Oscar Robertson was chosen as one of the 50 Greatest NBA Players of All Time in a vote held in conjunction with the league’s 50th Anniversary in 1996. But the truth is, you could take a zero off the number of candidates chosen for that distinguished list of all-time greats and the name Oscar Robertson would surely still be there. Any educated discussion about the greatest players in the history of the NBA, will always include “The Big O.” Predicting his stardom in the NBA probably didn’t require any particular acumen; Oscar Robertson was a superstar in high school, in college and in international competition at the Pan-Am Games and the Olympics before he ever stepped foot on an NBA court. His epic rise to the top of the basketball world came amid the excruciating racial turmoil of the postwar era; he navigated through all of that with a quiet dignity that has earned him a spot atop the hierarchy of basketball giants.

Few players ever dominated statistically as Robertson did, yet hardly needed numbers to help define their historical legacy. The man who averaged almost 34 points per game in college and somehow averaged a triple-double for his first five seasons in the NBA, decades before it ever became a popular statistic, is recalled in regal, almost mythical terms even without a lot of statistical recitation.

All that extraordinary firepower was hardly an exercise in individual exultation; his Crispus Attucks High School teams won two Indiana state titles in the middle of compiling a 45-game winning streak, he would later headline Pan-Am and Olympic teams that won gold as well. It was only in the NBA with the hometown Cincinnati Royals that winning eluded him, and he would address that as well later in his career when a stunning 1971 trade sent him to the Milwaukee Bucks where he would team with Lew Alcindor to earn his sole NBA crown. And if his basketball legacy needed any additional historical heft, there’s the so-called Oscar Robertson suit filed by the NBA Players Association (he was president at the time) that dramatically altered the landscape of the relationship between players and owners, changing rules about free agency and the college draft and ultimately resulting in higher salaries and improved working conditions for generations of NBA players.




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