Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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(Original Caption) Oscar Robertson, of the Cincinnati Royals, is shown handling the ball against a member of the opposing team, the Baltimore Colts. /

15. Oscar Robertson

  • Resume: 14 seasons, 1 NBA championship, 1 regular season MVP Award, 11-time All-NBA selection, 12-time NBA All-Star, 3-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, Rookie of the Year Award, 6-time NBA leader in assists, Sacramento Kings’ all-time leading scorer, one of only two players in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire season, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 25.7 PPG, 9.5 APG, 7.5 RPG, .485/—/.838 shooting splits, 23.2 career PER, 189.2 win shares

Don’t get it twisted; averaging a triple-double over the course of a full NBA season is a feat we never thought we’d see again until Russell Westbrook did it three straight times. Russ shouldn’t diminish what Oscar Robertson did either, since it came well before the modern era. These weren’t 11-14-10 Rajon Rondo triple-doubles, either. In his second year in the league, The Big O put up 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. But [insert ESPN 30-for-30 voice] what if I told you that averaging a triple-double means nothing when your teams don’t win?

I mean, isn’t it a little bit telling that the year Oscar pulled off his remarkable triple-double feat that his peers didn’t vote him league MVP? Isn’t it worth noting that Robertson’s teams won a grand total of two playoff series until he was well past his prime and finally won a championship alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? And shouldn’t it matter that Robertson was a notorious stat-stuffing perfectionist who, talented as he was, could never bring out the best in his teammates? On second thought, he might have more in common with Russell Westbrook than just the triple-double thing.

It sounds insane to say that about a guy who averaged a triple-double over the course of his first five seasons in the league, but it’s also worth noting that the Cincinnati Royals eventually traded him later in his career because he was no longer worth the hassle.

From an individual standpoint, The Big O was a point/shooting guard hybrid way ahead of his time. He overpowered defenders, was an excellent passer with undeniable court vision and it should be noted that Robertson’s career may have turned out much differently had his early years not been overshadowed by the ugly effects of racism.

Mr. Triple-Double was the only player not named Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain to win the MVP Award from 1960-68. He was a master of his craft, and that mastery made his teammates afraid to fail around him. The Big O is one of the most well-rounded and greatest talents the NBA has ever seen, but he had too many good teams for us to just overlook his lack of leadership and playoff success.