It was hard to predict that Bob Pettit will become one of the best power forwards in NBA history when he was growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Pettit was having trouble making his high school team at the time, even though he was tall and skinny. It wasn’t until his third year he managed to make the team and finally show off all the hard work he put into becoming a better player. It didn’t take long for Pettit to adapt, as he grew to 6’7” by the end of his senior year and dominated, averaging 31 points per game in his final season.
Colleges didn’t show too much interest in Pettit, but he eventually signed with the nearby Louisiana State University, which later became the home of names like Pete Maravich and Shaquille O’Neal. Although they weren’t the strongest basketball team at the time, Pettit managed to bring some attention to himself, averaging 24.7ppg and 12.5rpg during his third year, leading LSU to their first SEC Conference Championship after 20 years and a Final Four appearance.
Pettit got drafted 2nd overall in the 1954 Draft and entered a new era of quicker NBA basketball due to the 24-second shot clock being introduced. Bob was far from the strongest player, but that didn’t stop him from dominating all the other power forwards in the NBA, averaging 20.4 ppg and 13.8 rpg in his rookie season, winning the ROY award, first-team All-NBA honors, and an All-Star nod. It was the perfect start to an NBA career. Pettit would build on a hot start in his second season and already win his first MVP award, setting numerous statistical records.
At 6’9” and 215 lbs, Pettit wasn’t strong enough to bang with the centers in the NBA, so he transitioned to the power forward position, a move that saved his career. Still, he wanted to get stronger to have a longer and better career, so after his second season, he hired a personal trainer and started lifting weights. A move that was rarely seen at that time, as coaches believed it could ruin a player’s feeling for shooting and handling the ball. Even though he was the MVP at just 24 years old, Pettit felt he needed to get stronger. And that was precisely what he did, putting on about 10 pounds of muscle and becoming an even more dangerous player, vastly improving his rebounding.
He would go on to dominate the NBA for 11 years, winning the championship in 1958 by beating the infamous Celtics team led by Bill Russell, and notching numerous individual awards like 11x All-Star appearances, 2x MVP awards, 2x scoring titles, and many more, leaving a deep trail in Hawks and NBA history.
Pettit eventually retired in 1965, at just 32 years old, due to numerous injuries slowing him down at an alarming pace. He would retire as the first player in history with 20 000+ points and 10 000+ rebounds. Pettit’s legacy would be remembered by his loyalty to the Hawks through his whole career and his reputation as one of the scrappiest players ever, known for his rebounding, especially on the offensive boards.
Too bad they weren’t tracking stats for offensive rebounds at that time, but anyone who watched him play knows he was a menace to box out. Bob Pettit was a revolutionary player, proving you can combine strength and skill, securing his name in the history books as one of the best power forwards ever.