Oscar Robertson, who died in 2002 at the age of 65, was a 6’7″ guard who played for the Cincinnati Royals, the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Robertson-coached Washington Bullets. He became the NBA’s first MVP when he led the Bucks to the 1967–68 NBA Finals. In that series, the Bucks went up 2–0 in the series and had a 3–1 series lead, but the Celtics closed out the series by winning the next 2 games to take the series. Robertson led the NBA in scoring in each of his first 4 seasons in the league. He was also the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in the following season. In his Hall of Fame career, Robertson scored more points than any other player.
In the 1960s, Oscar Robertson was a star basketball player in the National Basketball Association, and a Hall of Fame player who made it to the NBA All-Star game three times and is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. In one of his greatest achievements, he single-handedly led his team to an NBA Championship, becoming the first ever African-American player to win the award.In his 14-year NBA career, point guard Oscar Robertson led the league in assists seven times. The master of the triple-double, Robertson spent the first 10 years of his career with the Cincinnati Royals before finishing up by playing four seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. Robertson ended his career with 9,887 assists, good for seventh all-time, but his most important one came well after his playing days were over.
Former NBA player Oscar Robertson waves to the crowd during the first half of a game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers at Fiserv Forum on February 22, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Robertson, a 6-foot-5 point guard, played his college basketball at the University of Cincinnati, and he was a scoring machine. He led the nation in scoring in all three of his seasons, and he was named the UPI College Player of the Year each season. In 1960 the Cincinnati Royals made him the first pick in the NBA draft via territorial selection.
Robertson was a stat machine from the get-go. As a rookie during the 1960-61 season, the Big O led the NBA in assists per game with 9.7, and he averaged 30.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per contest. He was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.
For five out of the first six years with the Royals, Robertson was the NBA leader in assists. In his second season, he became the first player to average a triple-double for the season when he put up 30.8 points, 11.4 assists, and 12.5 rebounds. In the 1963-64 season, he was named the league’s MVP when he poured in a career-high 31.4 points per game with 11.0 rebounds and 9.9 assists.
He was shockingly dealt to the Bucks prior to the 1970-71 season, and it paid off for Robertson and the Bucks. In his first year with the team, he helped guide the Bucks to their first NBA title. Robertson was also known for his lawsuit against the NBA that ultimately led to higher wages for players.
Long after his playing days were over, Robertson handed out the most important assist of his life. In April of 1997, the Big O made a life-saving move when he donated one of his kidneys to his 33-year-old daughter, Tia. Tia Robertson is one of his three daughters and was in desperate need of a transplant after battling lupus.
Just before he was released from the hospital after his procedure, Robertson was emotional. His wife, Yvonne, spoke very briefly. “He’s been through a lot. She’s been through a lot,” she said, according to The Chicago Tribune.
She also said her husband did anything a parent would do and he didn’t want anyone to make a big deal of it. “I hope people don’t over-dramatize it,” she said. “It’s something any parent would do.”
Oscar Robertson was 58 at the time and said he was the family member best suited to donate a kidney.
“I’m the strongest person,” he said. “We just went through a process of elimination, and it was me.”
The Bucks traded Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk to the Royals for Robertson. Robertson’s relationship with the team and head coach Bob Cousy had diminished, so the teams pulled the trigger on the move. The Bucks were instant contenders as Robertson teamed with Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), giving Milwaukee one of the best tandems in the league.
In his first season with the Bucks, Robertson helped guide them to their first championship. He averaged 19.4 points and 8.2 assists during the season in which they posted a league-best 66 wins. The Bucks made quick work of the Baltimore Bullets in the 1971 NBA Finals with a 4-0 sweep.
Milwaukee returned to the NBA Finals in 1974. The Bucks faced the Boston Celtics but fell in seven games. Robertson retired after that season, and the Bucks finished in last place in their division with a 38-win season.
Robertson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.
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