The case for Robertson

Editor's note: This first appeared in the 2002 Student Sports National Boys Basketball Record Book. Student Sports is now part of ESPN RISE.

Oscar Robertson should be No. 1 on any of these type of lists for one reason: he was the greatest all-around player in history.

Nobody who ever played the game at three levels -- high school, college and professional -- can match the Big O for combining scoring, rebounding and passing. The evidence is so convincing to be almost redundant.

For starters, he's the only NBA player ever to average a "triple-double" for an entire season and it came in his second campaign (1961-62) with the Cincinnati Royals. The averages: 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists.

While triple-doubles in a single game are today's hallmark of greatness, in Oscar's case such milestones were a matter of normalcy. In his first five NBA seasons, his cumulative average was mind-boggling: 30.3 points per game, 10.4 rebounds per game, 10.6 assists a game.

If occasional triple-doubles are any true standard for superstar sanction, then Robertson seemingly played on a separate planet and ruled on a different plane of perfection. What he did was perform at a higher level and for a longer period in more vital areas than any other player.

In his 14-season, 1,040-game pro career, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Hall of Fame guard averaged 25.7 points, 9.5 assists, and 7.5 rebounds for a 42.7 per game total. He left the NBA as the second leading all-time scorer behind Wilt Chamberlain and the all-time assists leader.

Robertson was an 11-time NBA All-Star and three-time MVP of the all-star game.
But the Big O was just as impressive in college and high school.

At the University of Cincinnati, he not only was a three-time All-America selection (freshmen weren't eligible in those days) and three-time National Player of the Year but became the first player to lead the nation in scoring three times with averages of 35.1, 32.6, and 33.7. At the same time, he averaged 15.2 rebounds and over seven assists a game.

With Robertson leading the way, the Bearcats also played in two straight NCAA title games in 1959 and 1960. He left college with 14 NCAA records and a then NCAA record 2,973 career points. The Big O helped the U.S. team win the 1959 Pan America Games before serving as co-captain with Jerry West of the 1960 gold-medal U.S. Olympic team, considered the greatest amateur team ever assembled.

A legendary high school player in basketball-crazed Indiana, he led his Crispus Attucks team in Indianapolis to the first-ever unbeaten state championship season of 1956 when he was selected National Player of the Year. He averaged 26.0 points as a senior and 24.0 points for his career which ended with 45 straight wins and two state titles in 1955 and 1956. The 1954 winner was Milan High, featured in the movie 'Hoosiers.' If Oscar was a year younger, it's doubtful that story and that movie never would have happened.

While contemporary basketball, in many areas and on different levels, has become rather one-dimensional and individual in design, the career of Oscar Robertson is not only noteworthy but stands above the pack.

For those who respect versatility, there seems little to debate. Oscar Robertson is the greatest pure basketball player and deserves the title "Best Baller Ever."