Conversations with Joel Meyers: LSU, NBA great Bob Pettit
Joel Meyers, the longtime TV voice of the New Orleans Pelicans and a veteran NBA broadcaster, will be sharing with Pelicans fans weekly conversations he has with friends and colleagues in the media and the NBA. Up next is New Orleans resident Bob Pettit. The former LSU star was ranked one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.
Joel Meyers: Bob, you had opportunities to go to other universities. Why did you decide to go to LSU?
Bob Pettit: Well, in that time, the recruiting was so laid back. I think I had actually only about six or seven scholarship offers as a senior in high school. So, I made the decision that Coach (Harry) Rabenhorst at LSU was such a high-pressure recruiter, he took me to dinner and said, ‘Bob, we have a scholarship for you if you want it,’ and that was his recruiting pitch. Well, it’s a little different today. But I answered at that dinner, and I said, ‘Yes, I want it, I’d like to come to LSU to play basketball.’ Now, I’ve come from a kid that was cut as a sophomore in high school that just wanted to win a letter and, all of a sudden, has a scholarship offer to play basketball in college. So, I came a long way quickly. So, I went ahead and went (to LSU). But then I also went to the ‘North-South’ game in Murray, Ky., as a senior in high school, where the 10 (best players) from the South played the 10 (best players) from the North. In that game, I played very well. So all of a sudden, I’m now getting scholarship offers from DePaul, Western Kentucky, Kentucky, and some of the other big-name schools in the country. They have not seen me play in high school, simply from playing well in this all-star game.
Joel Meyers: So, you go to LSU, freshmen are not eligible at that time.
Bob Pettit: They’re not eligible, and I played a year of freshman ball and then stepped in as a sophomore and started as a sophomore in college.
Joel Meyers: I know things are different now. You go to the games a lot both football and basketball in Baton Rouge and your presence there is great. But let me ask you this, what was it like going to a school where football, let’s face it – in this region and especially to the SEC – football is religion, and it means a lot to this whole region. What was it like playing at that time in the early 1950s at LSU?
Bob Pettit: Well, we were considered a minor sport at LSU. I never thought of this when I signed up to go to college. We had to step aside at the training table and let the football team go first, and I think they were something like, won one game and lost nine or what have you. They were not a very good football team, but we had to step aside and let them go first in the line for the food. So football was the ‘King’ when I went to LSU. Then all of a sudden we became a very good basketball team and the people started coming and filling the Cow Palace as they called it…the old barn at LSU where we played. All of a sudden now we’re still becoming a very, very hot commodity. As a matter of fact, the other sport at LSU that was so popular was the boxing matches, and of course they don’t have that anymore. But when I went to college that was a very big sport. The only person to change that when he came to LSU was Dale Brown, and Dale Brown when his basketball team had to step aside for the football team, he went and told the athletic director and said, ‘That’s the end of that were not having any more of that.’ Then the LSU basketball became on equal terms with football. Even today, football is still the king in Louisiana. I don’t think there’s any question about that. Even I like it so much I go to all of the football games as well as the basketball games. I’m a season ticket holder at LSU. I go to as many games as I possibly can. I don’t get to all of them, don’t even get to the majority of them, but I still go up and follow it very, very closely, and pull for them. Now, the LSU basketball program has come back so strong and is doing extremely well. This year was cut short, but the year before, they won the SEC, which was a big deal in basketball and the Southeastern Conference. Basketball has now done extremely well, and all I can read and what I understand they’ve got a tremendous recruiting class, a good recruiting class coming in. So, LSU basketball should be on good terms for a number of years.
Joel Meyers: Bob, you led LSU your junior year to their first NCAA Final Four. What do you remember from your junior season in Baton Rouge?
Bob Pettit: Well, I do remember that I think we had a very good record. We were, I’m going to say with my memory, 22-1. We lost one game, and that was to Tulsa. We came back and played - and then we went to the NCAA regionals in Raleigh, N.C. In those days, there were only 16 teams that went to the regional tournament. We won at Raleigh, then we got the opportunity to go to Kansas City and play in the Final Four. The first night we played Indiana, who wound up being the champion, and they had a really fine basketball team and great tradition there. They beat us in our first night in Kansas City, but we did go to the Final Four, and that was the first time in a long time that LSU had a basketball team that made it that far.
Joel Meyers: Then your senior year, what stands out in your mind? Before we get into life after LSU, what stands out your senior year? Because you averaged 31 (points) and 17 (rebounds) per game. So, individually you did well, and you led LSU to anther SEC title.
Bob Pettit: Yes. It’s hard to remember in those days, but Kentucky was the really good team other than us in the Southeastern Conference, and they were not able to play. They were not eligible to play. We didn’t even play them. That was an argument over; I don’t even remember the argument over who played where. But we didn’t play Kentucky my senior year. We played them in a playoff game in Nashville. But we had a really nice team. We won 20-something games and lost four or five. (We) went to the NCAA (Tournament) and played Penn State as I recall, and got beat there. But, basketball has come a long way at LSU. In those days, we were, had brought it back to where it has become a big sport with great fan interest. We packed the Parker Coliseum, where we played with close to 10,000 seats in it. We filled it almost every night that we played in both my junior and senior year. There was a lot of interest in basketball. At the end of my senior year, I hadn’t even heard much on some of the NBA teams at that time. There were like eight teams in the NBA. The first pick in my senior year for the draft was a player from Furman University. His name was Frank Selvy. Frank was averaging over 40 points per game his senior year, and actually, he held the scoring record in college until Pete Maravich broke it when Pete was at LSU. So, I was the No. 2 pick in the draft and drafted by a team I had never even heard of, which was the Milwaukee Hawks. It was an interesting time, and when I think back on it, you know a kid from being cut in his sophomore year of high school and going on to now playing at four years at LSU and now being picked No. 2 in the draft for the NBA was an exciting time.
Joel Meyers: We’re going to talk about your NBA career, of course, a little bit later. But let me ask you this. When you came back after your professional career and your last year was 1964-65 with the St. Louis Hawks. You came back to Baton Rouge to go to work and start a life with Carol and raising a family. A couple of years later, Pete Maravich started playing in 1967 at LSU. Did you have an opportunity to watch Pete play for his father Press (Maravich) in those days?
Bob Pettit: Yes, I did. I was living in Baton Rouge at that time, and I had tickets to the games, and we went out there quite often to watch Pete play, and thoroughly enjoyed it. He was exciting to watch, and I enjoyed it. So, yes, I saw him play quite a number of times in college.
Joel Meyers: Tell me what you picked up because we’re going to air Pete’s game on Fox Sports New Orleans when he had 68 points against the Knicks in 1977. Did you see Pete as a college player, and it translating to the NBA as well?
Bob Pettit: I did not get to know him. I didn’t know him at all. I did get to know him a little it after I had - later years I ran into him, and we would have conversations, and I enjoyed talking to him the few times I was with him. But he was exciting to watch, and the fans loved him. It was an exciting time at LSU with Pete there.
Joel Meyers: Yeah, and he played for his dad, and the style must have been pretty entertaining, wasn’t it Bob?
Bob Pettit: Yes. It was very entertaining. It certainly was if you enjoyed basketball and watched. His passing was exciting to watch, as well as his scoring. So, yea, he was an exciting player to watch, he absolutely was.