One of the stories my dad liked to tell about his years at the University of Cincinnati involved a spontaneous trip to the drive-in theater with a couple of guys frugally shoved into the trunk.
One of those guys was my dad, a 6-4 defensive lineman, and the other, so the story goes, was his friend and fellow athlete Oscar Robertson.
I met up with Mr. Robertson last night at the Red Smith banquet and asked him about that trip.
“We were pretty big guys,” he laughed. “I think it would have been hard to fit both of us in a trunk.”
In addition to their height, the two men shared a lifelong affiliation with their alma mater, UC. Both men have been inducted into the school’s athletic hall of fame, and, after graduating and playing professionally, both men returned to campus to further their education. My dad earned his master’s degree during the football off-seasons, and Mr. Robertson earned a doctorate of humane letters in 2007.
The following year Robertson received a lifetime achievement award for philanthropy and entrepreneurship.
Called the Big O, Robertson earned unprecedented success on the basketball coach and was named “Player of the Century” by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
He was NBA Rookie of the Year in 1960-61, played in 12 straight NBA All-Star Games, was selected to the All-NBA First Team nine consecutive seasons, won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award in 1963-64, and helped the Milwaukee Bucks win the NBA Championship in 1971. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1979 and named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996-97.
Throughout his mind boggling professional, collegiate (in 2006 he was named to the inaugural class of the National Collegiate Hall of Fame) and Olympic accomplishments (he won a gold medal), Robertson remains loyal to the teams whose jerseys he wore.
He attends nearly every Cincinnati home game and took over as interim head coach in 2004 during UC basketball coach Bob Huggins’ month-long suspension for drunk driving.
He maintains ties to Wisconsin as well and he and his wife Yvonne travel here frequently. In fact, my dad used to see him every year at a pro-am gold tournament in Milwaukee.
Oscar Robertson’s rise to fame did not come easily; he battled poverty and discrimination along the way.
Still, loyalty to his teams, his alma mater, his family and his sport, remains his legacy as much as all of those incredible athletic accomplishments.