Jeannette grad “ShowBoat” Robinson gets serious about basketball HOF nomination
Dribbling circles around helpless Washington Generals, making half-court shots while blindfolded and throwing buckets of confetti on flinching fans made people laugh for years.
But when Lamont Robinson took a brief timeout from comedy basketball to acknowledge a more serious moment, one that knocked the spinning ball off his finger, his emotions were quite different.
“When I found out, I cried,” said Robinson, a 1980 Jeannette graduate who was reacting to being nominated for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for the second straight year.
Robinson was as warmed with pride as he was dumbstruck.
“It’s so humbling, and I am so blessed to be thought of as one of the best basketball players in the world,” he said. “To have had an impact on the game in some way and have someone notice that, it’s pretty special. And I never even played in the NBA. That speaks volumes.”
I just want to thank God and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for nominating me this for Hall of Fame for the class of 2019.
— Lamont ShowBoat Robinson (@LamontShowboat) February 28, 2019
While “ShowBoat” Robinson did not make the list of finalists for the Class of 2019, just being on the ballot again was something that humbled him and made him reflect on all the stops along the way — and there were many, including Jeannette.
“I have been a Jeannette kid since I came out of my mom’s womb,” he said.
Before he toured with the Harlem Globetrotters for a year and roomed with Meadowlark Lemon for eight years, and later played for the self-created Harlem Roadkings and Harlem Clowns, Robinson flashed his skills on the playground courts of West Jeannette.
“That sharpened me,” said the 56-year-old Robinson. “Those were the best games, in West Jeannette. Guys came from Pittsburgh and all over the area, and we had some battles. I played against pros since I was 15.”
Robinson only attended Jeannette for one year after transferring from Warrendale (Ohio) but his list of cousins and friends from the city runs deep.
His parents, Delores and Clarence “Pumpkin” Robinson, are from Jeannette. His grandfather was John Henry Cowell, known as “ShowBoat” when he played running back at Jeannette in the early 1940s.
“He was one heck of a shooter,” said Roy Hall, Jeannette’s football coach who used to hang out with Robinson. “He was always down at the courts working at it. He was a perfectionist. He could handle the ball and had perfect form when he shot the ball.”
Lamont Robinson grew up near Cleveland and idolized Julius “Dr. J” Erving as a youngster. Robinson went on to play at Kankakee Community College (1981–82) and Central State (1985–86) before embarking on a pro career overseas in Denmark in 1987.
When Robinson turned to the comedy hoops scene, he needed a nickname like all the greats who came before him — Fred “Curly” Neal, Hubert “Geese” Ausbie, “Sweet” Lou Dunbar, Reese “Goose” Tatum, “Wee” Willie Gardner among them — and he remembered his pap’s moniker.
“It stuck,” he said.
And “ShowBoat” set sail. He toured with some of the Globetrotter greats, Lemon, the “Clown Prince,” among them.
“I grew up watching Meadowlark Lemon on Scooby-Doo,” Robinson said. “Thirty-seven years later, I’m living with the guy. Amazing”
The owner, coach and player, Robinson still tours with the Harlem Clowns.
“I have been doing this for 27 years. I have a four-inch vertical leap,” he said, “but I still have fun.”
The Clowns are the second-longest-running comedy team to the Globetrotters. He said he might bring a future show to Jeannette.
Robinson once played in 3,000 consecutive games and said he has toured more than 50 countries.
Making fancy passes and trick shots to the tune of “Sweet Georgia Brown” always made Robinson smile. His love for music goes hand-in-hand with his fondness for basketball; one throws alley-oops to the other, in perfect rhythm.
“My whole life is sports and music,” he said.
He parlayed the latter lifelong passion into another pinch-me adventure. Robinson formed the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame to honor some of the greats from rhythm and blues, gospel, jazz and hip-hop.
Basketball led him to meet-and-greets with the game’s royalty — “Michael Jordan is a friend of mine,” Robinson said. Yes, he met Dr. J, and on another occasion, LeBron James.
The same is true on the music side, where he has had dealings with the Temptations, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Chubby Checker and actor Morgan Freeman, among many others.
Robinson married Cheryl Ruffin, the oldest daughter of David Ruffin, one of the Temptations’ lead voices.
“I can’t believe where my life has taken me,” he said. “I tell kids, you don’t have to be in the NBA to make a living out of basketball. And remember, you never know who is looking at you.”
Robinson also has offered basketball skill camps and an anti-drug program to children, hoping to make an impression on today’s youth. He also made them laugh a little.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .