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Celebrating the leadership, vision, tenacity, and love of community shared by the recipients of the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, presented annually by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber since 1967.
No other athlete who came to Cincinnati for college has gone on to achieve so much and return to give so much.
Every Cincinnatian knows Oscar Robertson as a great basketball player. In 1956, he arrived at the University of Cincinnati as Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball,” and proceeded to transform the program’s prospects. The “Big O” averaged 33.8 points a game and became the NCAA’s first three-time All American. He took UC to two Final Fours and laid the groundwork for back-to-back national championships in 1961 and ’62.
Upon graduation, he led the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team, perhaps the greatest basketball team ever assembled, to a gold medal before joining the Cincinnati Royals. In the NBA he was more than a star– he transformed the game. By averaging a triple double (scoring 30.8 points, grabbing 12.5 rebounds and making 11.4 assists) in his second season, Robertson did something no other NBA player has matched before or since. In his 14-year Hall of Fame career with the Royals and Milwaukee Bucks, Robertson literally created the role of the big point guard who could score from anywhere, rebound, pass and play defense.
But Oscar Robertson is more than just one of the best basketball players of all time. He is also a successful labor leader, sports broadcaster, entrepreneur, businessman and community leader.
As president of the NBA Player’s Association from 1965 to 1974, Robertson led an anti-trust suit against the league challenging the reserve clause. The settlement in 1976, which was dubbed the “Oscar Roberson Rule,” helped NBA players become the first professional athletes to achieve free agency.
Upon retiring from the NBA, Robertson became an entrepreneur and business man. One of his chief areas of business activity is specialty chemicals. Michael Fisher, the former president of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, remembers that Robertson and Fisher’s father, Mel, who owned specialty-chemical manufacturer Texo Corporation, developed a strong friendship over the years. Mel went on to serve as a business mentor to Robertson and Michael even remembers playing a little backyard basketball against the Big O.
In 1997, Robertson made the biggest assist of his lifetime. At the time, his daughter Tia’s kidneys were failing, and he donated one of his kidneys to her. He now advocates for health and wellness, kidney disease prevention and organ transplantation for the National Kidney Foundation. He and his wife Yvonne created a scholarship fund for deserving students and Robertson serves as a co-chair of the UC’s current $1 billion capital campaign.
Recipients are selected from candidates by the Cincinnati Chamber’s senior council based on the following criteria: – Community service – Business and civic attainment on a local, state and national or international level – Leadership – Awareness of the needs of others – Distinctive accomplishments that have brought favorable attention to their community, institution or organization