Hardworking: industrious, diligent
Bob Pettit is a poster child for the old adage “Practice makes perfect” as he was a hard worker through and through. A man who would be the recipient of the League’s first MVP award and would become an All-Star in EACH of his eleven NBA seasons and would also be one that was cut from his Baton Rouge basketball team, not once, but twice.
Unlike many teenagers who may become discouraged from being cut from something they loved and held dear, Bob never did this. Under the encouragement of his father — a county sherif – he practiced until blisters formed on his palms. He, tirelessly, practiced his shot until he felt his shoulders burning with soreness.
Wouldn’t you know it, but Pettit would make his junior team and during his senior year, in which he was a vital source in which his high school would win a state championship. It was this state championship that would lead him to earn a scholarship from Louisiana State University and would average 27.4 ppg during his college tenure. Also during this time, he went from being 6’4″ as a junior in high school to 6’9″ as a senior at LSU.
“Absolutely. The same things apply: The preparation, the hard work, and dedication you bring to basketball produce the same results in the business world.” I did the same preparation for my life outside of basketball as I did when I played. I think the proper mental approach is very important: Know what you have to do and then work hard at the job – be very dedicated to success.” - Bob Pettit in a phone interview with Dr. Jack Ramsay
He would be drafted by the Milwaukee Hawks in 1954 in the first round, and was met with skepticism by critics that saw a lanky athlete, but doubted he would amount to much in the NBA.
And, would those critics by eating crow.
He silenced his critics the first season by winning Rookie of the Year, played his first All-Star game and All-NBA First Team and averaged 20.4 ppg and 13.8 rpg. Not too shabby for a player that was questionable in terms of what he could bring to the NBA.
I just wanted everybody to see that I worked hard, that I’d give my full effort all the time. In business, I try to surround myself with the best people and then let them do their thing.” – Bob Pettit
The Hawks still finished last in their conference and in the off-season the team would be moved to St. Louis. The following season the team would improve to 33 wins and Pettit would be named MVP — at the tender age of 23 he would capture this honor — and All-Star MVP.
However, things would come together for the Hawks during the 1956-57 NBA season when they were able to obtain Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan from the Celtics for the draft rights to Bill Russell.
Despite the Hawks 34-48 record that season, they would eventually advance to the NBA Finals and whom did they meet? Yes, the mighty Celtics. It was expected that the Celtics would devour the puny Hawks, but unbeknownst to them and the Celtics, the Finals would be forced to a Game 7.
The game would be a thriller, in which Pettit would have a decisive hand in, and thanks to his free throws the game would be forced into overtime. Then a second overtime occurred, however, the Celtics had a two-point advantage in the closing seconds, and despite a last-attempt shot at the buzzer by Pettit, Boston would win the game and the championship.
The proof was in the pudding: During the Hawks 1957 playoff stint, Pettit had a remarkable averages of averaging 29.8 PPG and 16.8 RPG.
The following season, the Hawks would improve to 41 wins as Petit averaged 24.6 PPG and 17.4 RPG; Pettit would also become the All-Star MVP. During the postseason, the Hawks and Celtics would meet again in the NBA Finals, and this time, Pettit and company would seek revenge. In six games, they would be able to tear the NBA Championship from Boston; of course Russell’s ankle injury in Game 3 would help the Hawks in the long run. He did try to play in Game 6, but the injury proved to be too much for Russell. However, Pettit had a phenomenal game scoring a playoff record of 50 points.
Yes, workhorse Bob Pettit was able to get his NBA Championship.
The following season, Pettit was named MVP — again — led the league in scoring — 29.2 PPG — and was second in rebounding right behind the beastly Bill Russell — 16.4 RPG — and the Hawks remained strong for the next few season thanks to Petit’s diligent production. In 1959, they lost in the Western Finals to the Lakers and would lose to the mighty Celtics in the Finals of 1960 in 7 games. The two teams would meet again in 1961 and Pettit and crew would lose to the Boston juggernaut in 5 games.
The Hawks would be on the decline after that fourth Finals matchup with the Celtics, but Pettit had one of his greatest seasons ever during 1961-62. He was averaging a mind-boggling 31.1 PPG and 18.7 RPG. The following season, the Hawks bounced back, but would be defeated by the Lakers in a seven-game series and the next season was much of the same as they lost to the San Francisco Warriors in the division finals in seven games.
During this time, despite the Hawks losing in the Division Finals, Pettit would keep at a high-level of production, but finally during the 1964-65 season, he would be sidelined. Despite his knee injury, he still averaged 22.5 PPG. However, at the end of the season Bob Petit threw in the towel.
At 32 years old, Bob Pettit would retire accumulating 20,880 points (26.4 PPG) — and at the time, the most ever — 12,849 rebounds (16.2 RPG).
Bob Pettit’s Accomplishments
- NBA Champion (1958)
- 2× NBA Most Valuable Player (1956, 1959)
- 4× NBA All-Star Game MVP (1956, 1958–1959, 1962)
- 11× NBA All-Star
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1955)
- 10× All-NBA First Team
- All-NBA Second Team (1965)
- 2× NBA Scoring Champion (1957, 1959)
- NBA 25th Anniversary Team
- NBA 35th Anniversary Team
- NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
Bob Pettit went from a young man being cut twice during high school, to a man with little expectations of success in the NBA, to a diligent and relentless force in the NBA.
There has been many statistical herculean beasts through the ages, but Bob Pettit was one of the first, a hard-working statistical legend.
Credit: Sports Illustrated, Getty Images for photos; Basketball Reference, NBA Encyclopedia for statistical/game information