Oscar Robertson
No. 14, 1
Point guard
Personal information
Born November 24, 1938 (1938-11-24) (age 81)

Charlotte, Tennessee

Nationality American
High school Crispus Attucks
Listed height 6 ft 5 in (1.96 m)
Listed weight 220 lb (100 kg)
Career information
College Cincinnati (1957–1960)
NBA Draft 1958 / Pick: Territorial/1st
Selected by the Cincinnati Royals
Pro career 1960–1974
League NBA
Career history
1960–1970 Cincinnati Royals
1970–1974 Milwaukee Bucks
Career highlights and awards
  1. 14 Retired by the Sacramento Kings
  2. 1 Retired by the Milwaukee Bucks
Career NBA statistics
Points 26,710 (25.7 ppg)
Rebounds 7,804 (7.5 rpg)
Assists 9,887 (9.5 apg)
Stats at
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
FIBA Hall of Fame as player

Oscar Palmer Robertson (born November 24, 1938), nicknamed "The Big O", is a retired American basketball player with the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA.[1] The 6-foot-5, 220-pound [2] Robertson played the shooting guard/point guard position, and was a twelve-time All-Star, eleven-time member of the All-NBA Team, and one-time winner of the MVP award in fourteen professional seasons. He is the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season.[3] He was a key player on the team which brought the Bucks their only NBA title in the 1970-71 NBA season. His playing career, especially during high school and college, was plagued by racism.[3]

For his outstanding achievements, Robertson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980, and was voted one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.[4] The United States Basketball Writers Association renamed their college Player of the Year Award the Oscar Robertson Trophy in his honor in 1998, and he was one of five people chosen to represent the inaugural National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame class in 2006.[5]

Robertson was also an integral part of the Oscar Robertson suit[6] of 1970. The landmark NBA antitrust suit, named after the then-president of the NBA Players' Association, led to an extensive reform of the league's strict free agency and draft rules and, subsequently, to higher salaries for all players.[3]


Early years

Robertson was born in poverty and grew up in a segregated housing project in Indianapolis. In contrast to many other boys who preferred to play baseball, he was drawn to basketball because it was "a poor kids' game." Because his family could not afford a basketball, he learned how to shoot by tossing tennis balls and rags bound with rubber bands into a peach basket behind his family's home.[3] Robertson attended Crispus Attucks High School, a segregated all-black high school.

High school career

At Crispus Attucks, Robertson's coach was Ray Crowe, whose emphasis on a fundamentally sound game had a positive effect on Robertson's style of play. In 1954, as a sophomore, he starred on an Attucks team that lost in the semi-state finals (state quarterfinals) to eventual state champions Milan, whose story would later be the basis of the classic 1986 movie Hoosiers. But with Robertson leading the team, Crispus Attucks proceeded to dominate its opposition, going 31–1 in 1955 and winning the first state championship for any all-black school in the nation. The following year the team finished with a perfect 31–0 record and won a second straight state title, becoming the first team in Indiana to secure a perfect season along the way to a state-record 45 straight victories. The state championships won by the all-black school were the first-ever for Indianapolis. However, the celebrations were cut short by the city's leaders. The players were driven outside of town to hold their party because, said Robertson in The Indianapolis Star, "They said the blacks are gonna tear up downtown." Robertson was also named Indiana "Mr. Basketball" in 1956, after scoring 24.0 points per game during his senior season.[3] After his graduation that year, Robertson enrolled at the University of Cincinnati.

College career (1957–1960)

Robertson continued to dominate his opponents while at the University of Cincinnati, recording an incredible scoring average of 33.8 points per game, the third highest in college history. In each of his 3 years, he won the national scoring title, was named an All-American, and chosen College Player of the Year, while setting 14 NCAA and 19 school records.[4] Robertson's stellar play led the Bearcats to a 79–9 overall record during his three varsity seasons, including two Final Four appearances. However, a championship eluded Robertson, something that would become a repeated occurrence in his later career. When Robertson left college he was the all-time leading NCAA scorer until fellow Hall of Fame player Pete Maravich topped him in 1970.[3]

Despite his success on the courts, Robertson's college career was soured by racism. Road trips to segregated cities were especially difficult, with Robertson often sleeping in college dorms instead of hotels. "I'll never forgive them," he told the Indianapolis Star years later.[3] Decades after his college days, Robertson's stellar NCAA career was rewarded by the United States Basketball Writers Association when, in 1998, they renamed the trophy awarded to the NCAA Division I Player of the Year the Oscar Robertson Trophy. This honor brought the award full circle for Robertson since he had won the first two awards ever presented.[7]

1960 Olympics

Medal record
Competitor for United States
Men's Basketball
Pan American Games
Gold 1959 Chicago Team Competition
Olympic Games
Gold 1960 Rome Team Competition

After college, Robertson co-captained the U.S. basketball team at the 1960 Summer Olympics with Jerry West. The team, described as the greatest assemblage of amateur basketball talent ever, went undefeated during the competition to win the gold medal. Robertson was a starting forward along with Purdue's Terry Dischinger, but played point guard as well. He was the co-leading scorer with fellow NBA legend Jerry Lucas, as the U.S. team won its 9 games by a margin of 42.4 points. 10 of the 12 college players on the American squad later played professionally in the NBA, including future Hall-of-Famers West, Lucas, and Walt Bellamy.[8]

Professional career

Cincinnati Royals

Prior to the 1960–61 NBA season, Robertson made himself eligible for the 1960 NBA Draft. There, he was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals as a territorial pick. The Royals gave Robertson a $33,000 signing bonus, a far cry from his childhood days when he was too poor to afford a basketball.[3] Robertson soon proved worthy of their trust, continuing to dominate his opposition on the professional level. In his rookie season, Robertson finished with 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists (leading the league), almost averaging a triple-double for the entire season. For his spectacular performance, he was named NBA Rookie of the Year, was elected into the All-NBA First Team – which would happen in each of Robertson's first 9 years – and made the first of 12 consecutive All-Star Game appearances.[1] In addition, he was named the 1961 NBA All-Star Game MVP following his 23 point, 14 assist, 9 rebound performance in a West victory. However, the Royals finished with a dismal 33–46 record and stayed in the cellar of the Western Division.

In the 1961–62 season, Robertson made NBA history. In that season, he became the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for a season, averaging 30.8 points, 11.4 assists and 12.5 rebounds per game.[1] He broke the assists record by Bob Cousy, who had recorded 715 assists two seasons earlier, by logging 899. The Royals earned a playoff berth; however, they were eliminated in the first round by the Detroit Pistons.[9] In the next season, Robertson further established himself as one of the greatest players of his generation, averaging an impressive 28.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 9.5 assists, narrowly missing out on another triple-double season.[1] The Royals charged into the Eastern Division Finals, but succumbed in a grueling seven games series against a great Boston Celtics team led by Bill Russell.[10]

In the 1963–64 season, the Royals achieved an impressive 55–25 record,[11] which meant second place in the Eastern Division. Under new coach Jack McMahon, Robertson flourished, and for the first time in his career, he had a decent supporting cast: second scoring option Jack Twyman was now supplemented by Jerry Lucas and Wayne Embry, and fellow guard Adrian Smith helped Robertson in the backcourt. Robertson had another magnificent season, leading the NBA in free-throw percentage, scoring a career-high 31.4 points per game, and averaging 9.9 rebounds and 11.0 assists per game—just missing another triple-double season.[1] In fact, the averages for his first five NBA seasons are a triple-double again: 30.3 points per game, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists. For his feats, he won the NBA MVP Award and became the only player other than Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to win it from 1960 to 1968.[3] Robertson also won his second All-Star Game MVP award that year after scoring 26 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, and dishing off 8 assists in an East victory. In the postseason, the Royals defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, but then were dominated by the Celtics 4 games to 1.[3]

From a win–loss perspective, however, this season would be Robertson's last successful Royals season. From the 1964–65 season on, things began to turn sour for the franchise. Despite Robertson's stellar play, never failing to record averages of at least 24.7 points, 6.rebounds and 8.1 assists in the six following years,[1] the Royals were eliminated in the first round from 1965–67, then missed the playoffs from 1968–70. In the 1969–70 season, the sixth disappointing season in a row, fan support was waning. To attract the public, 41-year old head coach Bob Cousy even made a short comeback. For 7 games, the legendary Celtics point guard partnered Robertson in the Royals' backcourt, but they still missed the playoffs.[3]

Milwaukee Bucks and the 'Oscar Robertson suit'

Prior to the 1970–71 season, the Royals stunned the basketball world by trading Robertson to the Bucks for Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk. Officially, no reasons were named, but many pundits suspected head coach Bob Cousy was jealous of all the attention Robertson was getting.[3] Robertson himself said: "I think he was wrong and I will never forget it."[3] The relationship between Oscar and the Royals had soured to the point that Cincinnati had also approached the Lakers and Knicks about deals involving their star player (the Knick players who were discussed in those scenarios are unknown, but Los Angeles stated publicly that the Royals asked about Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, with the Lakers saying they would not consider trading either star).

However, the trade proved highly beneficial for Robertson. After being stuck with an under-performing team the last six years, he now was paired with the young Lew Alcindor, who would years later become the all-time NBA scoring leader as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With Alcindor in the low post and Robertson running the backcourt, the Bucks charged to a league-best 66–16 record, including a then-record 20-game win streak, a dominating 12–2 record in the playoffs, and crowned their season with the NBA title by sweeping the Baltimore Bullets 4–0 in the 1971 NBA Finals. For the first time in his career, Robertson had won a championship on the NCAA or NBA level.[3]

From a historical perspective, however, Robertson's most important contribution was made not on the court, but rather in court. It was the year of the landmark Oscar Robertson suit, an antitrust suit filed by the NBA's Players Association against the league. As Robertson was the president of the Players Association, the case bore his name. In this suit, the proposed ABA-NBA merger between the NBA and the American Basketball Association was delayed until 1976, and the college draft as well as the free agency clauses were reformed.[3] Robertson himself stated that the main reason was that clubs basically owned their players: players were forbidden to talk to other clubs once their contract was up, because free agency did not exist back then.[12] Six years after the suit was filed, the NBA finally reached a settlement, the ABA-NBA merger took place, and the Oscar Robertson suit encouraged signing of more free agents and eventually led to higher salaries for all players.[3]

On the hardwood, the veteran Robertson still proved he was a valuable player. Paired with Abdul-Jabbar, two more division titles with the Bucks followed in the 1971–72 and 1972–73 season. In Robertson's last season, he helped lead Milwaukee to a league-best 59–23 record and helped them to reach the 1974 NBA Finals. There, Robertson had the chance to end his stellar career with a second ring. The Bucks were matched up against a Boston Celtics team powered by an inspired Dave Cowens, and the Bucks lost in seven games.[3] As a testament to Robertson's importance to the Bucks, in the season following his retirement the Bucks fell to last place in their division with a 38–44 record in spite of the continued presence of Abdul-Jabbar.[13]

Robertson was elected to the Wisconsin Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.

Post-NBA career

[1][2]Oscar Robertson statue at the University of CincinnatiAfter he retired as an active player, Robertson stayed involved in efforts to improve living conditions in his native Indianapolis, especially concerning fellow African-Americans.[3] In addition, he worked as a color commentator with Brent Musburger on games televised by CBS during the 1974–75 NBA season.[14] His trademark expression was "Oh, Brent, did you see that!" in reaction to flashy or spectacular situations such as fast breaks, slam dunks, player collisions, etc.

After his retirement, the Kansas City Kings (the Royals moved there while Robertson was with the Bucks) retired his #14; the retirement continues to be honored by the Kings in their current home of Sacramento. The Bucks also retired the #1 he wore in Milwaukee. In 1994, a nine-foot bronze statue of Robertson was erected outside the Fifth Third Arena at Shoemaker Center, the current home of Cincinnati Bearcats basketball.[4] Robertson attends many of the games there, viewing the Bearcats from a chair at courtside. In 2006 the statue was relocated to the entrance of the Richard E. Lindner Athletics Center at the University of Cincinnati.[15] After many years outside the spotlight, on November 17, 2006, Robertson was recognized for his impact on college basketball as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He was one of five, along with John Wooden, Bill Russell, Dean Smith and Dr. James Naismith, selected to represent the inaugural class.[5]


Robertson is regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history, a triple threat who could score inside, outside and also was a stellar playmaker. His rookie scoring average of 30.5 points per game is the third highest of any rookie in NBA history, and Robertson averaged more than 30 points per game in six of his first seven seasons.[1] Only two other players in the NBA have had more 30+ point per game seasons in their career. Robertson was the first player to average more than 10 assists per game, doing so at a time when the criteria for assists were more stringent than today.[3] Furthermore, Robertson is the only guard in NBA history to ever average more than 10 rebounds per game, doing so three times. In addition to his 1964 regular season MVP award, Robertson won three All-Star Game MVPs in his career (in 1961, 1964, and 1969). He has the all-time highest scoring average in the All-Star Game for players participating in four or more games (the league standard for the record) at 20.5 points per game. He ended his career with 26,710 points (25.7 per game, ninth-highest all time), 9,887 assists (9.5 per game) and 7,804 rebounds (7.5 per game).[1] He led the league in assists six times, and at the time of his retirement, he was the NBA's all-time leader in career assists and free throws made, and was the second all-time leading scorer behind Wilt Chamberlain.[3]

Robertson also set yardsticks in versatility. If his first five NBA seasons are strung together, Robertson averaged a triple-double over those, averaging 30.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists.[16] For his career, Robertson had 181 triple-doubles, a record that has never been approached.[17] These numbers are even more astonishing if it is taken into account that the three-point shot did not exist when he played, which was introduced by the NBA in the 1979–80 season and benefits sharpshooting backcourt players. In 1967–68, Robertson also became the first of only two players in NBA history to lead the league in both scoring average and assists per game in the same season (also achieved by Nate Archibald). The official scoring and assist titles went to other players that season, however, because the NBA based the titles on point and assist totals (not averages) prior to the 1969–70 season. Robertson did, however, win a total of six NBA assist titles during his career. For his career, Robertson shot a high .485 field goal average and led the league in free-throw percentage twice—in the 1963–64 and 1967–68 seasons.[1]

Robertson is recognized by the NBA as the first legitimate "big guard", paving the way for other over-sized backcourt players like Magic Johnson.[3] Furthermore, he is also credited to have invented the head fake and the fadeaway jump shot, a shot which Michael Jordan later became famous for.[18] For the Cincinnati Royals, now relocated and named the Sacramento Kings, he scored 22,009 points and 7,731 assists, and is all-time leader in both statistics for the combined Royals/Kings teams.[3]

Robertson was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 28, 1980. He received the "Player of the Century" award by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2000 and was ranked third on SLAM Magazine's Top 75 NBA Players in 2003, behind fellow NBA legends Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Furthermore, in 2006, ESPN named Robertson the second greatest point guard of all time, praising him as the best post-up guard of all time and placing him only behind Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson.[16]

In 1959, the Player of the Year Award was established to recognize the best college basketball player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Five nominees are presented and the individual with the most votes receives the award during the NCAA Final Four. In 1998, it was renamed the Oscar Robertson Trophy in honor of the player who won the first two awards because of his outstanding career and his continuing efforts to promote the game of basketball. In 2004, an 18" bronze statue of Robertson was sculpted by world-renowned sculptor Harry Weber.[7]
Oscar Robertson - Big O

Oscar Robertson - Big O

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