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Celebrating Oscar Robertson’s 75th birthday with highlights from his career (VIDEO)

Nov 24, 2013, 6:30 PM EDT

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Ask anyone that saw Oscar Robertson play in his prime, and they’ll gush about how dominant he was. They’ll say he was one of the greatest — if not the greatest — to ever play the game. Robertson often gets left out of that conversation, but his contemporaries are quick to remind you about the “Big O” whenever the topic comes up.

Mary Schmidt Boyer of the Plain Dealer explains more in her great piece on Robertson:

“Former Cavaliers general manager Wayne Embry is 76 — one year older than Oscar Robertson, his former roommate, who turns 75 today,

“Pound for pound, inch for inch, I think Oscar was the greatest player of all time,” Embry has told anyone who asks for years.

So Robertson deserves to be included in the GOAT discussion along with Jordan and James, Embry was asked.

“I think it’s the others who should be included in the discussion,” he said, emphatically.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 66, agrees. According to an article by Steve Aschburner on NBA.com, Abdul-Jabbar, who won an NBA title with Robertson in Milwaukee in 1971, recently weighed in on the subject, telling ESPN Radio, “LeBron is awesome, MJ was awesome, but I think Oscar Robertson would have kicked them both in the behind.”

Robertson is still the only player in NBA history to average a triple-double over the course of an entire season, which is a record that may never be broken.

While old highlight films can never do a player proper justice, I highly recommend celebrating the 75th birthday of one of the greatest players to ever play by allowing yourself to fall down the Youtube rabbit hole. I’ll start you here.

  1. mimaiheatdynasty - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:00 PM

    Dude averaged a triple double. I think LBJ will one day as well.

    • jimeejohnson - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:23 PM

      I saw the Big O Oscar Robertson toward the end of his career. He was practically unstoppable and looked very smooth. LeBron should be flattered to be compared with him.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:12 PM

        Please.

  2. dinofrank60 - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:00 PM

    The last I checked, the NBA did not start with Michael Jordan. So, why is it hard to believe that some people think that someone else besides Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest player of all time?

    There is a shelf life to being a fan, saying that if you’ve watched the NBA before Jordan, you’ve watched for too long. Therefore, you can’t relate and can’t be considered relevant.

  3. davidly - Nov 24, 2013 at 8:04 PM

    We often hear about how he averaged a triple-double over an entire season. This is understandable because it’s defined such that it’s an easy notion to get your head around: a whole season

    He was barely shy of repeating that feat several times–by just a fraction of an assist some years, or just a fraction of a rebound others.

    But consider this:
    Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double over his first six seasons, during which period he shot .486 for 30.3 points, had 10.4 rebounds and 10.7 assists.

    Think about that.

    As a matter of fact, he was only one rebound per game short of averaging a triple double over his first eight seasons.

    Think about that for a minute. You might say, “Yeah, but the competition was less impressive back then.” But even back then it was considered a feat of a singular nature–and nobody’s done it since, not even over the course of one of the many shortened seasons.

    Imagine doing it in Chuck Taylors.

    Over eight seasons (’60-’68, that’s the 20th century, kids)
    .488 FG%
    30.3 points
    9 rebounds
    10.6 assists

    For his career (14 seasons from ’60-’74)
    .485 FG%
    25.7 points
    7.5 rebound
    9.5 assists

    Perhaps being from Indianapolis has something to do with my interest. When I was in high school, another school’s wrestling coach was invited to speak at our winter sports banquet.

    As he began to tell the story of a kid who had come by the school to ask if he could practice on their court outside, and then how every day in the winter, the coach would see him taking shots–even in the dark and bitter cold–as he passed by on his way out to go home, it just sounded like the typical inspirational boilerplate.

    Though it was interesting that of all people to be telling a hoosier hoops story, it would be a wrestling coach.

    But then, when he mentioned that it was Oscar Robertson, the guy we knew of who would eventually go on to Crispus Attucks–a background made that much more intense when you know the history & politics of Indiana–it sunk in goosebump style.

    Happy 75th Oscar!

    • dinofrank60 - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:20 PM

      As a matter of fact, he was only one rebound per game short of averaging a triple double over his first eight seasons.

      Think about that for a minute. You might say, “Yeah, but the competition was less impressive back then.”

      Less impressive? Rebounding against the likes of Wilt, Russell, Thurmond, Baylor, Bellamy, Gus Johnson and his own teammate, Jerry Lucas? Averaging 10+? This guy You is a hard customer!

      • davidly - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:30 PM

        Oh, I know. It’s not an argument I make, but I’ve heard it enough.

    • antistratfordian - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:47 PM

      It’s not about the competition being less impressive, it’s about the insane amount of possessions teams had in those days. Oscar didn’t average a triple double, and Wilt didn’t average 50 pts, playing at the slow pace of the league today. They couldn’t do that in only 90 possessions a game.

      • davidly - Nov 24, 2013 at 10:07 PM

        There’s been a lot more basketball played since those days than just “the league today”.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 24, 2013 at 10:18 PM

        Sure, but the majority of that basketball was also played at a faster pace than today – though not as extreme.

  4. antistratfordian - Nov 24, 2013 at 9:39 PM

    Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double over his first six seasons, during which period he shot .486 for 30.3 points, had 10.4 rebounds and 10.7 assists.

    Think about that.

    Well think about this. Oscar averaged a triple double in 1962 1) playing 44 minutes a night and 2) getting around 140 possessions each game (the tempo of the league was faster back then, for several reasons). So over his first six years he averaged 30/11/10 in 45 minutes on around 140 possessions each game.

    But get this…

    In 2010 LeBron James averaged 30/9/7 in 39 minutes on 91 possessions a game.
    In 1988 Michael Jordan averaged 33/8/8 in 40 minutes on 97 possessions a game.

    Think about what these two wonders would do with 140 possessions and 45 minutes like Oscar! We’d be talking about 40/10/10+ type numbers, easily.

    “Because of the inordinately high number of possessions, the statistics from 1958 to 1962 need to be taken with an entire shaker of salt and possibly a saltwater taffy factory.” – Bill Simmons

    • davidly - Nov 26, 2013 at 7:31 AM

      You’re right. LeBron probably couldn’t handle that many minutes or that kind of pace. Of course, I jest, nevertheless…

      Because, you see, you can talk to me when LBJ averages 45 minutes.

      But to the what should be the main point here… Why is everything an argument with you? I come onto a thread celebrating the Big O’s birthday and relay some info and personal experience to pay tribute, and you get all pissy pants about your boy BronBron.

      You know what? I am perfectly aware of LBJ’s status as this generation’s predominant basketball player and you don’t have to tell me about MJ either–I watched that show too. I’m not one of you guys who holds animosity, latent of otherwise, towards obvious figures of singular talent. That is in no way my motivation for being here. To read otherwise would indicate the ticks of a sociopath.

      In other words, you’re horning in on a conversation inappropriately, though, even now, I don’t expect you to recognize it. But if you’re going to run stats in a weird narcissistic attempt to belittle the birthday boy, why not compare what he did vis a vis the players of his day, first–and why they didn’t miraculously tally triple doubles out the wazoo.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 26, 2013 at 4:04 PM

        Because, you see, you can talk to me when LBJ averages 45 minutes.

        Doesn’t really need to. He put up roughly the same numbers in less minutes and in far less possessions. Plus, it’s easier to play 45 minutes when no one is playing defense. It was 1962… fans were angry about the ease of scoring and the lack of effort on defense. Here’s how Bill Simmons describes it in his “The Book of Basketball”:

        THE SCORING BOOM. Not necessarily a good thing. Why? Nobody played defense, and every game looked like a disjointed All-Star contest… Play suffered so badly that NBC dropped the NBA one year later despite a memorable ’62 Finals. The following season (’63), commissioner Maurice Podoloff slapped together a production team to “broadcast” the All-Star Game and the NBA Finals, then sold a syndication package to local affiliates around the country like it wasCheaters or The Steve Wilkos Show. Unbelievable.

        Here’s Bob Cousy talking about this issue at the time in a 1962 issue of Sports Illustrated:

        Critics say there are many things wrong with professional basketball. Most often heard is that the scores are too high, that the ease with which teams make baskets is ridiculous… the fan is sick of huge scores and the indefensible dunk shot.

        I do not have a spectacular solution, but I feel there is one plausible answer: a re-emphasis on defense. The good defensive player is lost today under the deluge of points, points, points. He gets little credit.

        So this was the league in which Robertson averaged 30/10/10 – 140 possessions a game and nobody playing defense. Don’t you think LeBron’s 30/9/7 on only 90 possessions in a very defensive oriented league is more impressive? You should, because it absolutely is – without question. This is not even debatable.

        But if you’re going to run stats in a weird narcissistic attempt to belittle the birthday boy…

        It’s not about belittling anybody. This is one of the key areas where fans need an education – and Oscar Robertson is at the center of this issue because of his triple double season in 1962. In general, fans compare per game numbers across decades straight up without any other considerations. That won’t do. Someone has to let these people know that this is no longer an acceptable form of analysis – and why.

        And I’m just doing what Oscar would do. Robertson is the author of an auto-biography that Bill Simmons describes as “ the angriest, most self-congratulatory basketball book ever written.” So I’m honoring him by behaving somewhat like him. :)

    • davidly - Nov 28, 2013 at 2:54 AM

      This is your best trollery. Congrats.

      Of course it’s unintentional, so you’re entirely missing the point. As usual. My point, by the way. You think that because it’s the Internet that it gives you carte blanche to come along and make an argument about whatever you want. Fine. That’s who you are. Congrats again.

      My point, you might recall, was simply that he averaged a triple double over six seasons while scoring 30 at a quality rate and that this fact gets buried in his single season accomplishment.

      Nobody else has done this. Nobody else has come close. It’s not about LBJ and whether or not he can grab another board and dish out three more assists–per game. It’s about the fact that nobody has done it.

      And, yes, everything you say is debatable, or you wouldn’t be doing it–ad nauseum.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 30, 2013 at 5:43 PM

        Look, your best argument here (and I think you alluded to it earlier) is to say that what happened outside of Oscar’s era doesn’t really matter; he was still the only player to do that at the time when every team was getting an insane number of possessions each game (even though no one knew it was a “thing” they should be trying to do). And that, by itself, is remarkable. I’d agree, obviously.

        But the moment you try to take that across eras for battle – that’s where your argument will be found wanting. It was impressive in its day, no doubt – Oscar eventually became considered the best player in history for a reason – and he was respected and feared (feared mostly by his own teammates) in a Jordan-ish way at the time for a reason. But *lobbing that 30/10/10 (season or six years) across the bow of someone like Jordan or James is akin to a WW2 battleship squaring off against two Ford-class aircraft carriers. Oscar’s rate of production just can’t keep up with those guys. That really isn’t debatable.

        *I’m not saying you did that directly. You did that indirectly.

    • davidly - Nov 28, 2013 at 3:02 AM

      By the way, if this were about educating these people–as transparent an attempt to ingratiate yourself to me, as if you weren’t just trying to one-up me–then you would have posted your point about LBJ singular greatness down thread and left me out of it.

      Instead you felt the need to make it about responding to my comment–which had nothing to do with the point you made.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 28, 2013 at 4:06 AM

        Well you are one of those people that needed to hear it. What you were excited about in your original post – the things you put in bold – that information is completely misleading by itself (as are all per game averages – even within the same season).

        And you asked readers twice “think about that” and “think about that for a minute” – well, okay, I did – and I replied. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

        And you can’t really talk about “Oscar’s triple double season isn’t as impressive as it might seem” without being able to prove that other players have actually been more productive than that – which is why LeBron is brought up (or MJ). But James and Robertson are the only two players to have career averages of at least 25/6/6 and they did it in different eras at different paces and it’s a great opportunity to get into the meaning and significance of pace.

        It really is all about trying to get NBA fans to think about this stuff in a more sophisticated way. It’s not going to get any easier from here on out, so they better get with the program!

    • davidly - Nov 28, 2013 at 9:28 AM

      You haven’t told me anything I already don’t know. Troll. But wavering from your “these people” to include me is par for the course. Troll.

      Keep shifting your argument wherever it suits you, troll, mine remains the same, which would be that Oscar Robertson didn’t just average a triple double in his second year in the NBA, but also tallied the following over the course of his first six seasons: .486 for 30.3 points, had 10.4 rebounds and 10.7 assists.

      You can question it all you want; you can cite the pace and Cousy’s allegation of nobody playing defense, and, if you feel like it, extrapolate the stats per certain number of possessions. Troll away with actual data instead of just calling on subjective interpretation–I mean, if you are going to have the gall to say that the point is not debatable.

      But I am not misleading anyone, let alone completely misleading–whatever the hell that means. Troll. You see, my motivation is not the same as yours. I’m fully aware from watching the game played that LBJ and MJ are phenomenal beyond comprehension, not because of their PER, but because I’ve watched them play.

      But, save for a few selective clips, nobody who wasn’t watching then has really had a chance to see Oscar Robertson play. So while your marveling about how amazing it is that LBJ can post the numbers that he does against defenses the likes of Chamberlain and Russell and Robertson and the Alcindor version of Abdul-Jabbar, you might want to read up on more than just Cousy and some guy who was barely born in the sixties to tell you about how the rules have changed insofar as what constitutes a foul, a walk, a double dribble.

      In other words, do your own homework, troll.

      • antistratfordian - Nov 30, 2013 at 5:04 PM

        You haven’t told me anything I already don’t know.

        That apparently isn’t true. If you were aware of that you wouldn’t have been so excited about what you were saying.

  5. 6stn - Nov 24, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    I saw him play when I was in the fourth grade. February 12, 1967, at Kiel Auditorium, in St. Louis. I guess he had a broken bone in his face, somewhere, because he wore what looked like one of those early hockey goalie masks. The Hawks built a big lead, but barely hung on for the win, because, for the Royals it was all Big O in the fourth period.

    Happy 75th.

  6. louhudson23 - Nov 25, 2013 at 4:46 AM

    The competition argument does not hold up,be it for Robertson,Bobby Jones in golf ,Richard Petty in racing. Everyone faced the same competition. If the competition were indeed the determining factor,then everyone would have accomplished comparable feats. NBA players have always been big and fast. Robertson was a great talent and fundamentally perfect in virtually every aspect of the game,both mentally and physically…..

  7. provguard - Nov 25, 2013 at 6:45 PM

    Big O was the man in his day. Magic is as close as you can get to the Big O. Jordan then Robertson…

  8. 6stn - Nov 25, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    Jerry West gets overlooked a lot, too. Both he and Oscar finally played on championship teams late in their careers ( a year apart). West became one of the league’s top playmakers in his last three seasons.

  9. mackcarrington - Nov 26, 2013 at 12:57 AM

    It’s understandable that people who diss Robertson never saw him play in person or in his prime. These people think the game starts and ends with Jordan & LeBron
    And consider there being less teams, the concentration of talent per team was greater.

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