Catching Up With Bob Pettit

efore the NBA started to see 7-foot small forwards and 6-9 point guards, the league was once ruled by hard-working big men who overcame their lack of athletic ability by outhustling their opponents on a nightly basis.

Few players have embodied the notion of substance over style as much as Hawks legend and Hall of Famer Bob Pettit. One of the league's all-time greats, Pettit was with the team for its only championship, won in 1958.

Considered too slight to be a legitimate power forward in the NBA when he entered the league in 1954 out of Louisiana State University, Pettit proved his doubters wrong (and how) by becoming the first player to top 20,000 points in his career, winning MVP honors twice in 1956 and '59 along the way. He was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.

After retiring as a player, Pettit became a successful businessman. Recently had a chance to catch up to him and get his thoughts on his career and what it would be like if he were playing now. We always start out with this question: what are you up to these days?

Bob Pettit: Well, I live and work in New Orleans. I have a financial consulting company, and I have three partners in that, and we've been in business for a pretty long time. We work with our clients to help manage their assets and structure their investment portfolios. Do you work with any professional athletes?

BP: We've never really gone after pro athletes. That's one of the most difficult clientele to go after, a lot of them have agents and managers who take care of that. If you could deal directly with an athlete and get him involved then maybe, but we have just never really tried to recruit them as clients as far as I can recall. Do you still follow the Hawks?

BP: Yes I do. I pull for them still and hope they will be successful. The Hawks and the Hornets are both having a tough time this year sadly. Since you live in New Orleans, do you follow them more?

BP: Not so much. My company has season tickets, and I go every now and then, five or six games a year. I enjoy it when I go. You were on the team that won the only title (thus far) in Hawks history. What was that experience like for you?

BP: It was a great feeling. It was the highlight of my eleven-year professional career, no doubt. It's something that you look back on forever. You see some of these players today, hanging on to try to win a title and get that ring. It's nice to have been on one of the teams that won a league championship. It's nice to look back on it and say, "Boy, that was a great year for us." You retired when you were 32, which by today's standards is fairly early. Was there a particular reason for that?

BP: Well, I had notified out owner, Ben Kerner, two years prior to that that I would play only two more seasons and that would be it. First of all, we didn't make the money then that players make today. I figured I was much better off, long-term, taking that extra year or two and going back to work. I had an opportunity in the banking business back in Baton Rouge. Secondly, at age 32, you really didn't play a lot longer than that in those days. Today you have all the equipment and the machines and the training to strengthen your legs to keep you from getting injured. As a result, today's players can last a lot longer. You look at guys like Kevin Willis, he's over 40 years old and can still play. But he has a tremendous workout schedule, and when I played we didn't have that.

I played eleven years, and notified the team I was quitting two years beforehand, and then kept my word. I was actually ready to get out; I had gotten a little injured my last year and felt like I wouldn't be able to play in the future like I had been in the past. It was just time for me to move on, so that's what I did. If you were playing today, would you have made the same decision?

BP: It depends on how you play. If I were playing today, I'd be a totally different player. When I came out of college in 1954, I was 6'9" and 205 lbs. Today I would have been working with weights ever since I was in high school, I'd probably come out of college weighing 235-240 and would have ended up maybe playing at like 260-265. With exercise machines and other things, my legs would be stronger and I probably could play a lot longer because I wouldn't have as much injury risk at 32 now.

Also, I'm not saying I wouldn't hang around for a few extra years at $10 million dollars a year (laughing). Obviously, something like that would affect your thinking, but we didn't have that problem. Speaking of players hanging around, sometimes you hear fans complain that players stick around too long and should have retired before they became unproductive. But for some athletes, the competition is part of their blood. Do you think it's hard for the average fan to understand that it can be hard to let go?

BP: I don't think you have to be an athlete to understand that. Number one, I wouldn't say they are "hanging on." It's human nature to want to keep playing, and I can't say I wouldn't do the exact same thing. It was easier for me to walk away because we weren't making the same kinds of money. Everyone on the team in St. Louis worked in the off-season. You tried to prepare yourself because you knew what you made as a professional athlete would not support you the rest of the year. Today, that's not the situation. A decent player today, if they are smart, can make enough money to set himself for the rest of his life!

If I were playing today and making x millions of dollars per year, I'd have probably played another couple years also. Are there any players today who remind you of yourself?

BP: Not really. The players are totally different today. I think the one guy who I would say played in a similar fashion to me is Karl Malone. I think we both were not naturally that talented but made up for it with hard work and effort. He may not like that comparison (laughing), but that's who I would say. Dominique Wilkins is a finalist for the Hall of Fame, of which you are a member. Did you follow his career much when he was playing?

BP: Yes, and I hope he gets in - he is certainly deserving of it. He had a great career and that would be an awfully nice thing to cap it off. Is the game much different now from when you were in the league?

BP: I think so, it's a much more of a one-on-one game now. The three-point line has also changed the game dramatically. I think its exciting for the fans and the players, but it has also caused some players to just hang around the perimeter and kind of stand still to take a more difficult shot when they could work closer to the basket and get a higher percentage shot. But I was happy to play when I did, and I have been fortunate to be as happy after my basketball career as I was when I was playing.

Bob Pettit's Hawks Statistics

1954-55 MI1 72 2659 1466 20.4 520 1279 .407 426 567 .751 994 13.8 229 3.2 258
1955-56 STL 72 2794 1849 25.7 646 1507 .429 557 757 .736 1164 16.2 189 2.6 202
1956-57 STL 71 2491 1755 24.7 613 1477 .415 529 684 .773 1037 14.6 133 1.9 181
1957-58 STL 70 2528 1719 24.6 581 1418 .410 557 744 .749 1216 17.4 157 2.2 222
1958-59 STL 72 2873 2105 29.2 719 1640 .438 667 879 .759 1182 16.4 221 3.1 200
1959-60 STL 72 2896 1882 26.1 669 1526 .438 544 722 .753 1221 17.0 257 3.6 204
1960-61 STL 76 3027 2120 27.9 769 1720 .447 582 804 .724 1540 20.3 262 3.4 217
1961-62 STL 78 3282 2429 31.1 867 1928 .450 695 901 .771 1459 18.7 289 3.7 296
1962-63 STL 79 3090 2241 28.4 778 1746 .446 685 885 .774 1191 15.1 245 3.1 282
1963-64 STL 80 3296 2190 27.4 791 1708 .463 608 771 .789 1224 15.3 259 3.2 300
1964-65 STL 50 1754 1124 22.5 396 923 .429 332 405 .820 621 12.4 128 2.6 167
Totals 792 30690 20880 26.4 7349 16872 .436 6182 8119 .761 12849 16.2 2369 3.0 2529

Throughout the year, will be featuring interviews with former Hawks players. Check back periodically for more articles as the season continues!

Micah Hart is the Assistant Web Editor for the Atlanta Hawks