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  • The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game
  • Jarrod Jonsrud
Robertson, Oscar. The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010. Pp. ix+342. Credits, illustrations, and index. $19.95.

Certainly in the discussion of the greatest basketball players of all-time, the list of Oscar Robertson’s on-court achievements astound contemporary audiences. Robertson flourished on the hardwood in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In one season Robertson did what no one has done since: he averaged double digits in points, rebounds, and assists for an entire season. But times were not always so rosy for Robertson. This newly reprinted edition of Robertson’s autobiography The Big O, originally appearing in 2003, chronicles Robertson’s life, both the high points and the low, with the intimacy only an autobiography can provide.

In spite of Robertson’s occasional memories of big game situations and tension-filled accounts of last-second shots and game winning plays, the overriding perspective of this [End Page 524] autobiography remains decidedly combative. Robertson provides an alternative perspective to many of the stories published by the media and rumors started by the organizations he played for and against. He believes that the basketball world failed to consider him for front office, coaching, and media positions immediately following his playing career because of his outspoken crusade for players’ rights as president of the National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA).

Rather than offering an apology for his combative tactics, however, The Big O displays Robertson’s pride by recounting his various achievements, both on and off the court. Concerned that fans and players of today’s game have forgotten the game’s historical context, The Big O reminds readers of the difficult path he and other pioneering players paved. A true appreciation for basketball, in Robertson’s estimation, comes only to those who understand how the history of basketball has influenced and guided the present.

Robertson begins his narrative, naturally, at the beginning. Documenting his impoverished upbringing in Indianapolis, Robertson briefly describes his childhood and high school years, spending the majority of the book on his collegiate and professional playing career. There are other books that offer a more detailed account of his high school playing career, (Randy Roberts, But They Can’t Beat Us). The first high school from the Indianapolis area to win an Indiana State High School Basketball Championship, Robertson’s Crispus Attucks Tigers were celebrated but because they were an all-black team from an all-black school, city officials became nervous that riots might break out and altered the destination of the annual celebratory parade. The City Council’s racially motivated decision marked what Robertson remembers as his first taste of unequal treatment as an African American. The racial slights and insults continued well into his professional career and beyond, but Robertson never let them define him.

Shy by nature, Robertson avoided confrontation whenever possible, except when he felt his values had been compromised. His time as president of the NBPA represented his stubbornly passionate pursuit of dismantling the collusion of NBA owners and ending their exploitation of players. Robertson’s biggest success in this pursuit was vanquishing the archaic stricture that limited player movement by binding him to one team for the entirety of his careers, effectively ushering in the era of free agency that shapes today’s game.

Winding the reader through a series of accomplishments, setbacks, and milestones The Big O’s narrative succeeds in highlighting and reviving the richness and significance of the historical and cultural context in which Robertson found himself. Robertson shines when he describes the game’s beauty and flowing transitions; the rhythm and harmony of the game played right; the grace and ease with which the best players performed. Robertson’s intimate knowledge of the game aids in his ability to speak poetically of the ball as an extension of the hand and the vision he possessed to anticipate what move to make next. As he recounts his own experiences playing with and against archetypal figures such as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bob Cousy, and Bill Russell, a sense of their importance to the game comes...


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pp. 524-526
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