Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A Trip Down Memory Lane with Oscar Robertson and Bob Boozer ... Two of the Best Hoopsters to Ever Play the Game

Oscar Robertson was the greatest college basketball player that I ever saw perform, and Bob Boozer was another great player that I was privileged to watch in person. And then I would go home and try hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to emulate their many on-the-court moves. Oh, the memories.

Growing up near the basketball hotbed of Peoria, Illinois, and while a high school player, I watched in awe when the 'Big O' and the Cincinnati Bearcats came to town to play their arch rival Bradley Braves in Missouri Valley action. Bradley's then superstar 'Chet the Jet' Walker was right there to 'greet' them upon their arrival.

And I was able to witness then superstar Bob Boozer in action as well. Boozer came to Peoria for one year and competed for the nation's AAU champion Peoria Cats (to preserve his amateur status) after being selected as an All American and graduating from Kansas State in 1959. He died in 2012.

Boozer and Robertson played together for the U.S. Olympic gold medal team in 1960 and then later as teammates on the NBA Cincinnati Royals.
Oscar Robertson Jumped Through Hoops to Win Big is subtitled 'The NBA's 'Player of the Century' looks back on his family's Indianapolis shack:'

{NOTE: If you click on the article, there's a great photo of the 'Big O' in action in the 1959 NCAA regional game against Big 8 champion Kansas State. Although unidentified, also in the picture is Bob Boozer (#30), who starred at Kansas State before spending a year in Peoria playing for the Peoria Caterpillar AAU team.

Boozer and Robertson then teamed up both for the 1960 U.S. Olympic team and later for the NBA Cincinnati Royals. Thus, Boozer and Robertson were first NCAA opponents and then became Olympic and NBA teammates.}

But that's more than enough nostalgia from me. Now let's hear from the man himself, the 'Big O.'


"Oscar Robertson, 76, is a former NBA player, voted “Player of the Century” in 2000 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He is author of “The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game.”. . . 

I was fortunate back in the 1940s. Though I grew up poor in Indianapolis, I learned to play basketball with the city’s best players in a park we called the Dust Bowl. I didn’t experience racism firsthand because I didn’t interact with many white people then. That would come later.

I was born in Charlotte, Tenn. My grandparents owned a farm and 14 acres. All of my relatives lived within a five-mile radius. We had a cow and hogs, and my grandfather sharecropped to raise hay and corn to feed the animals.

When I was 4, we moved to Indianapolis, about six hours north. We had relatives there, and we lived with my Aunt Inez for a few years. Finally, in 1946, my father was told there was a beat-up shack available on Colton Street. He rushed over and got it.

The house was a tar-paper shotgun shack built in the 1890s. There were two bedrooms. My older brothers, Henry and Bailey, and I slept in one, and my mother and father were in the other. Both my parents had to work—my mother worked two jobs and eventually became a beautician. . . . My father worked for a meatpacking plant.

The first time I held a basketball was in the eighth grade. I started playing in a Police Athletic League club on the Dust Bowl, the asphalt court next to the Lockefield Gardens housing project. Kids from all over the area played there. I stood 5 foot 8 inches tall then. That summer I went to visit my grandparents in Tennessee. When I came back, I was 6 foot 4. . . .

I practiced my moves and shots at the Dust Bowl, watching other players and reading basketball books. I learned from a lot of great players, particularly about the importance of working as a unit.

When I was a sophomore at Crispus Attucks, an all-black high school, I joined the team. We won the state championship my junior and senior years. . . .

High school was never a problem academically, and I had many exceptional teachers. School always came first. Coaches made sure you were in school and they posted your grades. I never had one teacher mention basketball.

College was a shock. I went from an all-black school to the predominantly all-white University of Cincinnati in 1957. I was there on a scholarship and was the only black player on the team. The prejudice was tough, from students and some professors. It shocked me at first, but I let it run off my back. I was there to earn a business degree. Once I got on the court, it was a different story. I was accepted. The team made it to the Final Four twice but we never won a championship. I was named Player of the Year in all three years I played. I also made the dean’s list.

After college, I was co-captain of the 1960 Olympic team that won the gold medal, and then I joined the Cincinnati Royals. The following season, I averaged a triple-double for the entire season—double-digit totals in points, rebounds and assists. When I was traded to the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970, I joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and we helped the team win its only NBA title in 1971.

 Today my wife, Yvonne, and I live in Cincinnati, in the same house we bought in 1976."

Summing Up 

Oscar Robertson unquestionably was the greatest college basketball player that I ever saw perform.  And Bob Boozer was the top AAU player I had the pleasure of watching and 'studying.'

And the 'Big O' was a serious student as well.

To be eligible to play as an Olympian in 1960, Boozer postponed his NBA career by playing a season for the Peoria Caterpillar AAU champions, and I'm happy that he did.

For this oldster, the 'good old days' spent growing up in Chillicothe, Illinois (near Peoria) really were good days. 

While there was plenty of time set aside for both playing and watching basketball, somehow we managed to squeeze in our academics as well.

We weren't anywhere close to perfect at any of this, for sure, but neither were we all bad.

It has been and still is a fun ride.

That's my take. 

Thanks. Bob.

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