The Electric Eye Helped Put Milwaukee on the Map

Flynn Robinson

Flynn Robinson wasn’t with the Milwaukee Bucks when they began their National Basketball Association journey on the night of October 16, 1968.

Robinson, on the contrary, had a lot to do with the Bucks’ demise that evening, scoring a game-high 23 points in leading the Chicago Bulls past Milwaukee 89-84.

Beginning a few weeks later, though, Robinson was one of the individuals most responsible for putting Milwaukee back on the professional basketball map after the Milwaukee Hawks left town in 1955.

Robinson passed away May 23, 2013, following a bout with cancer. He was 72 years old.

Sixteen games into Milwaukee’s expansion season, Jon McGlocklin, the Bucks’ first NBA All-Star, got a new backcourt partner when Milwaukee acquired Robinson from the Chicago Bulls in exchange for Bob Love and Bob Weiss.

McGlocklin and Robinson had been teammates two seasons earlier, coming off the bench for the Cincinnati Royals. Soon after their reunion in Milwaukee, Bucks coach Larry Costello installed them as his starting backcourt. They wasted no time making the most of their opportunity.

For the balance of Milwaukee’s flagship season and the one that took the Bucks into the NBA Playoffs for the first time a year later, McGlocklin and Robinson were arguably the purest-shooting backcourt tandem the NBA had ever seen.

Eddie Doucette, the Bucks’ iconic radio announcer, became renowned for the creative nicknames he gave the players. He called Robinson “The Electric Eye” because of his uncanny marksmanship.

“What made the whole thing work was Larry Costello saw the team and who could score and who could do what,” Robinson said in a 2005 interview. “He made it all work by letting Jon and I do what we did best.

“I didn’t have a lot of plays. He’d tell me to push the ball up the floor and, if I could go all the way, go. That was all I needed. Jon had some plays set up for him because he was good at coming off screens.”

Milwaukee’s sharp-shooting guards averaged a combined 39.9 points per game during the 1968-69 campaign, but they realize they didn’t do it alone. They had some of the NBA’s most formidable screen-setters working on their behalf. Center Wayne Embry was nicknamed “The Wall.” His backup, Dick Cunningham, was “The Cement Mixer.” And power forward Lenny Chappell was a bruiser, too.

“That was their job – to set picks,” Robinson said. “Back in the day, they’d tell us, ‘You guys shoot too much.’ I’d just tell them what I told guys in junior high or high school: ‘If you’ve got a problem, go talk to the coach.’”

McGlocklin has vivid memories of those days.

“I remember Wayne Embry telling me as a joke, ‘I used to pick-and-roll with you, until Flynn came here. Then I just picked and ran down to the other end, because there was no way either one of you were ever going to give it back to me,’” McGlocklin recalled.

Jerry Sloan was an NBA All-Defensive First-Team selection in 1968-69 while playing for the Bucks’ arch-rivals, the Bulls.

“Jon was probably the purer shooter; Flynn was more of a scorer,” Sloan said. “That would be the difference in those two guys.

“Jon was a very hard-nosed player who played hard every night. He had a great shot. He could get himself open and make open shots.

“Flynn was the kind of guy who could beat you off the dribble and get on top of the basket, plus he could also shoot it out on the floor. He was more of a one-on-one type of player. And when he shot, he put the ball behind his head.”

Robinson chuckled whenever the mention of his shooting style was brought up.

“Do I shoot differently than anyone else?” he asked. “I guess I developed that when I was growing up in a small town called Murphysboro, Ill. I don’t know why I started shooting like that.”

Robinson enjoyed a record-setting career at the University of Wyoming, breaking every career school record except rebounding. He became the 20th collegian to break the 2,000 career point barrier, amassing 2,049. His 701 points scored during the 1964-65 season and his 26.5 career scoring average still stand as Wyoming records.

Robinson led the Western Athletic Conference in scoring in each of his three seasons with the Cowboys and was a three-time all-WAC selection. Nearly 30 years after his career, he still ranked second in the WAC in career scoring, and he was inducted into the University of Wyoming Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.

McGlocklin said Robinson’s shooting form set him apart.

“I tried to play one-on-one with Flynn,” McGlocklin said. “He was the only guy I ever consistently played one-on-one with who wasn’t a real big guy that I could not beat. I couldn’t beat him because of the way he brought the ball back behind his head.

“Flynn was probably the greatest overall shooter – and I’ve seen some great ones like Rick Mount, Jimmy Rayl, NBA players -- that I’ve seen,” McGlocklin said. “He had the ability to get open with guys on him. I needed help. I needed screens. He didn’t.

“But yet, because of the era and there being so many guys who could shoot, we didn’t give it a second thought. Looking back, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich were good shooters, but they didn’t have the range that Flynn and I had. None of the guys who played back then would be considered great shooters at both long distance and medium range. We both were that.”

Robinson and McGlocklin consistently ranked among the NBA’s most accurate free-throw shooters. Robinson led the league in that category in 1970 at .898. He had a simple explanation for his shooting prowess.

“It was just the love of the game,” he said in 2005. “I still love it. I’m still playing basketball. I play for the Senior Olympics in the 60 age bracket, and I can play down into 50 or 55. We travel all over the country.”

Robinson was bothered by the growing number of current-day players who didn’t have the passion to be proficient shooters.

“I see kids 15, 16 years old come to the gym today and spend an hour trying to dunk,” he said. “It’s a whole different mentality. If you say something to them, they get all flared up.”

Following the arrival of No. 1 overall draft pick Lew Alcindor in 1969, the 27-55 expansion Bucks improved to 56-26 in 1969-70, made the NBA Playoffs for the first time and won their first-round series over Philadelphia before following in the Eastern Division Finals to New York.

Robinson averaged 21.8 points per game and made the NBA All-Star Team during his second season in Milwaukee.

On April 21, 1970, the Bucks traded Robinson and Charlie Paulk to the Cincinnati Royals in exchange for future Hall-of-Fame guard Oscar Robertson. They went on to win the NBA championship in 1970-71.

Although Robinson didn’t win a championship ring with the Bucks, he did earn one as a member of the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

Years later, he expressed his appreciation for the time he spent in Milwaukee.

“Those years I played in Milwaukee were two of my best years in the pros,” Robinson said. “I made the All-Star team and I led the league in free-throw shooting (in 1969-70). I have nothing but good things to say about my years there.”