Having profiled two dominant big men - Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell - in my previous two NBA columns of Know Your NBA Legend, it’s time to switch focus to a relatively smaller-sized player, but who is one of the NBA’s all-time great names, nonetheless. Oscar Robertson didn’t play center, won only one NBA championship, but went on to redefine the game of basketball with his exceptionally well-rounded game.
Who: If there is one synonym available for that NBA stat referred to as the triple-double, it is Oscar Robertson. Born in 1938, Robertson grew up in Indianapolis in absolute poverty, but overcame the difficult odds of his childhood to emerge a basketball star right through his college and NBA career. Where the odd triple-double today makes instant headlines, Robertson posted 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game -- an average of a triple-double for the entire 1961-1962 season.
Nickname: The Big O
Teams: Cincinnati Royals (1960-1970) and Milwaukee Bucks (1971-1974).
NBA Champion: 1971 (Milwaukee Bucks)
The Oscar Robertson Suit: While still a player in the league in 1970, Robertson was also President of the Players Association. And so when the Players Association filed an antitrust suit against the league, stalling the proposed NBA-American Basketball Association merger and seeking removal of restrictions placed on free agent signings, the case went on to become known as the Oscar Robertson suit.
Six years after the suit was filed, the NBA finally reached a settlement, the leagues merged and the draft remained intact, but with several benefits such as higher salaries and greater free agency for players.
Over 14 seasons in the NBA, Robertson notched up 181 triple-doubles, 43 more than the second highest name on this list, Magic Johnson. Jason Kidd, currently playing for the New York Knicks, is the only other NBA player to have posted more than a 100 triple-doubles over an NBA career. Simply put, Robertson’s achievement as the leading triple-double getter of all time is unlikely to ever be broken.
While Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell dominated the NBA for most of the 1960s, with eight of the nine MVP awards handed out between 1960 and 1968 split equally between those two big men, the Big O grabbed the only other MVP award, in 1964, in this duration.
Robertson and Jerry West co-captained the 1960 gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball team, which many consider as good as the 1992 gold-medal winning U.S. Olympic basketball team, know as the Dream Team. The 1960 team was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2010.
Legacy: Listed at 6-foot-5 and weighing 220 pounds during his playing days, Robertson was the first star guard in the NBA that possessed great size. It was he who paved the way for other over-sized backcourt players like Magic Johnson to play the point-guard position. The Oscar Robertson suit also helped NBA players improve their earning capacity while encouraging free agency. Looked at from both those perspectives, Robertson’s contribution to the game is, truly, both on and off the court.
Hall of Fame induction: 1980
What they said about him:
“Robertson was a big man with the moves of a really tremendous little man." -- Former Boston Celtics guard, Bill Sharman.
“He was the Michael Jordan of his day.” -- Former Boston Celtics head coach, Red Auerbach.
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