The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is St. Louis Hawks big man Bob Pettit. This story about Pettit, on announcing his retirement at age 32 after 11 seasons (and one championship, 1958) in the NBA, originally appeared in the March 13, 1965, issue of The Sporting News.
ST. LOUIS, Mo. — For the second time in less than a year and a half, the fans of St. Louis faced the loss of a genuine sports immortal when the Hawks Bob Pettit announced his intention to retire from professional basketball at the end of this season.
The 32-year-old Pettit, who has been the key figure in the success of the Hawks since the National Basketball Association club was transferred here from Milwaukee in 1955, announced what he termed “the biggest decision of my life,” at an emotion-filled press conference, March 1.
His departure from the playing ranks follows the retirement at the end of the 1963 baseball season of another St. Louis super-star, Stan Musial, the Cardinals’ great hitter for more than 20 years.
Pettit said a series of injuries this season was not a factor in his decision. He cited two main reasons for deciding to call it quits.
“First of all, I have an excellent opportunity with a bank in Baton Rouge, La., where I am an assistant vice-president, and I am anxious to get back and learn the business,” he said.
“But by far the biggest reason is that in the past 11 years I have set certain standards for the way Bob Pettit should play and I do not feel that I could maintain these standards for another season.
“I could probably play another year and perhaps play well, but my performance would be below my standards and I do not think the fans would like to see this,” he added.
Whether Pettit’s playing career has already ended was still uncertain.
Even at the press conference, a heavy plaster cast covered most of his left leg, protecting a damaged knee, his third major injury this season.
Pettit, however, said he hoped to get his leg in shape in time to play in the final few games of the regular season and in the playoffs. “I’d hate to go out this way, sitting on the bench,” he said.
The former All-America at LSU confirmed that he plans to be married to Miss Carole Crowell of Alexandria, La., but said this had nothing to do with his decision to retire.
Hawk owner Ben Kerner spoke after Pettit, but broke down with emotion before he could finish his statement. The club’s attorney, Mike Aubuchon, finished reading it.
Kerner said, “I could speak for hours on Bob’s accomplishments, the image he has given the Hawks and the contributions he has made to basketball. All these are engraved in the record books. But more than that, Bob, by his conduct on and off the court, has been a credit to pro basketball. His humility, conscientious work and his great desire to excel created a high image.
“There may have been greater players,” continued Kerner, “but none with greater desire and dedication. He is the pro’s pro, the owner’s dream.”
Tribute from Kerner best summarized Pettit, the player, when he quoted Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics’ defensive genius.
“There’s not a greater competitor in sports today than Bob Pettit,” said Russell. “He made ‘second effort’ a part of the sports vocabulary.”
An all-league performer every year since he was the No. 1 draft choice of the Milwaukee Hawks in 1954, Pettit led St. Louis to the world championship in the 1957-58 season and five straight Western Division titles from the 1956-57 campaign through 1960-61.
The 6-9, 230-pounder has never averaged less than 20 points a game in the NBA. He led the league in scoring twice, in 1955-56 with a 25.7 average and in 1958-59 with a 29.2 mark. His best season from the standpoint of points was 1961-62 when he scored at a 31.1 clip.
After winning rookie-of-the-year honors in his initial season, Pettit was named the NBA’s most valuable player in 1956 and ’59. He has participated in every all-star game since entering the league and was voted the outstanding player in four of the contests.
Pettit admitted that becoming the first player in the history of the NBA to score 20,000 points was his last great personal goal. He reached this total in November and had 20,841 points at the time of his retirement announcement.