Pistons Lose a Legend

Robinson was first African-American coach in DI hoops, Pistons scout for 28 years


Will Robinson, an African-American pioneer and a trusted Pistons scout for nearly three decades, passed away early Monday morning. He was 96.

Robinson, who had been sick for over a year, first impacted the Detroit basketball landscape in the 1940s as a successful high school coach.

Robinson arrived in Detroit near the end of World War II when he was 33 years old. Over the next 26 years he compiled one of the most distinguished high school basketball coaching records in Michigan history, winning 85 percent of his games. Between 1944-57, Robinson led Detroit Miller to four city titles in 10 title game appearances. After three years at Cass Tech, Robinson built a powerhouse program at Pershing, winning the 1967 and 1970 Class A state championships. Among the elite athletes who came under Robinson’s tutelage was NBA All-Star and 1968 Olympic gold medalist Spencer Haywood.

Robinson broke into the college ranks with Illinois State in 1970, becoming the first black head coach in Division I basketball. In five seasons he never had a losing record. Robinson then returned to Detroit as a Pistons scout, providing an insightful voice for front office until he retired in 2003.

On Feb. 27, 2004, the Pistons honored Robinson during a halftime ceremony. In the release announcing the ceremony, Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars was quoted as saying, “Will Robinson is a special person to all of us in the Pistons organization. His commitment to our organization over 28 years as a scout and his dedication as a high school and college coach since 1947 demonstrates his passion for the game of basketball. We are excited to honor him for all of his achievements.”

Robinson's 1982 induction into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame marked the seventh such honor bestowed him. The others include: The Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame, The West Virginia State Hall of Fame, The Illinois State Hall of Fame, The Upper Ohio Valley Dapper Dan Hall of Fame, The Afro-American Sports Hall of Fame and the Michigan High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

He was honored by an eighth hall in the summer of 1995 by the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame with the Alvin N. Foon Award for his great contributions to Michigan sports.

During the summer of 1992 Robinson received the prestigious John W. Bunn Award, which is given in recognition of outstanding contributions to the game of basketball. Past recipients have included John Wooden, Henry Iba, Red Auerbach and Bob Cousy. Outside of actual enshrinement, the Bunn Award is the most prestigious award given by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

The viewing will be this Friday from 3-8 pm at the O.H. Pye Funeral Home, 17600 Plymouth Road in Detroit. The phone number is 313-838-9770. The funeral will be at the Pye Funeral Home at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.