When LeBron James cracked the top 25 in all-time assists on Monday night, he joined a club so exclusive it has just two members: Oscar Robertson and James, the only men to rank in the top 25 in both points and assists in NBA history. But it’s not the first time these two legends’ stories have been intertwined.
Perhaps it’s because LeBron’s place in the NBA somewhat resembles that of Robertson — heretofore unseen combinations of size, skill and athleticism. Both were threats to put up triple-doubles on any given night, though Robertson was clearly a bigger one — you may have heard once or twice that he’s the only player ever to average a triple-double over the course of a full season. People have been comparing the two for years, even back to the beginning of LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland.
And as far back as 2009, Robertson and LeBron have had a wealth of mutual respect for one another. Maybe it’s because of those on-court similarities, maybe it was because both of them had to leave their longtime franchises in Ohio to win a championship with a better supporting cast, but there’s always been love between The King and The Big O.
Robertson called LeBron the best player in the NBA back in ’09, when LeBron vs. Kobe was a real debate. And Oscar himself drew the parallels between his championship-less Cincinnati Royals teams and LeBron’s initial Cavaliers squads, criticizing the franchise for not surrounding James with enough talent.
By the time Oscar won a title, he was on the downside of his career and had just been traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, who had drafted Lew Alcindor the year before. So, when LeBron took his talents to South Beach and was excoriated by much of the NBA world, it was Robertson who came to his defense.