This week, I was lucky enough to be able to interview collegiate and NBA legend Bob Pettit. In the interview, Pettit touched on growing up in Baton Rouge, his time at LSU, what it was like to play against Bill Russell, differences between when he played and now, and more.
In college, Pettit made the First-team All-America team his senior season and made the Final Four. He averaged 24.5 points and 15.1 rebounds per game during his 11-year NBA career. He made the All-Star game every year of his career. He was a 10-time 1st team All-NBA selection, four-time All-Star game MVP and two-time league MVP. Most notably, his St. Louis Hawks were the only team able to break up the dynasty of Bill Russell’s Celtics by winning the 1958 NBA title.
Growing up in Baton Rouge playing basketball, was playing professionally even something you thought about or was playing at LSU your biggest goal?
No, I didn’t even think about doing it. Never entered my mind until I was a senior at LSU. The NBA was very little known about. I didn’t even know all the teams. I was drafted by the Milwaukee Hawks and I had never even heard of them until I was drafted. I had only heard of the Minneapolis Lakers, the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics and that was it.
You were cut twice from your high school team at Baton Rouge High your freshman and sophomore years. How did that affect the way you approached basketball?
Well, I didn’t get cut freshman year. I played junior ball. I was the last man on the junior team and I say that simply because the bus broke down. We didn’t have room for one player and I was left at home. So, I figured I was the last man. I went back as a sophomore and got cut. It just made me more determined to decide that I was going to play by the time I was a senior and that was my ambition.
Do you have a favorite off-the-court moment from your time at LSU?
Not really, nothing in particular; I lived at home a couple of years on Olive Street when I was going to LSU so there wasn’t much outside activity that I got involved in. My whole life was playing basketball.
What makes you most proud from your time at LSU?
Well, number one, I always planned on living in Louisiana. So I thought it’d be foolish of me to go off to school somewhere and then come back here and live in Louisiana. I think that I was very proud of the friends I made, the friends all over the state. I know people from pretty much everywhere in Louisiana and that comes from my years at LSU and I think that was probably the big thing I remember. I got a good education, but the friendships and the connections and all of that would probably be my thing that I remember the most.
What were you thinking the moment when you were told or approached that there would be a statue of yourself at LSU?
I was very excited about it. Probably as excited as anything that has ever happened to me. I thought that it was a tremendous honor and something that I could be very excited about and I continue to be. They did a wonderful job on the statue. All I told them was to give me muscles and to give me hair and they did that. So it was a tremendous honor and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was.
What was the experience of unveiling it with your grandchildren like?
That was what was exciting. They told me I could invite somebody, one person, to come and help me unveil it. They told me Shaquille [O’Neal] had gotten his mother to come and I said well how about 10 people? Can I invite 10? They said sure so I got all 10 of my grandchildren to help me take the tarp off of it. I think they were very excited about doing it and I was very excited that they were able to participate. I think it’s something they will remember for a long time.
Who was your favorite player to play against in the NBA and who was the toughest?
I didn’t really have a favorite to play against or a guy I liked to play against, but I will say that the best that I ever played against was Bill Russell. I thought he was the greatest single, individual player. The best all-around player was Oscar Robertson. I played against those guys six or seven years, maybe 50, 75 times or more. So I was very familiar with both of them. Oscar played some all-around play every day and Bill put his dominance on the defensive end. They were probably the two greatest players, if I had to pick two, that I played against.
When you played, many players had jobs during the offseason. Did you have one and what was it?
I worked in Baton Rouge in the real estate business with my mother and father. They had a real estate company and I worked with them.
Did that help prepare you for your post-basketball life?
Well, I don’t know that it helped me a great deal afterward. It was nice. I got used to working in the offseason. I always knew I had to get a job and go to work when I finished playing basketball.
What really helped me was that I was offered a job at the American Bank in Baton Rouge and I worked there two or three summers while I was still playing basketball and that helped me a great deal because I went to work with the American Bank when I quit playing so those offseason months that I worked there when I was still playing were a great help because that’s what I wanted to get into.
What do you think is the biggest difference between today’s game and when you played?
The rules are so much different. The three-point line obviously because we didn’t have anything like the three-point shot. I think that’s had a great influence.
We only had eight teams in the league when I went up there. Now they have 30. We only had maybe 80 or 90 players in the NBA of all the players in the country. Now, I don’t know how many play today. 400 probably.
The players are also bigger, stronger and jump higher. They’ve had better training early. We had no training whatsoever. I didn’t play organized basketball until I was a junior in high school and today the kids are playing so young. I went to watch my grandson play baseball yesterday and he’s seven years old. So, it’s so much different today. Kids are starting when they’re four, five and six years old and start working on the team from that point on. We never had that so I think that’s why these players are so good coming out of high school. They’re playing summer leagues and All-Star games. They’re playing against all this great competition. So when they come out of high school, a lot of them are ready to go in the NBA. In my day, nobody was ready to go in the NBA.
What do you think about LSU missing the tournament this season with Ben Simmons?
I was sorry. I followed them closely and I was hoping that they’d be able to get there. They had some problems at the end of the year that knocked them out. It’s a shame. I think they’re hoping next year that things will be better.
I’m 6’6″ so I’m interested in how often you get asked about your height and if you played basketball.
Usually a couple times a day.
I just want to thank Mr. Pettit for taking the time out of his day to be interviewed by some college student. He really could not have been nicer.
Featured Image Courtesy of Cavaliers Nation