Updated: May 12, 2022
Ranked at #28 in my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time https://www.djssportsshow.com/post/nba-75-greatest-players-of-all-time is one of the greatest power forwards ever, and probably the first star stretch-4 who helped the St. Louis Hawks (now Atlanta Hawks) capture their one and only franchise championship in 1958, the one and only, Bob Pettit. Pettit was born on December 12th, 1932, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pettit would attend Baton Rouge High School, where he was cut from the varsity basketball team as a freshman and a sophomore.
He would develop his skills in a church league as a sophomore, with his physical stature growing as well, growing five inches in less than a year. Pettit would work tireless hours on his game in the backyard of his home, and it paid off, helping him to become a starter for his school team, and make All-City prep team as a junior. As a 6-foot-7 senior, he led Baton Rouge to its first state championship in over 20 years.
Upon his completion from high school, Pettit had offers from various universities, but would ultimately decide to attend Louisiana State University to play for the LSU Tigers, where he would go on to have a historic collegiate career. As a Tiger, Pettit was a three-time All-Southeast Conference selection, and a two time All-American.
Pettit made his varsity debut in 1952 (freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity back then) and would lead the SEC in scoring for his first of three consecutive seasons of averaging at least 25.5 points per game. In 1952, he ranked third in rebounding (13.1 RPG), while also being third in scoring to help lead his team to a 17-7 record.
During his junior year, Pettit and the Tigers swept through a 23-game season, losing only once to Tulsa. They won their second SEC title behind Pettit’s dominance of 24.9 points and 13.9 rebounds per game. He would only elevate his game more his senior year, posting averages of 31.4 points and 17.3 rebounds per game. LSU would three-peat as SEC champions with Pettit also setting a then SEC scoring record of 60 points against Louisiana College. He also had the scoring average record as well, with Pete Maravich later breaking it.
After that season, Pettit was the second player ever to average 30 or more points in major-college basketball history. He would go on to be selected second overall in the 1954 NBA Draft with the Milwaukee Hawks (now Atlanta Hawks) after an extraordinary collegiate career. When he first came onto the NBA scene, no one thought he was talented enough to make it as a professional basketball player, as he was deemed too frail at 200 pounds to survive a NBA season… boy, the scouts were wrong.
He started his career off strong by winning the league’s Rookie of the Year award by averaging 20.4 points and 13.8 rebounds. He also played in his first All-Star Game that season and earned the first of 10 consecutive selections to the All-NBA First Team with one Second Team one as well. He also has four All-Star Game MVPs (tied for most with Kobe), led the league in rebounds (1956), and scoring twice (1956, 1959).
Ultimately, Pettit was considered the best forward of his era, and was the only player to ever beat Bill Russell’s Celtics, which he did in 1958 by scoring 50 points in the clinching Game 6 victory, while also being named a two-time MVP (1956, 1959).
A knee ailment sadly forced Pettit to retire in 1965 at just the age of 32. Who knows what else he would have accomplished if he played five more seasons. Despite that, Pettit accumulated 20,880 points (26.4 ppg), the most ever scored in the NBA at that time, and his 12,849 rebounds ranked him second all-time.
He never averaged fewer than 20 points, nor did he miss an All-Star Game in any of his 11 seasons. His rebounding totals were no less impressive: he never fell below 10 rebounds per game for a season and his career average was 16.2 — third best in league history behind Wilt Chamberlain and Russell. He is sadly never mentioned among the great power forwards ever due to the media always discrediting players pre-1980s which is, in my opinion, disgraceful.
Pettit was a ferocious rebounder, had a sweet jumper, and could put the ball on the floor. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970, and was named to the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996.