When Bob Pettit entered the NBA in 1954, after being selected in the first round of the draft out of Louisiana State University by the Milwaukee Hawks, he had a lot to prove. At 6'9 and 200 pounds, battling the hard bodies and arduous play of the NBA was going to more than a challenge for Pettit. But from a young age, often practicing in his backyard to improve his game, he knew that hard work and confidence would disprove the doubters.
Pettit did more than just disprove the doubters; he was deemed the best forward in his era. In his first season as a Hawk, he averaged 20.4 ppg and 13.8 rpg and received two honors for his exceptional performance. He took home Rookie of the Year Award in 1955 and was also named to the All-NBA First Team, the first of 10 consecutive selections which placed him in the All-Star game. Though the Hawks finished last in their division that year, Pettit and the team were determined to shake up the Western Division.
In the following season, the franchise moved to St. Louis. The team improved their winning percentage in the 1955-56 season, mostly due to Pettit's scoring (25.7 ppg) and rebounding (16.2 rpg). He led the league in both categories, which marked him as the NBA Most Valuable Player in 1956. In the same year, he also earned the MVP Award at the All-Star game.
Pettit continued to make his presence known in the NBA, leading his team to the NBA Finals four times from 1957-1961. In 1957, the Hawks battled the Boston Celtics for the championship, a series in which Pettit averaged 29.8 ppg and 16.8 rpg. Even though the Hawks failed to capture the title that year, the rematch of the two teams in the 1958 NBA Finals gave Pettit his chance to shine. In game 6, one of the greatest moments in franchise history, the Hawks led the series, 3-2, and the Hawks and Pettit were more determined than ever to dethrone the Celtics of their title. Setting an NBA playoff record at the time, Pettit scored 50 points to push the Hawks to their only World Championship with a win of 110-109.
In the next three seasons, Pettit and the Hawks continued to dominate the Western Division. In 1959, he was named NBA Most Valuable Player for the second time. In 1961-62, his most productive season ever, he averaged 31.1 ppg and 18.7 rpg. During the 1963-64 campaign, he earned his 10th and final selection to the All-NBA First Team and the following year was named to the All-NBA Second Team. At the conclusion of the 1964-65 season, Pettit decided to end his career due to knee injuries.
Bob Pettit retired having accumulated 20,880 points, 12,849 rebounds and 2,369 assists throughout his 11-year career. A few decades later, he still ranks third in rebounds per game at 16.2 only behind Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. As an ultimate tribute to his career, Pettit was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970, and was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996. His #9 uniform has also been retired as one of the greatest Hawks of all-time.