You probably know two things about Oscar Robertson: he’s the only NBA player ever to average a triple double and he carries a reputation for bitterness. Reading his autobiography you get an understanding of what led to both. Growing up black in a segregated America and joining the NBA at a time when there was no such thing as free agency are pretty good reasons to be bitter. Coming of age in the Midwest as the game of basketball was about to enter it’s golden age opened the door for an unbelievable legacy as a player.

While The Big O: My Life, My Time, My Game presents a reasonably written account of Oscar Robertson’s life that’s not the reason to read this book. The reason to read this book comes from the incomparable ground level account of basketball history. Robertson rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest players, teams and moments in basketball history throughout his career from high school in Indiana to college at Cincinnati and on to the NBA with Cincinnati and Milwaukie. A few examples:

  • Robertson’s high school team was knocked out of the 1954 Indiana state basketball playoffs by Milan. You know the 1954 Milan team as Hickory High School from Hoosiers.
  • In each of his three college seasons (freshman weren’t yet eligible) Roberts led the NCAA in scoring, was named an All-American and was named national player of the year. The US Basketball Writers Association eventually renamed their national player of the year The Oscar Robertson Trophy
  • Robertson co-captained the gold medal winning 1960 Olympic basketball team with Jerry West. West would go on to become the NBA logo.
  • In Milwaukie Robertson won a championship with Lew Alcindor who would go on to set the all-time NBA scoring mark as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Robertson was traded to Milwaukie after a falling out with Royals coach Bob Cousy who he also played against.
  • Robertson was an NBA Players Union president and one of the named plaintiffs in the ABA-NBA merger litigation that led to the creation of free agency for NBA players in 1976. No need to explain the impact of free agency on the NBA.

The list could go on and on but you get the idea. The Big O may not be the most brilliantly written book you will read this year but if you’re a fan of NBA history it is an incredible first person account of the roots that would grow into the NBA we know today. In the end you’ll be in awe of what Robertson did as a player and a little understanding of why he got bitter. More than anything it will leave you wishing there was more footage of the NBA in the 60’s and 70’s.

The Big O was published in 2003 but you should be able to find a used copy when you’re ready to give it a read.