25th Anniversary Spotlight: Oscar Robertson “The Big O”

January 11, 2017

Oscar Robertson, also known as "The Big O," is considered the greatest all-around player in the history of basketball. As a players’ advocate, he has left his mark on professional sports in the courtroom as well as on the court. A consummate leader, he also has distinguished himself as a social activist, a mentor and teacher, a business owner and a philanthropist.

On the court, the 6-foot-5 Robertson set new standards of excellence at every level. The first big point guard who could score from anywhere, rebound, pass and play defense; he created a template for later stars. In 1998, the U.S. Basketball Writers renamed their Player of the Year award "The Oscar Robertson Trophy." In 2000, he was named “Player of the Century” by the NABC.

As president of the NBA Players Association from 1965-74, he made an even bigger impact on basketball with a class action anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA. A 1976 settlement, known as the "Oscar Robertson Rule," helped NBA players become the first major professional athletes to achieve free agency. In 1992, Robertson co-founded the NBRPA and served as its first president until 1998.

Robertson was born in Charlotte, Tennessee and raised in Indianapolis, where he graduated in the top 10 percent of his class at Crispus Attucks High School. He led the Attucks to two consecutive state titles – the first for an African-American or an Indianapolis school, as well as a national championship, the first by an African-American school in any sport. As a senior, he was Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” and the National High School Player of the Year.

At the University of Cincinnati, "The Big O" earned a business degree in four years and led the Bearcats to the 1959 and 1960 Final Fours.

A three-time first team All-American, he was the NCAA’s first three-time scoring leader and the first to win College Player of the Year honors three times. Following graduation, he co-captained the Pete Newell-coached 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal team. He is listed among the NCAA’s all-time leading student athletes, and in 2007, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Cincinnati as well as its William Howard Taft Medal, the highest honor it bestows on an alumnus.

During his 14-year Hall of Fame NBA career – 10 with Cincinnati and four with Milwaukee – he led his teams to 10 playoff appearances. He was Rookie of the Year in 1961, MVP in 1964, a 12-time All-Star and MVP in three All-Star games. In 1961-62, he averaged the first and only “triple double” for an entire season (30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists per game).

In 1997, "The Big O" performed the assist of a lifetime when he donated a kidney to his daughter Tia. Since then, he has served as an advocate for health and wellness, organ transplantation and kidney disease prevention on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation.

One of the nation’s leading small business owners, Robertson is the CEO of companies in the areas of specialty chemicals, document management, processed foods and media. Starting in 2000, Robertson served as a director for Countrywide Financial Corporation, until the company's sale to Bank of America in 2008. He holds a Lifetime Achievement Award for entrepreneurship from the University of Cincinnati. The Oscar and Yvonne Robertson Scholarship Fund which assists deserving minority students, is also held at the University of Cincinnati. After his retirement, Robertson worked to improve the living conditions of African-Americans in his hometown of Indianapolis by helping to build affordable housing.

Robertson is the author of autobiography, “The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game,” and “The Art of Basketball.”