heinnews’ David Hein took some time at EuroBasket 2009 to talk to NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson as part of his induction into the FIBA Hall of Fame. They discussed entering the world basketball body’s Hall; if any player will ever average a triple double like he did in 1961-62; players going directly from high school to the NBA; if he could play in today’s NBA; money in the game today; and LeBron James.
heinnews: Hello Mr. Robinson, congratulations on being elected to the FIBA Hall of Fame. What does this honor mean to someone with so many other achievements?
Robertson: I have had a lot of honors but this is not something that I anticipated. My friend Bill Russell is in the FIBA International Basketball Hall of Fame. When you get older, things are a little bit different than we you are younger. You don’t expect some things. This is truly an honor. And I certainly appreciate the FIBA Hall of Fame giving me this honor.
heinnews: One of your biggest achievements was the triple-double you accomplished in the 1961-62 season. What did you think about your triple-double when it happened?
Robertson: To be honest, I didn’t know anything about it. I did not know I was averaging a triple-double at all. It only came about much, much later when (Larry) Bird was playing along with Magic (Johnson) and some other players. And they started talking about triple-doubles. They had to go back into the archives to find it out. Which means to me that they missed a lot. But this is what happened with Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. They’re not counted when you talk about blocked shots because they started much later in basketball in the 70s and 80s, which is a real insult to them both as defenders. But this is where we are, they missed a lot.
heinnews: Do you think anyone can average a triple-double any more?
Robertson: My style of play was that I wasn’t a shooter. I was a guard who got people set up and involved in certain things. But then I had to shoot also. I think it would take a lot of minutes in a game to do that. But I don’t think players today play as many minutes as I did as a guard. I averaged like 46 minutes a game. These players don’t have that kind of stamina at all. It’s too demanding. The way they play this game they won’t be able to do that at all. I mean who averages 10 rebounds a game? Very few players. Centers don’t even average that many. (Dwight) Howard averages 13. But he’s a center. He’s 7-foot. He should get that every night and sometimes he doesn’t.
heinnews: What is your opinion about players going directly from high school to the NBA?
Robertson: Ah, if you can play, you can play. I know a lot of people are talking about this kid (Ricky) Rubio. I don’t think he’s ready to play. I’m glad he came back. He’s not ready to play. He’s not strong enough. It’s one thing to out-dribble somebody. But all of these guys can dribble in the NBA. And some of them are so strong, it’s unbelievable. You cannot understand how strong they are. They push and hold a lot.
heinnews: When you take your game at your prime and put it in 2009 what do you think you could do?
Robertson: It’s really amazing when people ask you that. What if these players went back and played when we had eight basketball teams. How many would play and how many would not play? A few of these guys playing you don’t even know who they are. You have guys playing today who averaged seven points a game in college. When I played, everybody who was an All-American came to the pros. And you were averaging 20 or 30 points a game. Some guy from Ohio State – I don’t even know his name – averaged seven points a game. He’s in the pros, playing somewhere. They have a lot of players like that. You just don’t know who they are. And then you get kids out of high school, which is difficult. I don’t think other than a few exceptions that you can count on your hand – like LeBron (James) and Kobe (Bryant) and Howard – you don’t find players like that in the pros. When you’re young it takes a while. It takes a while to improve yourself, to make yourself a better player.
heinnews: Looking at all this money in today’s game, did you make any Money in basketball?
Robertson: I didn’t make a million dollars in 14 years. That came way after me. The guys who play now make a lot of money.
heinnews: Are you disappointed about that at all?
Robertson: It happens. I’m happy to have played when I did. I played against some great athletes on the court – some of the greatest of all time. I think the NBA is smart. They’re limiting the size of contracts because I don’t think those gates are what they used to be.
heinnews: Do you think LeBron is destined to land in New York?
Robertson: Everybody is talking about LeBron. Does he want to get into movies? Does he want to do some kind of theatrical work on the live stage? If you have a great team you can pretty much do that anywhere you are? You don’t have to go to New York. I mean, New York isn’t going to win anything. I think that’s probably one of the worst franchises there is right now – from a player sense. The last six years their number one draft choices haven’t done anything. A first round pick should be a starter. If he can’t start for you, you made a terrible mistake.
He is a global icon. They just need to improve their team. They need a center, they need dominant guards which they don’t have.
heinnews: Looking at his game, what is the ideal position for LeBron?
Robertson: He should play forward but they have him outside. When he’s outside that means the guards aren’t doing their job because he’s out there with the ball and they’re standing around trying to figure out what to do. This is why Orlando beat them. Orlando had a very good team, quick team, quicker up and down the court. And Cleveland couldn’t combat that at all.