As I drove my car with the radio amped to the grocery store on this cold winter Saturday night in Lawrence, I felt the chills. And it wasn't because of the weather. These were deep, cold chills, the kind you get when you've just seen something so extraordinary, so magical and mesmerizing that you don't know if you'll ever see again.
The kind of chills you get after witnessing probably the most
inspirational and courageous performance I've ever seen by a KU
basketball player in 38 years of following Jayhawks hoops.
Eight days after Thomas Robinson's mother, Lisa, died of an apparent
heart attack in Washington, D.C., and just two days after her funeral,
Robinson put on a jaw-dropping show with 17 points and nine rebounds in
KU's 90-66 victory.
He dunked. Again and again. He battled under the boards. He shocked the
fieldhouse by swishing an 18-foot jumper just below the top of the key,
capping six straight points in a 54-second span during the second half.
And with every dunk, with every rebound, with every point, with every
sprint down famed James Naismith Court, Robinson honored his mother
with one of the best games of his life.
For two hours, Robinson could forget about his pain and play the game
he loved. For two hours, Robinson had fun and joy with his teammates
and lost himself in the moment. For two hours, he showed the fans how
much he cared for their support during this trying time, where he lost
his mother, grandmother, and grandfather within three weeks.
And for two hours, Robinson played a game that he and the 16,300 fans
will never forget.
I know I never will.
The grieving process can be a long and hard road, and sometimes even
unbearable with pain and heartache. I know this was the case for me
when I lost a loved one 17 years ago on Jan. 8, 1994. I cried
constantly. I lost my joy. I lost my way of life. I was gripped with
sadness and grief for a whole year. I could never have played a
basketball game the day after my loss or two days after the funeral.
But that's what Robinson did. First, he played in the Texas game on
Jan. 22 following the death of his mom the previous night, and then he
came up huge against KSU two days after saying goodbye to Lisa one
final time at her funeral.
"I played tonight because I cannot sit around too long," Robinson said
after the K-State game. "I know my mother wouldn't want me to sit
around crying forever, but I keep going on and striving to reach my
It will be a long journey ahead for him, his 7-year-old sister, Jayla,
and also his half-brother, Jamah. But Robinson knows he will have the
love of the Jayhawk Nation supporting him and his family every step of
"We have great people all across Kansas," Robinson said. "This past
month really has opened my eyes to how amazing this place is. It is
beyond words to describe how I feel and the love that I have for The
University of Kansas and the fans.
"The support that I received was beyond amazing, and the support is
still coming," Robinson added. "I know that I cannot physically say
thank you to every person that has helped me, but if this could get out
I just want to thank people that have tried to reach out to me or
thought about me."
As I drove my car after the game, I couldn't help think about an
ex-Jayhawk who also showed triumph of the human spirit. Jerod Haase, a
standout guard from 1994-97, scored 16 points and dished out five
assists in 30 minutes against UCLA as a freshman playing for California
on Jan. 24, 1993, just a day after the unexpected death of his dad,
"He's one courageous kid," Cal Coach Lou Campanelli told the Los
Angeles Times after the game.
Haase's effort earned him "Most Courageous Performance" by USA Today.
Almost exactly 18 years later, Robinson displayed tremendous courage
and heart in helping KU beat its Sunflower rival and start a new
homecourt winning streak.
"What a night Thomas had," KU coach Bill Self said. "He was
unbelievable. He was so fired up and played so hard. That was a special
deal for him. The fans here are incredible, how they recognized him
when he checked in (standing ovation at the 16:47 mark of the first
half) and how they recognized him when he checked out. That's a special
moment, that's one he will never forget. We're really proud of him and
our team is really happy for him."
Self could tell Robinson was driven and on a mission.
"I think he's focused," Self said. "He's been through a lot and it's a
unique thing, but this was an extra special game, not because it was
K-State, but because it was one that probably for the first time, he
had an opportunity to play for his mother."
And he did so in a way that I bet every fan in the Phog felt the same
chills that I did. Above all, with his courageous and heroic play,
Robinson took a giant first step in the grieving process.
Lisa Robinson would be proud.
A Son To Be Proud Of
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