My Life, My Times, My Game

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This is the story of perhaps the greatest all-around player in basketball history, told straight from his mouth.

The name Oscar Robertson nowadays gets mentioned in conjunction with one of basketball's seminal accomplishments: the triple-double season. The year was 1962. He was all of twenty-three. No player in basketball history had ever done this. No one has done it since--not Magic Johnson, not Larry Bird, not Michael or Kobe. Throughout the first five years of his career, he averaged a triple-double.

Videotape does not do him justice. The images are washed out, the colors faded and fuzzy in a manner associated with bygone eras, the fashions and style of play not aging well. And yet there is palpable greatness.

He was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on the first ballot, and the National Association of Basketball Coaches named him their player of the century. ESPN put him among their fifty greatest athletes of the century, the National Basketball Association on their list of the fifty greatest players. On and on. So many accolades that they run into one another.

But the story of Oscar Robertson is about much more than basketball. The story of Oscar Robertson is one of a shy black child growing up in a city so segregated that, until he is ten years old, his only exposure to white people is the distant memory of two Tennessee farm owners whose land his father had worked. It is the story of a poor family, and absent parents working long hours without complaint or reward.

The story of Oscar Robertson is also the story of the basketball-crazed state of Indiana and Crispus Attucks High School, the high school he led to the state championship. He joins the University of Cincinnati's basketball team and handles the ball on the perimeter in a way that has never been seen before.

Oscar Robertson enters the NBA with the Cincinnati Royals, who have been just barely holding on as they wait for the fledgling star. Robertson does not disappoint. Moving to the backcourt, he simply revolutionizes the game.

The story of Oscar Robertson is one of a superstar at the height of his career becoming the president of a union, the National Basketball Players Association, using his fame to try to improve conditions for all basketball players. It is the story of the man who sues the NBA for the right to free agency.

He is thirty-one years old when the Milwaukee Bucks trade for him. And so Oscar Robertson's story is also the story of a veteran player who joins young superstar Lew Alcindor (the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and leads Milwaukee to an NBA championship.

It is the story of a man who, at thirty-four years old, is forced to leave the game. Who is blacklisted from coaching and is forced out of broadcasting. Who must face questions not about whether he fought the good fight, but how he fought it.

Two years after he leaves basketball, after six years of legal wrangling, Robertson wins his lawsuit with the NBA. It is the story of a man who revolutionized the game of basketball twice: once on the court, and once in the way that the business of basketball is conducted. It is the story of how the NBA, as we now know it, was built. Of race in America in the second half of the twentieth century. Of a complex hero. An uncompromising man. It is Oscar Robertson's story.


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Published January 1, 2003 by Emmaus, PA, U.S.A.: Rodale Press, Incorporated, 2003.
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Sports & Outdoors. Non-fiction

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