Despite passing away a few months ago at the age of 88, Jim Robinson’s influence as a pioneering game official on the diversity of high school basketball officials, players, coaches, administrators, and the African American community still has a prevalence that can’t be denied.
Last week, veteran basketball game official Lamarr Sullivan announced that one of Robinson’s dreams will become a reality courtesy of Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) and Minnesota Alliance of Officials of Color (MN-AOC).
“There will be three African Americans officiating in the Class 4A boys’ basketball championship game,” Sullivan, a member of the MN-AOC, said proudly. “It’s something we all used to talk about.”
Today, when diversity is widely promoted, this might not sound like much. However, Sullivan offered a little-known fact that explains the connection and its importance.
“Many people forget that Mr. Robinson first officiated a state tournament game 50 years ago [in 1971],” he explained. “He was the first African American to ever officiate in the tournament.”
Robinson, who at the time of his passing was the state coordinator if basketball officials for the MSHSL and chair of the Minnesota Mr. Basketball Committee, the first African American in those positions. He always preached diversity and equity with opportunities for game officials.
This honor is one of many highlighting Robinson’s accomplishments and undeniable influence. A few weeks after his passing, the MSHSL and MN-AOC honored him by creating the JR3 (Jim Robinson III) patch for referees to wear while officiating high school games.
“When Mr. Robinson passed away, we wanted to do something to honor his legacy,” Sullivan said during an interview in February. He also wanted it known that the JR3 patch, designed and created by MN-AOC member Teron Buford, will be visible during the tournament.
“Every official has a patch,” Sullivan said.
Jim Robinson is somewhere smiling.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.