Robert Lee “Bob” Pettit Jr. (born December 12, 1932) is an American retired professional basketball player. He played 11 seasons in the NBA, all with the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks (1954-1965). He was the first recipient of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. He also won the NBA All-Star Game MVP award four times, a feat matched only by Kobe Bryant. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970.
In 1954, the Milwaukee Hawks selected Pettit second in the first round of the NBA Draft after the Baltimore Bullets’ selection of Frank Selvy. With $100 in the bank, he signed a contract with Hawks owner Ben Kerner for $11,000 – an all-time high for an NBA rookie then. Pettit’s awkward ballhandling and a lack of strength to battle NBA bruisers weighing 200 pounds that early in his career, had Hawks coach Red Holzman move him from center, his position at LSU, to forward in his first training camp. “In college I played the standing pivot,” he said in a April 1957 issue of SPORT magazine interview. “My back was to the basket. In the pros, I’m always outside. Everything I do is facing the basket now. That was my chief difficulty in adjusting, the fact that I had never played forward before.” Though many were skeptical about Pettit making the transition from college to the rough-and-tumble NBA, in 1955 he won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award after averaging 20.4 points and 13.8 rebounds per game. He became the second rookie to win all-NBA honors but the team finished last in the Western Division. After the season, the Hawks moved to St. Louis.
He helped the Hawks improve during their first year in St. Louis by winning 33 games during 1955-56. In his second season, Pettit adjusted his game so that he would get to the free-throw line for easy points for his team and foul trouble for his opponents. Being a phenomenal offensive rebounder and an instinctive scorer, he told basketball historian Terry Pluto that “Offensive rebounds were worth eight to 12 points a night to me. Then I’d get another eight to 10 at the free-throw line. All I had to do was make a few jump shots and I was on my way to a good night.” Pettit won his first scoring title with a 25.7 average, and led the league in rebounding (1164 for a 16.2 average). He was also named MVP of the 1956 NBA All-Star Game after scoring 20 points with 24 rebounds and 7 assists; he would win subsequent MVP All-Star Game honors in 1958, 1959, and 1962. He also won his first of two NBA regular season MVP awards (the other was in 1959).
Pettit was an NBA All-Star in each of his 11 seasons, was named to the All-NBA First Team ten times, and was named to the All-NBA Second Team once. Pettit still holds the top two NBA All-Star Game rebounding performances with 26 in 1958 and 27 in 1962, and has the second highest All-Star Game points per game average with 20.4 (behind only Oscar Robertson). Pettit averaged at least 20 points per game and at least 12 rebounds per game in each of his 11 NBA seasons. He never finished below seventh in the NBA scoring race and no other retired player in NBA history other than Pettit and Alex Groza (who played only two seasons) has averaged more than 20 points per game in every season they’ve played (note: Michael Jordan averaged exactly 20 points per game in his final season).
In 1970, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Pettit was named to the NBA’s 35th Anniversary Team in 1980, and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.
Career highlights and awards
NBA champion (1958)
2× NBA Most Valuable Player (1956, 1959)
11× NBA All-Star (1955–1965)
4× NBA All-Star Game MVP (1956, 1958, 1959, 1962)
10× All-NBA First Team (1955–1964)
All-NBA Second Team (1965)
NBA Rookie of the Year (1955)
2× NBA scoring champion (1956, 1959)
NBA 25th Anniversary Team
NBA 35th Anniversary Team
NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
No. 9 retired by Atlanta Hawks
Consensus first-team All-American (1954)
Consensus second-team All-American (1953)
No. 50 retired by LSU
Career NBA statistics
Points 20,880 (26.4 ppg)
Rebounds 12,849 (16.2 rpg)
Assists 2,369 (3.0 apg)