The most versatile player of all time? Maybe. The best "big" guard of all time? Perhaps. Basketball legend? Without a doubt.
Oscar Robertson, aka "The Big O", was born on November 24, 1938 in Charlotte, TN. His family moved to Indianapolis, IN when he was four years old. Raised in a very poor and segregated housing project, Oscar learned to play basketball by tossing balls of rubberbands into a peach basket in his backyard. He attended Crispus Attucks High School where he helped to bring the city of Indianapolis their first state basketball championship.
In 1956 The University of Cincinnati offered Oscar a basketball scholarship and he became the first African Amercian to play Bearcats basketball. It was just the first of many records that Robertson would go on to break at Cincinnati. He averaged 33.8 points per game over his three year collegiate career, won the scoring title 3 times, was named College Player of the Year and led his team to 2 Final Fours.
In the 1960 NBA draft the Cincinnati Royals took advantage of what was called a territorial pick. With a territorial pick a team could forfeit their first round pick and select any player from within a 50 mile radius of their home arena. The Royals wisely made Oscar their first territorial pick.
The transition from the college game to the professional one was easy for Robertson. He was named Rookie of the Year for the 1960 - 61 season. From then on the awards and accomplishments came fast and furious. Perhaps the most amazing of all was what Oscar did in only his second year in the league. In the 1961 - 62 season he averaged 30.8 points per game, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. That's right, he averaged a triple double in his second year in the league. Also note that he was a guard who averaged 12.5 rebounds. Amazing.
Prior to the 1969 - 70 season the Royals hired Bob Cousy to be their head coach. After one season in Cincinnati Cousy shocked the NBA world by trading Oscar to the Milwaukee Bucks for Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk. Fans were devastated. Oscar had become as much a part of Cincinnati as the Reds and the Ohio River. Robertson was as baffled and bothered as the fans - "I think he was wrong and I will never forget it."
The trade turned out to be a positive one because it led to his pairing with Lew Alcindor and the NBA Championship that was the one thing in his career that he had not yet accomplished. Robertson, Alcindor and the Bucks won the title in 1971. Oscar retired after four years with the Bucks at the conclusion of 1973 - 74 season.
"He obviously was unbelievable, way ahead of his time. There is no more complete player than Oscar." Jerry Lucas
Happy 71st Oscar.
To learn more, check out Robertson's autobiography The Big O.