Book Review: The Big O

This week's book on the train was the autobiography of Oscar Robertson.   Robertson has always been one of the players who's most intrigued me.   His stats are legendary making me wonder if he was significantly underrated as a player.   If you ask Oscar, the answer is yes.
It's interesting reading this book, Bob Love's book, and Wayne Embry's book.   They all span similar time periods and have similar themes of how those players dealt with the racism which was (is?) running rampant throughout the NBA.   While Embry and Love's book both go to great length to discuss how they dealt with a lot of racism but let it go, Robertson takes the opposite path.

Some will read this book and leap to the conclusion that Robertson is bitter, paranoid, anI d exaggerates.   That he clearly holds a grudge and won't let it go.   I think there's clearly bitterness and a grudge, but it's not paranoia when they really are out to get you.   I can't say I've experienced racism much in life, but if I dealt with the things Robertson did, then I think I'd be awfully bitter about most of it too.  

I largely viewed his stories about the racism he dealt with as honest and any paranoia of thought had was justified by past experience.  Besides telling you how it was on issues of race within the league, Robertson makes no attempt to be humble.

If you ask him if he could play on Michael Jordan, then he's insulted that you asked.   The answer is obviously yes, that he'd wear Jordan out.  He considered himself a near perfect player due to his versatility and ability to compete in all facets of the game.

He's a huge booster of the talent in his era, and he use per game stats as the primary method to show how much better players of his era were.   Mocking present players for not getting 20 rebounds a game like players in his era.   As a statistics junkie this made me want to ask him, "You know in your era, there were 70 rebounds per game and in the present one there are 45.   If you played in this era, you'd have averaged about 6-7 rebounds a game in your best years". 

Many of his points about statistical analysis show a lack of understanding of creating an apples to apples comparison (or as close as you can to that) between eras.  

Moving past my personal pet peeve, his stories were only interesting.   The only complaint I really had about the book is the lack of balance between his playing career and his role in the NBPA once the sections on his NBA life started.

I craved a lot more information about his law suit against the league to prevent the NBA/ABA merger, the striking down of the reserve clause, and his role in forming the players union.    There were sections on all of these things, but given the length of the book, I would have thought they could have been covered with more depth though maybe there simply was nothing else interesting to say about them.

One of the reasons Robertson is so under-appreciated is that few fans understand the role he had in securing players rights and negotiating on behalf of the league.   He's simply more interesting than a star player who simply played the game, and while the book does get that message across to a degree, it could have added quite a bit more and removed a few of the redundant stories relating his monster box scores in random games.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone willing to learn some more about the history of the league.

Overall: 8/10.


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  • There are reasons certain players had more rebounds in the earlier days: 1)benches were not as deep and starters logged heavy minutes, e.g. Wilt most often played all 48 minutes of a game; 2)due to less emphasis on defense in the old days there were generally more shots attempted leaving more opportunities for rebounds.

  • It is sad to see bitterness over racism in people like Oscar, who seems to me to be like Hank Aaron in this regard.

    I can't speak to what they went through, but when all is said and done they still led charmed lives that most of us only dream of.

    In my highschool and college days I worked in construction with many black men of Oscars' and Aarons generation. Very few of them were bitter or racially scarred. They all seemed like nice guys, much more gentlemenly, despite their lack of formal education than many of today's younger generation of blacks who haven't faced anywhere near the racism that thier elders did. I liked working with them, and they always treated me well every summer when I came back.

    It seems to me that many black athletes have racial bitterness, Bill Russell always seemed to be another. I have personally met a few at social events, and I usually come away shocked by how racist they are.

    It wouldn't surprise me if Robertsons views on racism also color his views regarding the caliber of players from his day and today.

    My guess is that in today's game Oscar would still be a star but he would never average a triple double. While he is absolutely a top 10-12 player alltime, Magic and Michael are my starting backcourt.

    the guy needs to let old bitterness go and enjoy the rest of his life, he certainly isn't facing any racism today and hasn't for years, if not decades.

  • Do the same with Rodman's best season's and he probably beats Wilt and Russell. That is why I actually think that Rodman is underated.

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