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Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson honored by NBA for his work on and off the court

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NBA stars Oscar Robertson, at left, and Magic Johnson get together at a Black History month event at the Sharonville Convention Center in 2016. Photo by Michael Mitchell

By Herald Staff

Turner Sports and the NBA honored Cincinnatian Oscar Robertson, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer and 12-time NBA All-Star, with the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 NBA Awards on TNT Monday in Los Angeles.

Raised in Indianapolis and a Cincinnati resident since his playing career, Robertson (“Big O”), who is perhaps the greatest basketball player of all time, forever changed the game of basketball both on and off the court.  On the court, Robertson was the first big guard to play “positionless basketball” who could rebound, play defense, distribute the ball and score from the inside and outside, He is widely recognized as one of the best all-around players in the history of the game.

Robertson was the first player in NBA history to average a triple-double (double figures in points, rebounds and assists) for an entire season (1961-1962), and he remains the league’s all-time leader in triple-doubles with 181.

Named among the NBA’s 50 greatest players of all time, Robertson’s other career-making individual accomplishments include the NBA Rookie of the Year (1961), NBA MVP (1964), three NBA All-Star Game MVPs and nine All-NBA First Team honors.  He and the Milwaukee Bucks won their only NBA championship in 1971 amid 10 combined playoff appearances with the Cincinnati Royals and the Bucks.

Among other historic firsts in his career, Robertson led the Crispus Attucks High School basketball team in Indianapolis to two consecutive Indiana state championships, becoming the first all African American team in the nation to win a state title in Class A playoffs.

Robertson was the first three-time national College Player of the Year while at the University of Cincinnati and a three-time First Team All-American.  In 1998, the U.S. Basketball Writers Association renamed its college player of the year award, the Oscar Robertson Trophy.

He co-captained the undefeated 1960 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball team and was part of the first team of NBA players to tour abroad for the U.S. State Department under the Johnson Administration in Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia and Egypt.

Off the court, Robertson’s impact on basketball was even more significant.  As the first African American president of any national sports or entertainment labor union, Robertson was the longest-serving president of the National Basketball Players Association from 1965-1974.  His anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA in part sought changes in the NBA Draft and players’ movement.  The 1976 settlement – known as the Oscar Robertson Rule – changed the balance of power in professional sports and ushered in free agency in the NBA and other professional sports.

Robertson also co-founded the National Basketball Retired Players Association and served as its first president from 1992-1998, dedicated to improving pension benefits and medical care for an earlier generation of players.

For his achievements in both college and professional basketball, Robertson was named Player of the Century by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2000.

Last year, 11-time NBA champion, five-time NBA MVP and Hall of Famer Bill Russell received the first Lifetime Achievement Award at the NBA Awards. 

Robertson told Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel, “When you play ball for a long time, you get beat up a lot. You win, you lose. It’s a real competitive thing. And now this comes along, and it’s just wonderful. Almost like running a long race — you keep running and running and running, and boy, finally you can see some daylight.”

Robertson became the longest-running NBPA president in history: nearly a decade, from 1965-74. Along the way he won important pension benefits from the league, but his biggest contribution to the union — and the biggest wedge between the NBA and one of its greatest players — came in 1970 when the Robertson-led union filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NBA to end the reserve clause. Six years later the union won free agency by negotiating a favorable settlement in a bruising legal battle that bears his name: Robertson vs. National Basketball Association.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Sunday that Robertson was chosen because, “Oscar is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in NBA history, and his staunch advocacy for the game and its players continues today. He remains a wonderful resource to me and others in the league, and will always be one of the most consequential members of the NBA family. We are thrilled to recognize Oscar’s lasting impact with our Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Robertson told Doyle, “It means a lot. I’ve gone through quite a bit because of ‘the Oscar Robertson rule, but it is what it is, and I’m so happy to have been part of that. Look what it’s done for basketball.”

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