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The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game Hardcover – November 15, 2003
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While The Big O: My Life, My Times, My Game will not disappoint basketball purists longing for Oscar Robertson's play-by-play of favorite games, the attraction of this autobiography is Robertson's perspective on the evolution of the sport and on the racial struggles that were the context of his formative years. Called by many basketball experts the greatest all-around player ever, Robertson earned an astonishing array of honors including an Olympic gold medal, 12 NBA All-Star appearances, the NBA Rookie of the Year award, and the 1964 NBA MVP award. Most remarkably, Robertson remains the only player in basketball history with a triple-double season (double-digit averages for scoring, rebounds, and assists).
While Robertson could have easily candy-coated this impressive record for his retrospective, he devotes large sections of his book to the racial battles he faced off court, and his final chapters recount his controversial efforts as an NBA union leader to create free agency, a pension plan, and disability protection for players. In telling his life story, he lays bare the racism and mistreatment he suffered at the hands of individuals and institutions throughout his career, from the Mayor of Indianapolis and Cincinnati University to the NBA and CBS Sports. At times, his critiques can seem excessive (e.g. his discussions of the distortions in the film Hoosiers, while interesting, are repeated a bit too often), and some sections (like his attempts to compare himself to contemporary players) border on self-indulgence. Yet, he seems justified in arguing that his achievements--largely accomplished on second-rate teams, against a back-drop of unprecedented racial strife, and before the modern era of sports-media saturation--are easily underrepresented. In the end, The Big O offers a complex, human portrait to complement a spectacular sports career. --Patrick O'Kelley
From Publishers Weekly
As one of the NBA's all-time greats, Oscar Robertson has much to pass on to both his old fans and young basketball enthusiasts perhaps unfamiliar with his legacy. Whether it was winning Indiana's famed statewide high school tournament (and playing in the first all-black final, the first time black teams had made the final), winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics or making the NBA all-star team 12 times, the author certainly made his mark on sports history. But while listing his accomplishments and including the testimony of former teammates, coaches and opponents effectively details his greatness, the Big O feels compelled to constantly remind readers of his eminence with statements like, "By all accounts, I was the best all-around player of my era"-though the case has already been clearly stated. He also spends much of the epilogue explaining how no modern player compares to him in his prime. Arrogance aside, Robertson's rise from sharecropper's grandson to world-class athlete and his dealings with overt racism throughout the journey (as a college player, he was told to leave an all-white Houston hotel in the middle of the night) offer wonderful lessons for young athletes. Robertson's experiences playing for the NBA (Cincinnati and Milwaukee) in its bumbling early days, such as the time his team arrived at their arena only to find the circus already set up, are entertaining, too. Still, one may wonder why Robertson, humorless to the final buzzer, came away with so much more bitterness than joy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
While many people come from poor backgrounds, particularly basketball players, Oscar's is particularly interesting due to the very rural nature of his upbringing in Tennessee. Most of his early life was centered on working in fields, church and family. A move to inner city Indianapolis was significant in his development as a basketball player. And this is where the book becomes very interesting as Oscar conveys the first noticeable slights from racism. Oscar has always been very well mannered projecting a great image. And maybe in many ways this hid the hurt he was feeling from racism or maybe I was just too young to hear about it.
After rising to a top star, Robertson commits to a smaller school, U of Cincinatti, amid rumblings of improper recruiting. He dispels most of this and introduces boosters or mentors who took his best interests at heart and helped him grow as a man. He also meets his wife who he describes in glowing terms, clearly a very strong marriage that eventually yields two daughters. This is another interesting part of the book as one of his daughters suffers from a disease requiring an organ transplant.
Robertson starts his pro career in his hometown of Cincinnati with an under funded team which creates conflicts throughout his career there as money and a good supporting cast is always short. Discussing his pro career you can really see his bitterness with the pre-free agent market and how he had to fight for his money and was often blamed for putting himself above his team. This for a man that averaged a triple-double. If you follow the NBA today, you will almost find the numbers thrown around as comical.
Clearly, this book has generated controversy as Robertson has alluded to racism throughout the book. While it didn't match the impression I had of Robertson, I found he supported his positions well even though you may not agree with the outcome.
Overall, I found this to be an excellent book of a basketball icon in the late 50s to 70s. If you have interest in sports in those periods, life in America in those periods, or a short view of race relations at that time, I think you will enjoy this book as much as I did.
Certainly, racism in the fifties was much more a gigantic hindrance to the lives of most black Americans from that time. It was no different for Robertson who recounts numerous instances of racism directed at him and his friends, family, and other black citizens where he grew up. And certainly racism was a shameful part of American history.
But you get the feeling that Robertson goes out of his way to blame racism for virtually everything bad that happened to him in his career. He still feels that while progress has been made in the area of race relations, the country is still institutionally racist. The book was written before Obama became president, but even before Obama gigantic progress had been made. But Robertson still seems to feel racist, nasty white people are behind every black failure, even though his own career is an example of a very intelligent, determined person who happened to be black. He states that he's grateful for basketball in giving him a wonderful life, and if not for the game, he'd be back in Indianapolis doing menial jobs. I sincerely doubt that. People with Robertson's talents (and not just athletic) eventually rise in the world. It's obvious that he has never been able to shake the bitter memories of real racism so that now he thinks everything bad that ever happened to him was because of racism. Robertson devotes whole sections of his book to accusing various white people or the country in general of racism. He even recounts the canard about Muhammad Ali aka Cassius Clay throwing his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River.
The fact is, there will always be racism. But millions of people of all colors and ethnicities fail every day. Including millions of white Americans. Can we trace their failures to racism? Maybe they're just failures. Robertson doesn't seem to grasp that racism as a reason for black failure ended decades ago. It's been almost fifty years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights bill and affirmative action (or affirmative discrimination.) But Robertson feels the country still isn't doing enough for black Americans even though trillions of dollars have been spent on various welfare programs and other transfers of public money to black Americans. Black faces are numerous in many areas where previously none existed. He's a committed liberal who doesn't understand that the biggest impediment to the success of black Americans has been the Democrat Party. He's undoubtedly one of those liberals who firmly believe the more you give people i.e. freebies funded by taxpayers, the better off they'll be. It doesn't work that way.
It's a shame that so much of his bio is given to diatribes about racism when his life story is so interesting. Much of the book is very interesting reading. He writes with a flair and the story of his youth (in Tennessee as well as Indiana) is exceptionally interesting. Also absorbing are his descriptions of life as a college and professional player. Which is why I purchased the book in the first place.
But when you've finished the book, you're still left with the impression that Robertson is still very bitter. The worst way to go through life is thinking you can't succeed because someone is holding you back. The only thing holding back 99% of Americans is themselves. Maybe he has a right after some of the horrible experiences he went through, but it doesn't help not to recognize the changes the country has gone through for the better.
I am only on page 10 but this is the book I wanted to read. Oscar tells it like he saw it. I appreciate his honesty and not sugary coating it.
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