The NBA celebrates NBA 75 roster players almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is St. Louis Hawks great man Bob Pettit. This story about Pettit, the season after being NBA Rookie of the Year, originally appeared under the title “Hawks tab Pettit Game’s Greatest Shotmaker” in the November 30, 1955 issue of The Sporting News.
S T. LOUIS, MO. – Alex Hannum is a long-term balding professional basketball veteran now serving as a gunman with the St. Louis Hawks. He’s seen them all in recent years and isn’t too quick to praise them, but when it comes to handsome baby-faced Bob Pettit, Louisiana State’s six-nine ace of the Mound City cagers, Hannum smiles:
“He’s the greatest. Yes, I said the greatest. They just don’t come out better in the complete game and in taking shots.”
Another pro hitting expert, Chuck Share, the Hawks’ seven-foot stronghold, shares a similar appreciation for Pettit’s uncanny ability to bounce and count. Share is also sparing with his bouquets for others, but he does not hesitate when Peltit’s name is mentioned.
“Bob is the type of person who can’t play the whole game because he’s not as badass as some of us,” Share explains, but then he compliments him: “We might just use it to stop at times, but it will always get you. Those 20 points. What more could you ask for? He’s the best. “
This is all by way of introducing last season’s National Basketball Association “Rookie of the Year” and the guy who voted most likely to take over the glory of professional basketball who once seemed to rest only on massive shoulders. Of the one and only George Mikan, who retired last year, experts acknowledge Pettit has the best chance of dethroning Philadelphia’s Neil Johnston as the rebounding and scoring champion.
“I’m just a beginner”
Yet all this glory and pressure comes lightly to Pettit, who remains a smiling, polite young man at just 22 (he will turn 23 in December). American stature at LSU, it stands to reason that it won’t break now. He is simply an excellent and honest young man who is not ashamed of everything: he loves to play basketball and only does what he likes. Why all the fuss?
“Please remember,” he commented quietly in his Baton Rouge accent, “I’m still learning. We collect new advice in every game. When I look back at last season, I can see where I made so many mistakes. Our team is young. and we’re just starting to work together. We have a long way to go and I’m just a beginner. “
This humility has been a part of Pettit Story since he couldn’t make the high school team the first year he tried. Determined that this would not happen again in his third year, he asked his father if he could erect a practice goal in his backyard. Bob Pettit, Sr. was receptive to the idea because he had also played basketball while attending Westminster College in Denver.
“I was pleased to see his interest in sports, although I didn’t think it would necessarily go very far,” recalls the robust six-by-four father. “But I guess I was wrong, because he made a career out of the game.”
Night lights for baskets
Not only did Bob set that goal, but he also practiced day and night. When it got dark, he would go to his room, open the window, which was just above the basket, and turn on two study lamps on his desk. These served as night lamps for their baskets. Later, he joined a church league at his Baton Rouge YMCA and soon returned home with a handful of trophies – his team had won the title.
When he returned to Baton Rouge High School and basketball in his junior year, he was an entirely different Pettit. Not only was he part of the team, but he also starred. In his senior year, Baton Rouge won the state crown and Bob was selected to the southern team of the annual high school All-Star Game in Murray, Ky. Interestingly, the Baton Rouge team that year only lost nine games – all in a row. You see, Pettit was hospitalized with mumps during that siege. Upon their return, they went on to win 17 in a row.
At the time, college scouts were converging on Baton Rouge and the Pettit family’s sense of justice was immediately evident, Bob, Sr., agreed with Bob, Jr., that his hometown LSU was the best for he and quickly signed up with Coach Harry Rabenhorst, dean of coaches for the Southeastern Conference. This took place before Bob headed to Murray, Ky., Avoiding unnecessary bidding for college scouts.
The tournament meant more to Pettit than being inducted into All-America High School, because it was there that he learned of a boys’ camp in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, operated by Ray Meyer, then DePaul’s coach and the man who developed Mikan. . . Bob took the opportunity to serve as a counselor at the camp and throughout the summer term he practiced every day and saw images of Mikan in action every night.
Expect to emulate Mikan
“Mikan became the man I looked up to,” Pettit admits shyly. “I was hoping one day to get closer to his ability. Another man who has meant a lot to me is Frank Brian from Fort Wayne, a cousin of mine. He was a former LSU great and I always hoped I could follow in his footsteps.”
During his freshman year at LSU, Petit worked with John Chaney, a former pro, who put him through regular jump rope drills and daily drills under the basket to hone his rebounding and spike shots, two assets that have thrilled soccer players. NBA fans.
“He’s especially good at forecasting,” says Red Holzman, his current coach. “He has such graceful movement, expert timing and amazing wrist action. He has fingertip control. He only needs to touch the ball when he’s up and in.”
“I would compare his wrist action and fingertip control to Boston’s Easy Ed Macauley,” says Grady Lewis, the former professional cage trainer and now close to the national cage scene as a roving representative of Converse Rubber Co. “It actually reminds me a lot of Macauley, but it’s even better. It can do a lot more.”
Pettit wasted little time breaking records in college, as in his sophomore year he averaged 25.5 points in 24 games, set an all-time LSU scoring record, set a conference mark of 50 points in a game against Georgia and reached a new record of 359 points in 14 conference games. He continued splurging through his junior and senior years, making every All-America. He surpassed his 50 total by falling to 57 against Georgia as a senior and 60 against Louisiana College.
With Kentucky ineligible during his junior term, LSU clinched the league crown with a 14-9 record, then defeated St. Louis U. in the Sugar Bowl classic finals, won the NCAA regional in Raleigh , NC, by beating Holy Cruzó in the final and then lost to Washington in Washington in the first round of the national championships.
25 points against Kentucky
One of the best shows he put on was against Kentucky during his sophomore season, when he scored 25 points, but LSU lost in the final seconds, 44-43. This game was for the SEC championship and while it was outstanding, Pettit notes. this as his number one disappointment. He would rather have scored half of what he would have won if his team had won.
Pettit was owner Ben Kerner’s first draft pick last season, he did it right big time. He finished fourth in scoring with 1,166 points in 73 games for a pace of 20.4. He averaged 40.7 in field goals and was third in the league in rebounds with 994. There was little doubt about his “Rookie of the Year” winning honors and he was also chosen on the NBA’s first all-star team, only second. rookie. honored.
On a personal level, Pettit is one of the most educated and considerate young men one can find. He also has a strong business head and in the off-season helps his father with insurance and real estate in Baton Rouge.
Although she professes an interest in dance and hillbilly music, she confesses that she has no love interests at the moment. “I’m not much for that,” he answers seriously.
Owner Kerner sums up Pettit’s greatness better than anyone:
“He’s just a gentleman, truly a gentleman, and brother, what a player. How could I break down at the time of the contract if I wasn’t such a nice kid. “