Bob Pettit Rumors
In anticipation of his birthday Saturday, I called Bob Pettit a few days ago. What, I wondered, does age 88 mean to this St. Louis sports great? “Well,” he said, “it’s nice to be alive. And nice to be able to do certain things. I’m mobile and able to get around and still think a little bit. Everything seems to be going well. I hope to make it a few more.”
Pettit lives in New Orleans with his wife, Alma. Their house is right near the Longue Vue House and Gardens. He was a St. Louis star, but a Louisianan forever. Raised in Baton Rouge, he famously was cut from his high school junior varsity team and then sprouted all the way to 6-foot-9. He signed to play at nearby Louisiana State, where a statue of him stands tall today. About an hour away in New Orleans, Pettit stays active, going on walks with Alma, sometimes around the gardens, other times around a cemetery, where he said he can “see my old friends. And I try to work out at least five times a week. What I work on mostly is strength and my balance. And that’s what bothers me the most about 88 years old — the fact that I have to be very careful that I don’t fall.
Bob Pettit: “I like to shoot a little, hunt a little, play golf every once in a while, not too much. But I enjoy life. We have a lot of fun. … Life has been wonderful for me. And I’ve enjoyed it. I hope to have another couple of good years.” He follows the NBA today. Game’s changed a little. He watches the New Orleans Pelicans and also the Atlanta Hawks, who moved from St. Louis down south in 1968. Pettit is a franchise great, his No. 9 hanging in the Atlanta rafters, even though he never played there.
At the 1964 All-Star Game, the 20 players involved decided they were not going to play unless they were guaranteed a pension plan, which they had sought for three years with no success. They knew they had leverage because, for the first time, the All-Star Game was supposed to be broadcast on national television. The day before the game, Tommy Heinsohn, the president of the NBA Players Association, met with players one by one in the hotel lobby and told them that it was time to to force owners to make concessions. “The feeling among the players was that we should not play the game if we don’t get a pension,” said Bob Pettit, the LSU legend who was then the vice president of the players’ union. “This was kind of revolutionary.”
Roughly 30 minutes before tipoff, NBA commissioner Walter Kennedy came into the locker room. Kennedy told the players he would do everything in his power to create a pension plan. But Kennedy couldn’t guarantee anything in writing, which gave some in the room pause. “He said, ‘Fellas, you need to play the game,’” Pettit recalled. “‘I can’t give you a pension plan now. I don’t have the authority. I urge you to go out and play the game.’ He said, ‘That’s all I can do. The most I can do is give you my word that I’ll do everything in my power.’ Then he left.”
With less than five minutes before tipoff, Chamberlain spoke up. He told the players he thought they could take Kennedy at his word. Chamberlain thought they should play. The players agreed to put it to a vote — majority rule. The room was still divided. In the end, the “play” votes narrowly beat out the “sit” votes. “I thought his talk solved the situation,” Pettit said. “I don’t remember what the vote was. There were a lot of dissenting votes. A lot of players thought we shouldn’t play it.”
Pettit averaged 22.5 points per game in his final season in the NBA. He was named an All-Star for the 11th time in his career. The 1964 All-Star Game wound up being his second-to-last. “I played one more year,’ said Pettit, who’s now 87. “That was it. We got a pension plan. It’s a very good pension plan. It increased significantly over years.”