson had a stroke 2 1/2 years ago.

In 2014, Robinson appeared in the 28th season of Survivor, themed “Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty” and as Survivor: Cagayan. He finishing 14th overall.

“It’s really sad to hear of this, because he was one of my kids, my players, a guy I watched grow into a man,” Calhoun said. “It’s not an easy thing.”

Robinson helped the Blazers reach the NBA Finals in 1990 and 1992. He not only never missed the postseason in Portland but hardly missed any games at all, playing all 82 in each of his first five seasons and never appearing in fewer than 75.

“RIP Clifford Robinson - some of my earliest memories of NBA basketball were of you as the lifeblood to those early/mid 90’s Blazers teams. The Memorial Coliseum days!! RIP to a Portland legend,” tweeted Cleveland star Kevin Love, who grew up in Oregon.

Clifford Robinson was born on Dec. 16, 1966, in Buffalo, New York. He was the centerpiece of Calhoun’s early teams at UConn. He played in Storrs from 1985-89, helping guide the Huskies from the bottom of the Big East to the 1988 NIT championship.

Robinson averaged just 5.6 points as a freshman but scored 20 a game as a senior before becoming a second-round pick of the Blazers.

“He was our first great player,” Calhoun said. “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.”

Robinson was the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 1993 and made his lone All-Star appearance the following year. At 6-foot-11, he had the size of a center but was a skilled outside shooter.

He played 1,380 games in the league, ranking in the top 15 all-time. Besides the Blazers, Robinson also played for Phoenix, Detroit, Golden State and the Nets.

“Clifford was the consummate professional who loved the game and played with an incredible sense of both joy and intensity during his outstanding 18-year career, including two seasons with the Warriors,” Golden State said.