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Robertson, Oscar (1938—)

Robertson, Oscar (1938—)

Although almost unknown to many younger basketball fans in the 1990s, Oscar Robertson ranks among the greatest players in the history of the sport. Red Auerbach, longtime Boston Celtic coach and general manager and one of Robertson's most ardent supporters, called the "Big O" one of the most versatile and complete players he had ever seen. Fellow Hall of Fame member and Celtic player John Havlicek simply stated, "Oscar was the best player I ever played against." Robertson was an unstoppable offensive force, who could also pass, rebound, and play tenacious defense. At 6'5" and 220 pounds, he was the prototype of the modern "big" point guard, paving the way for more recent players who have also excelled at the position, such as Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway. Among his many accolades and awards, Robertson is one of only four guards to have ever won the NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award, along with Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan.

While a collegiate player at the University of Cincinnati (1957-1960), Robertson was both a three-time National Player of the Year and three-time national scoring champion, leading the Bearcats to two appearances in the NCAA Final Four (1959 and 1960). He is one of only three players to have scored more than 900 points in three different seasons as a collegiate player, and ranks seventh all time on the NCAA career scoring list with 2,973 points (33.8 points per game). Prior to his collegiate career, Robertson was a two-time "Mr. Basketball" in Indiana, and led Crispus Attucks High School of Indianapolis to two state championships. The capstone of his amateur career came in 1960, when Robertson was co-captain with Jerry West of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, a group that easily won the gold medal at the Games in Rome. This team is considered by many basketball experts to be among the most talented amateur assemblies in the history of the sport.

In 1960 Robertson was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA, and began a fourteen-year professional career that ranks among the most prolific and successful of all time. In 1961 Robertson was voted Rookie of the Year and won the first of his three All-Star Game MVP awards. In 1964 Robertson won the league MVP. But his greatest individual accomplishment may have come in his second season (1961-62), when he averaged a triple double for the entire season, (30.8 points, 11.4 assists, and 12.5 rebounds per game). This achievement is undoubtedly his most legendary among basketball players and fans. Many modern players strive to attain this type of production for individual games—not entire seasons—and it has never been duplicated in almost 40 years. Among his many accomplishments in the game, Robertson was a member of the All Star squad 12 of his 14 seasons in the NBA.

Following the 1969-70 season, Robertson was traded by the financially strapped Royals to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he teamed with a young Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to win the NBA title in 1971. Following a second appearance in the NBA Finals in 1974, Robertson retired from the NBA as the highest scoring guard of all time, with 26,710 points. At the time of his retirement he was also the all-time career assists leader and had made more free throws than any player in NBA history. Additionally, Robertson was an outspoken leader of the NBA Players Association, and is credited with helping bring free agency to the league in the 1970s. Robertson was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979.

Since his retirement as a player, Oscar Robertson has been a community and business leader in Cincinnati, working in both the land development and political arenas to bring economic and civic improvements to lower income neighborhoods throughout the city. In 1996, at the age of 58, he displayed his character and love for his family by donating a kidney to his daughter, who was suffering from severe kidney failure. For his many contributions to the community, his friends, and family, Robertson is among the most beloved citizens that both Cincinnati and the broader basketball community have ever known.

—G. Allen Finchum

Further Reading:

Dickey, Glenn. The History of Professional Basketball. Briarcliff Manor, New York, Stein & Day, 1982.

Sachare, Alex. 100 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time. New York, Pocket Books, 1997.

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