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NBA Legend of the Week: Oscar Robertson

Up next on our list of NBA Legends is Mr. Triple-Double, Oscar ‘The Big O’ Robertson.

In an interview earlier this year LeBron James was asked to give his ‘Mount Rushmore’ of NBA players, in other words his four greatest NBA players of all time. His selection of the iconic trio of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson was not surprising with these three often regarded as the best players to play the game. However his fourth choice was rather interesting with King James opting for one of basketball’s great pioneers, “The Big O” Oscar Robertson.

A perennial all-star of the ’60s and ’70s Robertson, throughout his career, became the epitome of all round basketball ability. While players such as James and Magic may now be looked upon as examples of complete basketball talents, Robertson was the original all action guard. A player so versatile he terrorized defenses with his ability to score from inside and outside as well as a with his remarkable playmaking capabilities. And on top of this he was also a supreme rebounder. Simply put, his was a game without any weaknesses.

Mr. Triple-Double

When you are popularly known by a nickname such as ‘Mr. Triple-Double’ then you know you have been doing something right. Without question, Oscar Robertson is the King when it comes to this statistic. Let’s just consider the numbers for a second.

  • Robertson holds the all-time record for the most regular season triple doubles with a staggering 181. To put this in perspective, Magic Johnson (138) and Jason Kidd (107) are the only other players to even register in triple figures. Unsurprisingly, Robertson also holds the season record of triple doubles with 41.
  • Robertson is the only player in league history to average a triple double over the course of an entire season when in 61-62 he averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. Not James, not Magic, not Bird and not Jordan were able to achieve such an incredible feat throughout their own distinguished careers.
  • He almost replicated this feat on two further occasions when he fell just short in his assists average in 62-63 (9.5 assists per game) and in his rebound average in 63-64 (9.9 rebounds per game).

Robertson’s play defied the traditional thought that players could not excel in all three of these most crucial aspects of basketball and, with the exception of Jerry West, no other guard came close to Robertson’s levels of performance in this era. At 6ft 5in tall he is widely recognized as being the first successful “big” guard, yet he played with the grace and agility usually associated with players a lot shorter than he was.

It all came natural to Robertson however, who did not see his excellent ball-handling and passing ability as anything special.

“I think that everyone should be able to dribble. Everyone should be able to pass. Otherwise, why are you out there?”

Partnership with Kareem and Eventual Success

Robertson was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals, now the Sacramento Kings, in 1960 and the University of Cincinnati alumni became an immediate star of the league leading all players in assists (9.7) while also pouring in 30.5 points and grabbing 10.1 rebounds per game.

Despite consistently being one of the most influential players in the league Robertson was never quite able to lead the Royals to an elusive NBA Championship. This was in part due to poor timing as Robertson just so happened to come up against the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtic’s dynasty, who defeated them on a number of occasions, but also as a result of poor management by the Royals organization.

The final straw came when new coach Bob Cousy, who was rumoured to be jealous of Robertson’s popularity, traded the superstar to the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970.

A year previously the Bucks had drafted the NBA’s all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, and had immediately turned from perennial underachievers into legitimate league contenders. The addition of Robertson to their roster proved to be the difference between contenders and champions. While Abdul-Jabbar was the true star of the team, The Big O added some essential guile, class and experience.

Their regular season record of 66-16 remains a franchise record and they only dropped two playoff games on their way to their first and only NBA championship. A decade of underachieving with the Royals was forgotten after one season with Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks. With Robertson now very much in the twilight of his career, the Bucks continued to contend for championships but they could never quite replicate their 1971 heroics.

Off-Court Influence

While Robertson’s legacy on the court is quite remarkable, his accomplishments away from the hardwood, in his role as President of the Players Association, hold even more important historical significance. Robertson held this role during a crucial period in the NBA’s history, where the impending merger with the ABA was the primary matter on the agenda.

At this time NBA players could not become free agents once their contracts expired, with their employers retaining their rights. In a case similar to the Bosman ruling which shook the world of European football in the 1990s, Robertson led a court case to establish greater rights for the league’s players. The case became fondly known as the Oscar Robertson suit and resulted in the free agency which plays such a significant role in today’s professional game.

Oscar Robertson was a pioneer. His legacy on the court is huge with the likes of Magic Johnson and LeBron James in particular clearly influenced by the example he set. His records in the statistic of triple-doubles seem, for now at least, simply untouchable.

Now widely recognized as one of the top 10 players of all-time his diligent work off the court and in the boardroom also empowered his fellow and future professionals and laid the groundwork for the free agency market which excites modern NBA fans so much.

The Big O’s contributions to the NBA cannot be understated and let’s face it; if he’s good enough for LeBron then he’s good enough for us.


NBA Career Statistics: PPG: 25.7, APG: 9.5, RPG: 7.5.

NBA Honours: 1 Time NBA Champions, 1 Time NBA MVP, 12 Time NBA All-Star, 3 Time NBA All-Star Game MVP, Member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Brian Bowler, Pundit Arena.

About Brian Bowler

Brian Bowler
Currently living in Reading, UK, Brian is a UCC graduate with a BA in Maths and English, and an MA in Film Studies. A lifelong Man United fan and a proud Kerryman, Brian is particularly interested in Football, GAA and NBA but will watch pretty much any sport (except cricket and snooker!).

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