Years Active: 1955 – 1965
Regular Season Stats: 792 games, 38.8 mpg
26.4 ppg, 16.2 rpg, 3.0 apg, 43.6% FG, 76.1% FT
Postseason Stats: 88 games, 40.3 mpg
25.5 ppg, 14.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 41.8% FG, 77.4% FT
Accolades: 2x MVP (1956, ’59), 10x All-NBA 1st Team (1955-’64), All-NBA 2nd Team (1965), 11x All-Star (1955-’65), 4x All-Star Game MVP (1956, ’58, ’59, ’62), NBA Title (1958), 2x PPG Leader (1956, ’59)
“I never tried to be a team leader in basketball. I wasn’t a guy who did a lot of talking. I just wanted everybody to see that I worked hard, that I’d give my full effort all the time. In business, I try to surround myself with the best people and then let them do their thing.” And if that doesn’t succeed? “Then we all sit down, talk it over, and work things out.”
That’s a fairly accurate description Bob Pettit gave of himself in that interview with Jack Ramsay. Many have worked as hard as Pettit but none harder. You listen to him speak for any length of time and invariably he returns to the ethos of hard work, determination and consistency. These would be hallmarks of his Hall of Fame career.
Bob’s initial forays into basketball were strongly encouraged by his father, a sheriff in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Despite being cut from the high school team twice, the practice ultimately paid off as Pettit eventually made the squad and would subsequently led them to the Louisiana state title. A fairly successful stint at Louisiana State University followed where he averaged ho-hum 27 points and 15 rebounds a game in his time as a Tiger. His play in these years, however, was predicated on him being a back-to-the-basket, low post threat. And at 6’9″ he had the height, but with only a scant 200 lbs to that frame, he didn’t have the weight to succeed in the pros that way.
So, Pettit totally retooled his game upon entering the NBA and would prove to better than ever.
Despite the fears over his frailty, the Milwaukee Hawks selected Pettit 2nd overall in the 1954 Draft. The Hawks were abominably terrible the previous year winning only 21 games. Their leading scorer was Don Sunderlage with a sizzling 11 ppg. Pettit immediately seized the reins of the team and although they improved to only 26 wins his rookie season, Pettit put together a spectacular campaign of 20.4 ppg and 13.8 rpg.
His success was due to virtually abandoning being a back-to-the-basket player and instead becoming a dangerous marauder. He was one of the first big men(not just in position but in actual height) to roam the court and thrive on constant movement. He had a tremendous mid-range jump shot and could score off the dribble with some skill but his biggest money maker was with the incessant attacks he made on the offensive glass and with off-the-ball cuts. Bill Russell, quite the authority on hustle and rebounding, had this to say about Pettit:
“Bob made ‘second effort’ a part of the sport’s vocabulary. He kept coming at you more than any man in the game. He was always battling for position, fighting you off the boards.”
Pettit made the All-NBA 1st Team, which he would do until his final season, and ran away with the Rookie of the Year award in that 1954-55 season. Likewise, the Hawks were ran out of Milwaukee that offseason. Facing dismal attendance, owner Ben Kerner moved the club to St. Louis in hopes that the team (and his pocketbook) would finally succeed. The move turned out better than he could have imagined.