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Postby rlee » Thu Nov 19, 2009 3:44 pm


By Jimmy Smith, The Times-Picayune

November 18, 2009, 8:44PM

Austin "Red" Robbins, a smooth and swift former center of the New Orleans Buccaneers who helped re-define the role of the pro basketball post player, died at his Metairie home early Wednesday morning after a 3 1/2-year battle with cancer.

He was 65.

Austin 'Red' RobbinsRobbins, who joined the fledgling ABA and the Bucs as a rookie from Tennessee in 1967, played nine years and was a three-time participant in the league's All-Star Game. He was a starter in the first one, which was guided by New Orleans Coach James H. "Babe" McCarthy and featured fellow Buccaneers Larry Brown and Doug Moe. Robbins played briefly in Italy before joining the Bucs and was a sixth-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1966.

"He was a great teammate, " Brown, now coach of the Charlotte Bobcats, said Wednesday night. "A wonderful guy . . . an undersized center. When Doug Moe and I were teammates, he had a phenomenal year in New Orleans. Every time I went to New Orleans, I got to see him."

At 6 feet 8 and 190 pounds, Robbins' ball-handling and shooting helped change the way professional basketball personnel people looked at big men.

"I think, as I remember, he was one of the first (big) guys who could play out there on the perimeter, " said former Hornets general manager Bob Bass, who coached the ABA's Denver Rockets in the inaugural 1967-68 season and whose team was beaten by the Buccaneers in the Western Conference semifinals. Bass coached four ABA teams.

"He handled the ball and ran the floor well enough and hit the perimeter shot, " Bass said. "He might have been kind of a forerunner of that type of player. There's a lot of them in the league now. There weren't then. All of the big players his size at the time played with their back to the goal, inside. He was team-oriented and fit into their running game. He would outrun your center two or three times during the course of the game and beat him down the floor."

Robbins played with the Bucs all three years the team was based in New Orleans, and moved to Utah in 1970, where he played for two seasons before joining the San Diego Conquistadors and later the Kentucky Colonels and Virginia Squires.

"He was a fine player, " said Gerald "Go-Go" Govan, Robbins' backup in New Orleans and in Utah. "He just loped along. He had a great touch, great feel for the game. Wasn't a power guy, but a great rebounder and a great teammate."

Robbins' most productive years statistically came with the Buccaneers, where he averaged a points and rebounds double-double each season. He finished his career averaging 13.1 points and 10.5 rebounds in 586 regular-season games.

In the first ABA Finals series between the Bucs and the Pittsburgh Pipers, who were led by Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins, Robbins averaged 17.4 points and 13.8 rebounds. In Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, eventually won by Pittsburgh 4-3, Robbins set a team record by scoring 41 points in a 120-112 loss.

Six days later, Robbins scored a team-high 30 in the Bucs' 109-101 victory at the Loyola Field House.

In a 1998 interview on the 30th anniversary of that first ABA Finals, Robbins reminisced about his time with the Buccaneers, a collection of talent that captivated New Orleanians and embraced the city's carefree lifestyle.

"I think just about everybody on the team had played college ball in the South, " Robbins said. "I think we got lucky putting a good group of people together. That was half the battle. We were just in the right place at the right time."

Robbins is survived by his wife of 39 years, Janie. A memorial mass will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at St. Catherine of Siena Church at 105 Bonnabel Blvd. in Metairie after visitation that begins at noon. Interment will be private
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