As nicknames go, it's hard to top The Big O.
With the NBA celebrating the 50th anniversary of Oscar Robertson's triple-double season, the Hall of Famer will be at Power Balance Pavilion tonight for Fan Appreciation Night.
His No. 14 jersey hangs retired in the rafters in honor of his 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Royals (now the Kings). He will present a King with the 10th Oscar Robertson Triple Double award that recognizes on-court success, leadership and community service.
Robertson, one of the NBA's first big point guards at 6-foot-5, averaged 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists in 1961-62, a feat that has not been repeated. He had 41 triple doubles in 79 games; in comparison, the NBA has averaged 341/2 triple doubles a season over the past 12 seasons.
Robertson retired in 1974 as a 12-time All-Star with career averages of 25.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists. He has the NBA record for triple doubles with 181.
Robertson, 73, says the NBA's glory run didn't start with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan in the 1980s. It began in the 1960s.
Your triple-double season and your career in general, can you look back with a sense of achievement?
I feel good about what I did, very proud. To me, it was a game and I loved to compete, and competition brought out the best of me. Some people were meant to play. The game came naturally to me. I was a point guard growing up, then grew six inches and kept the guard skills.
Will anyone else average a triple double for a season?
Records are made to be broken, and I'm sure some might come close. But things change, times change. What is an assist now? You throw the ball to a guy inside and he does a reverse pivot dunk and (they) call it an assist. Lob the ball to the basket for eight dunks a game and that's (eight assists).
Have you kept an eye on the Kings' arena situation and saga?
I've always said the worst thing you can do is negotiate in the newspaper. (The Sacramento City Council, Mayor Kevin Johnson and the Maloof family) have all got to sit in a room and work it out. I'm in Cincinnati, and the Bengals play in a stadium that was publicly paid for. It can be done in these tough financial times. But you've got to be careful. Finger pointing and blaming does not help at all.
Your thoughts on the Kings team?
They need to address one situation. They need better athletes. It's difficult to get a player and try to make him a player he's not (Tyreke Evans at point guard). Sometimes you need a great trade and luck, too. Years ago, Bill Russell was traded to the Celtics and they became great, or when the Lakers got Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and then Shaq (O'Neal).
Speaking of trades, you were moved from the Royals to Milwaukee in 1970 amid talk of a rift between you and coach Bob Cousy. What happened?
Cousy tried to belittle my contributions to basketball. It still bothers me. People say I should forget, but I'm not going to forget, ever. All I did was make All-NBA 10 straight years, and to hear that I hadn't done enough it still bothers me a lot.
Do young fans have any idea how good players were in your era?
No. Look at television. I don't think you have anyone who really understands basketball on (national TV broadcasts). No one since I've been retired, anyway. You mention an Elgin Baylor and people don't know who he is. Baylor was an all-time great. He would be a star today.
How would an all-time team of Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Jerry West fare against a more modern all-time team of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and, say, Karl Malone?
It'd be a great series (laughing). I think we'd win. Can we get a game?
There were more elite centers in the NBA in the 1960s and '70s, but do you need one to win now?
Look at the teams that won the championship the last few years. Not many great centers. Good fundamental play, good defense, rebounding, sharing the ball it still works, but not a lot of teams do it. Detroit won it all in (2004) with defense. The Spurs, Lakers, Celtics, and then Dallas last year had to get a good defensive center in Tyson Chandler before it could win. Now he's gone and look at Dallas. And look at Kentucky in college basketball won with defense.
Speaking of the college game, is the one-and-done theme good for college and the pro game?
I don't think anyone who comes out that early is ready for the pros. What bothers me is everyone wants to blame the kid, but you put that kind of money in front of him, what's he supposed to do? If the NBA has such a problem with it, don't draft him. And are we so hypocritical that we can send a man to Afghanistan in the Army at any age, but there's a concern for an age limit for the NBA?
This season also marks the 35th anniversary of your lawsuit against the NBA that helped create free agency. Why was that so important to you then?
Back then, the owners had all the control. If they didn't like you, how you played, how you dressed or what you drove, they could hold it against you. They could keep you on their team forever. What we were able to do in the suit was get nice travel, more meal money, free agency, the right of first refusal. We brought athletes to a movie-star status. It's still the Oscar Robertson clause. If not for that, players wouldn't be making $15 million to $20 million a year.
You have always been big on fundamentals, as a player and an observer. How do you rate the game now?
Fundamentals and defense still win. It's how you win, but in this day and age, I don't know who boxes out. Such great leaping ability that people jump over you for a rebound. You hear someone on TV see a player dunk and he's considered great. But can he shoot? Does he make the right pass in the right situation? Only a few teams run plays, go with back-door plays. Sometimes I just turn it off. If you do it right, you can climb a lot of mountains.
Do you still handle a basketball, work out? In other words, does The Big O still have it?
(Laughing) I'm healthy. Every now and then, I'll pick up a ball and shoot. I still make a few.