Today, as Kansas basketball sophomore Thomas Robinson mourns the sudden death of his mother, Lisa, at a memorial service, he will be able to see his teammates standing side by side with him at the Washington, D.C., church and know that he's not alone.
What Robinson may not be able to comprehend is how much his situation has brought out the giving spirit in thousands of complete strangers.
Ever since the news of Lisa Robinson's death began to spread Saturday afternoon, Kansas fans from around the country have shared Robinson's pain. Mostly, they have been consumed by what will happen to Robinson's sister, 9-year-old Jayla, who was being raised by Lisa and her maternal grandparents, both of whom also passed away in the last month.
"People have offered everything from space in their home to outright adoption," said Jim Marchiony, KU associate athletic director for external relations. "The heartwarming side of this is that you're reminded how generous and passionate people can be in times like this."
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Fans want to do their part, but there is also the matter of following NCAA rules regarding student-athlete benefits. Marchiony said the NCAA has cooperated with Kansas, granting several waivers that have allowed KU to help Robinson and Jayla.
In addition, the NCAA has granted a waiver to KU that will allow anyone to donate to the fund.
The school hired a Washington, D.C., attorney that is handling much of the legal ramifications and has started the Lisa Robinson Scholarship Fund for the benefit of Jayla. Marchiony said the NCAA approved the start of the fund, which won't be available to Jayla until she reaches college age.
The NCAA also approved a scenario that eventually would allow Kansas to facilitate Jayla moving to live near Robinson in Lawrence. Marchiony said that would only happen if Jayla's family determined it was the best option for her. KU coach Bill Self said Tuesday that Jayla's father, who is not Thomas' father, is in Washington, D.C., and that Lisa also has a step brother.
"All I know is I want Thomas to be comfortable with what's best for her," Self said. "Thomas is all she knows."
Lisa Robinson was 43 — previous reports said she was 37 — when she died Friday of what is believed to be a heart attack. The realization that Robinson no longer had a parental guardian at 19 has led to an outpouring of support from Jayhawk supporters around the country.
Like many fans, Mic Johnson, a 1994 KU graduate who lives in Prairie Village, was trying to think of a way to help. So Johnson decided to start a Facebook page for Robinson where people could leave him messages of encouragement. The page — facebook.com/jayhawknation4thomasrobinson — went online Tuesday. By Wednesday night, the page had been "liked" by 3,200 people.
There are pages and pages of comments from folks saying things like "prayers ascending for you and Jayla, Thomas," "I hope you can feel the love headed your way" and "We all live in Mr. Robinson's neighborhood. We love you, T-Rob."
"Some people have written a paragraph that says they've experienced multiple losses in their life, too," Johnson said. "It's for Thomas and his sister, but it's kind of like there's a community mourning that's going on. Everybody feels for him."
Johnson was 23 when he lost his 46-year-old father to cancer. He just wanted to do something for Robinson, and the popularity of the page has been more than he expected.
"It's amazing," Johnson said. "It's another one of those things that shows how deep the family is of Jayhawk basketball fans."