By: Jim Brown, Jim Brown's Common Sense
Psychologist Carl Jung wrote that we are born to need heroes. Having a hero in our lives nurtures us, gives us hope, lifts us up, gives us reasons to dream and be inspired. Every kid has a special champion they admire and look up to. I was no exception. Early on they were sports superstars.
I went to high school in St. Louis before my folks moved to Louisiana. Baseball and basketball stars were my early idols as a kid growing up cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals professional baseball and the basketball Hawks. I was in attendance at Busch Stadium on a May Sunday afternoon when Stan the Man Musial hit five home runs in a double header. What a magic day that has never been repeated in baseball. I never stopped admiring and cheering on the guy who was considered the greatest baseball player of his day.
I could list a number of other special sports moments and superstars I look up to. But at the top of my list was, in my opinion, the greatest basketball star who ever played the game. He grew up in Baton Rouge and set records galore both at LSU and in the N.B.A. No, not Pistol Pete Maravich. Sure, he was spectacular on the court and was as good a scorer as they come. But my hero, then and now, was and is Bob Pettit.
Bob Pettit's rise to one of the all time greats began at Baton Rouge High back in the early 1950s. He couldn't even make the squad in his freshman and sophomore years, but then he blossomed to lead his high school team to the state championship and gain a scholarship to LSU. And then did he blossom, becoming a two-time All American, averaging 28 points a game in his career. His No. 50 jersey has been retired forever and hangs at the P. Mac on the LSU campus.
Then Pettit joined the St. Louis Hawks, and was an NBA all-star in all 11 seasons he played. I constantly badgered my Dad to take me to the St. Louis Arena to watch Pettit play. And after the game when I went home, I headed for the basketball goal on our garage to shoot for hours and try to imitate Bob Pettit on our driveway court.
Let me tell you how captivating the Hawks and Pettit were to our community. The Hawks and the Boston Celtics, with star Bill Russell, were playing for the NBA championship on a Saturday afternoon back in 1958. I was competing in the Missouri district track meet and was about to run in the high hurdle finals. But the meet was halted for the large crowd in attendance to listen over the loud speakers to the final minutes of the Hawks-Celtics game. Pettit hit the winning basket in the final seconds scoring 50 points for the contest. Yes, I won the race, but the highlight of the day was Bob Pettit's super performance.
I had hoped to be a college star like Pettit, and was lucky enough to be recruited by legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith. But a superstar was not on the radar for me, and I stayed on the track in college. When I ended up in Louisiana, what a treat it was to meet and get to know my hero Bob Pettit. He became a successful banker down in Jefferson Parish, and was always available over the years with advice and political support. He was looked on as a gentleman in both business and sports.
Last week, a statue of Bob was unveiled on the LSU campus right outside the basketball center. He had one of the great jump shots in the game, and his statute shows him in the same pose that allowed him to be the first NBA player to score 20,000 points.
When it comes to national politics, the nation rarely excels. But in college sports, the Bayou State has created many superstars. And at the top of the list is my personal longtime hero, Bob Pettit. We sure could use many more just like him.
"I guess the best player I ever played with was Bob Pettit.
He was probably the most dedicated ballplayer."
NBA Star Ed Macauley
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown's syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com
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