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Throwback Thursday: Remembering Oscar Robertson

Jerry Lai

With the offseason about to quiet down, I’ll be doing a Throwback Thursday piece every Thursday remembering the greats of basketball. Undeniably, the game is growing more and more popular, leading to new fans each and every day. One of the first things that’s preached to many basketball players is to respect the history of the game. I’m here to help aid the process of those wishing to appreciate the greatness that came before them, names that don’t come up in everyday vernacular like Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, etc.

We start the series off with Mr. Triple-Double himself, Oscar Robertson. One of my favorite players of all time, Oscar Robertson is the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season. When it comes to defining an all-around player, the “Big O” is still the perfect embodiment of what that means. Just look at his career numbers: 25.7 points per game (sixth-highest among retired players), 9.5 assists per game, and 7.5 rebounds per game. Oscar Robertson is 11th all time in points scored (with 26,710 points) and sixth all time in assists (9,887), with 7,804 rebounds to boot. The Big O could really do it all, and he was one of the most gifted playmakers ever.

Standing at 6-foot-5, Oscar was the revolutionary ‘big’ point guard, the first point guard to be able to abuse his size advantage over smaller guards. One of the reasons Robertson had such a high shooting percentage (career 48.5 percent shooter) was that he’d work the defense for the best shot he could get. Never settling, Robertson would wear down the defense until he got the look that he wanted, and he wanted a look as close to the basket as possible.

Oscar was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals with the first overall pick in the 1960 draft and made an immediate impact in the league. In his first season, Robertson led the league in assists with 9.7 a game and finished third in the league in scoring, averaging 30.5, en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award. Robertson also not only made the All-Star Game his rookie year, but won the MVP, coming one rebound shy of a triple-double (23 points, 14 assists and 9 rebounds). To top it off, Robertson made the All-NBA First Team in his rookie year.

As crazy it is to say, Robertson only improved in  his second year, when he averaged the famed triple-double, with 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game and led the Royals to the playoffs for the first time in his career. The Royals were defeated by the Detroit Pistons, 3-1, but it was the first of six consecutive playoff appearances by Cincinnati.

Oscar flirted with averaging a triple-double for his next three seasons, averaging 28.3/9.5/10.4, then 31.4/11/9.9 and 30.4/11.5/9.0. Those are insane numbers especially when you take into account that only one person ever in the history of the game averaged a triple-double for an entire season. Robertson really did it all on the court – those numbers are like a season of scoring like Kevin Durant, rebounding like Dwight Howard and assisting like Chris Paul. I’ve always said, if I’m building an all-time great NBA team in a fantasy draft-like situation, I’m taking Oscar in the second round by all means necessary. What a fantastic player.

In the 1963-64 season, when Oscar averaged 31.4 points, 11 rebounds and 9.9 assists, his league dominance was rewarded with his first and only NBA MVP award. Keep in mind that during this era, the other great players in the league included Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. The fact that Robertson won an MVP and was considered as equals to these all-time greats just shows how good the Big O really was. While Oscar couldn’t overcome the great Celtics and 76ers teams while he was a Royal, his individual greatness was undeniable.

After 10 years with Cincinnati, and after the Royals had missed the playoffs the past two years, head coach Bob Cousy shocked the world by trading Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks. Even if the team wasn’t finding postseason success, Robertson was beloved by the fans and the franchise. There are rumors to this day that Cousy traded Robertson out of jealousy, since Oscar had broken many of Cousy’s records and was garnering much of the attention. Whatever the reason, it ended up being a silver lining in the cloud of Oscar’s future, as he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be a part of one of the best seasons in NBA history. The Bucks finished the regular season with a 66-16 record and won the NBA championship that year following a 12-2 postseason domination.

After finally capturing that elusive ring, Robertson contemplated retirement after achieving the NBA’s highest honor, but decided to stick around for a couple more seasons. While he was slowing down and wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was in the past, Robertson paired with Abdul-Jabbar was still a formidable combo, and they’d go on to win the division title the following two seasons. In Robertson’s final season, the Big O gave his last push, leading the Bucks all the way to the NBA Finals, where they were met by the Boston Celtics and lost in a thrilling seven-game series.

Oscar Robertson not only changed the game, but was one of the best ever to play. His dominance sometimes gets understated and overlooked, but to achieve the numbers he did was mind-boggling. The combination of size, skill and will led to a one-man force that made everyone around him better.

Here’s to one of my favorite players of all time.

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