Jim Robinson’s passing lamented by many

(Onika Nicole Craven/MSR News) Jim Robinson

It’s inevitable that all of us will leave this earth one day, but even knowing that, when you’re notified that someone you have known for years has passed away, the news isn’t any less shocking.

Jim Robinson passed away Nov. 30 at age 88, another in a growing list of local and national notable Blacks who left us too soon this year.

“One of the most inspiring persons I ever met in my life.” – Ronnie Henderson

“I can’t picture milestones [in her life] without him.” – Lea B. Olsen

“An iconic figure.” – Jeff Munneke

“His legacy of service and leadership really will be greatly missed.” – Lisa Lissimore

“A great loss.” – Al Frost

Robinson, born and raised in St. Paul, made history and broke barriers several times over, first as a high school athlete. Later he made Minnesota history in 1971 when he became the first Black official to work a state high school boys’ basketball tournament.

He began working high school football and basketball games in 1956. He was among the first Black officials to work Big Ten and other college games for the next 16 years before a knee injury forced him to retire.

Then Robinson became a Minnesota State High School League coordinator of officials in 1991, a MSHSL board member (1998-92), and organized and ran officials’ clinics throughout the state during the off season.

“He was always very, very even keel,” said Lissimore, a MSHSL associate director of Robinson’s. 

Robinson was an unabashed advocate for Black officials. Said Henderson, a veteran Black official, “If he needed to get into your butt, he got into your butt. If he needed to be nice to you, he’d be nice to you.”

“He was very instrumental in getting Black officials in the MIAC,” added Frost, a retired Minneapolis high school teacher and athletic administer. “I appreciated him.”

Robinson over the years was a familiar fixture at high school, college and pro basketball games but never sat on a high horse. Yet before, during halftime, and afterwards he humbly welcomed well-wishers of all ages and genders.

“I always would walk over and say hello and give him a fist bump,” said Munneke, vice president of fan experience for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx. He and Robinson, who is in several HOFs, were inducted together in 2011 in the state coaches’ Hall of Honor.

During last year’s Final Four in Minneapolis, Robinson was honored by the NCAA with its Living Legend Award.

Said Olsen, a longtime broadcaster, “He represented that group of elders who took the responsibility of checking in on young people, helping and serving them. Like Kwame McDonald, he would check in on me, call me to give me advice when I first started working for the Timberwolves. He sat me down and gave me some life advice.”

Minneapolis South longtime boys’ basketball coach Joe Hyser said of Robinson, “He always treated me with respect and always come to at least one of four games every season. It didn’t matter to him if we were good or bad.”

In my other life as a veteran local boys’ basketball coach, Robinson was always kind to me and always had time to talk. He once consoled me years ago after a heartbreaking loss to the state’s number-one team in the regional semifinals on a bad call in the final minute. The game had many bad, one-sided calls against us that night, but he told me that the three-man crew would not work any more games that season.

“We got cheated this summer because we didn’t get to bump into him at Lynx games,” bemoaned Olsen. “It will be the hardest walking into the arena at state tournaments… It will feel a lot different with him not being there.”

A little known fact about Robinson: “He was a shopaholic,” noted Lissimore. “Jim was always the one to find wherever the great shops were.”

Robinson not only left behind his family, friends and others to mourn him, but also a long list of folk who he touched in his life with cherished memories.

“I am going to miss him,” said Henderson.