“Nellie” finds new niches In Hall of Fame, Hawaii
Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor won National Basketball Association championship rings as members of the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971.
Their Bucks jersey numbers – Robertson’s No. 1 and Alcindor’s No. 33 – are among two of the seven the franchise has retired during its 44-year history.
Both men are enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Before the two men accomplished any of these things, though, they had something else in common: They were the star attractions on two of the most dominant high school basketball teams of all time.
Robertson was born in rural Tennessee, but moved with his family to Indianapolis, Ind., when he was young. He began accompanying his older brother, Bailey, to neighborhood playgrounds and became a renowned figure in Indy basketball circles before he reached his teens.
Robertson attended Crispus Attucks High School, a segregated school of about 600 students, and worked his way into the starting lineup.
His emergence on a statewide level came in his sophomore season, when he averaged 12 points per game and helped lead Attucks’ Tigers to Indiana’s 1954 semistate finals.
Without two of their top players sidelined by injuries, the Tigers lost 65-52 to Milan High School, which went on to become the smallest school ever (with an enrollment of 161 students) to win Indiana’s single-class state tournament, providing the inspiration for the classic movie “HOOSIERS.”
Over the next two seasons, the Crispus Attucks program was nearly unbeatable.
Carried by the savvy coaching of Ray Crowe and the exploits of Robertson, the Tigers went 30-1 in 1954-55 -- Robertson’s junior season – and trounced Gary Roosevelt 97-74 in the state championship game.
Attucks became not only the first Indianapolis school to win the Indiana state title, but the first all-black school in the United States to win a state basketball championship.
Crowe, Robertson and the Tigers achieved another first the following season, becoming the first school in the history of the storied Indiana state tourney to finish a season undefeated (31-0). They were once again convincing in the state championship game, clobbering Lafayette Jefferson 79-57.
Robertson scored a game-high 39 points in the state championship game, established a four-game state tournament record with 106 points and finished his illustrious prep career with 1,825 points.
On the occasion of the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s 100th anniversary in 2010, ESPN’s Rise Magazine selected Crispus Attucks’ 1955-56 team as the greatest in state history. The Tigers’ 1954-55 squad was ranked third on the list.
Oscar Robertson received the Indiana’s prestigious Mr. Basketball Award following the 1955-56 season and is still widely recognized as the premier player in a rich state history.
Five years after Robertson completed his prep basketball career at Indiana’s pinnacle, a 6-foot-10-inch, 15-year-old by the name of Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor played his first game at Power Memorial Academy, an all-boys Catholic school in New York City.
Alcindor, who grew to 7-2 during the ensuing years, led the team to 27 straight victories and the 1963 New York Catholic High School Athletic Association championship. The winning streak continued as the team went undefeated and won the CHSAA in 1964.
Alcindor became the first sophomore to make Parade Magazine's High School All-American team.
Power Memorial’s winning streak finally ended at 71 games on Jan. 30, 1965, when DeMatha High School of Hyattsville, Md., defeated Power 46-43 under the guidance of its Hall-of-Fame coach, Morgan Wootten.
Coached by Jack Donohue, who would later coach the Canadian Olympic team, Power Memorial won 96 games and lost only six during Alcindor’s career.
Power’s 1963-64 team was named “The #1 High School Team of The Century” by National Sports Writers and was inducted into the CHSAA Hall of Fame as the team of the century.
Alcindor totaled New York City records of 2,067 points and 2,002 rebounds during his four years of varsity basketball. Considered a slam-dunk choice as the nation’s top prep basketball prospect since his sophomore year, Alcindor traveled cross-country to UCLA, where he rapidly established himself as the premier player in college basketball.
UCLA entered the 1965-66 season ranked No. 1 in the country, but in Alcindor’s unofficial UCLA debut, he collected 31 points and 21 rebounds in leading the Bruins’ freshman team to a 75-60 victory over the UCLA varsity in the first game ever played at Pauley Pavilion.
During Alcindor’s three varsity seasons, Bruins won three consecutive NCAA championships and posted an 88-2 overall record, and he became the all-time leading scorer in UCLA history with 2,325 points.
Alcindor was selected by the Bucks with the first pick in the 1969 NBA Draft. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year and an NBA All-Star in 1969-70, when he helped Milwaukee better its expansion season victory total by 28 wins.
In 1970-71, after the Bucks acquired Robertson from the Cincinnati Royals, the two former high school basketball icons led Milwaukee to a 66-16 regular-season record and a 12-2 playoff run to the NBA championship.
The day after the Bucks won the title, Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was named the NBA’s most valuable player three times during his six seasons with Milwaukee and won the award three more times during the latter years of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Abdul-Jabbar retired as a player in 1989 as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.