Pistol Pete has his palace, his name above the title of LSU’s basketball Deaf Dome, and soon a statue right outside.
Shaquille O’Neal has his immortalized likeness, forever smashing to bits a glass backboard between LSU’s practice gyms and gymnastics’ palatial new facility.
On Saturday, Shaq will have a neighbor, the statue of a man whom LSU should have never waited this long to honor.
About three hours before tipoff of Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game between Florida and the Flailing Tigers of LSU, they will unveil a statue of Bob Pettit. Forever young and athletic, it will stand watch in that forever young and athletic corner of LSU sports, where basketball, track and field and gymnastics facilities form a nexus just north of Tiger Stadium.
Most LSU game days, you can still put a face with the larger-than-life name. Pettit and former teammate Ned Clark sit a couple of rows off the court behind the scorer’s table.
At 83, time seems to have claimed little if any of Pettit’s 6-foot-9 height or acuity. He’s still sharp, still looks like he could pull down a couple of rebounds if called upon, and is exceptionally grateful to have a statue of himself put in place by his school.
“I’m tremendously excited about it,” Pettit said after a recent home game. “It’s a tremendous honor for me. I’m very appreciative of LSU for doing this.”
In a season in which Ben Simmons’ exploits have been recorded and dissected by media outlets from here to his native Australia, one can easily think that if Pettit did now what he did at LSU then, his star wouldn’t be eclipsed by those who came after him.
Cut from the freshman and sophomore teams before leading Baton Rouge High to a 1950 state title, Pettit moved across town in 1951 and instantly made his presence felt. Players only competed as sophomores, juniors and seniors then, and Pettit was an All-Southeastern Conference selection every year, an All-American as a junior and senior.
He led LSU to its first Final Four in 1953. When he left a year later, having averaged 27.4 points per game for his career and 17.3 rebounds per game as a senior, LSU instantly retired his No. 50 jersey.
He went on to the NBA and made himself a no-doubt Hall of Famer. He played 11 seasons with the Milwaukee/St. Louis Hawks, and he was an all-star every one of them, earning 10 seasons’ worth of All-NBA honors as well. He was a four-time All-Star Game MVP, a feat matched only by Kobe Bryant. He was the NBA’s first MVP, too, in 1956, and again in 1959, in between leading St. Louis to the 1958 NBA title, raining 50 points down on the Boston Celtics in a decisive Game 6.
“Bob made ‘second effort’ a part of the sport’s vocabulary,” Celtics great Bill Russell once said. “He kept coming at you more than any man in the game.”
In 1964, he became the first NBA player to record 20,000 career points. He was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1970 and was named to the NBA’s 50th anniversary team with O’Neal and Maravich in 1997. In testament to his endearing greatness, the Boston Globe a year ago revised the 50-best NBA players list, factoring in modern talents like LeBron James and Bryant.
Pettit, with his career averages of 26.4 points and 16.2 rebounds, still ranked a mighty respectable 14th.
“You talk about the model,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “To see him sitting behind the bench over there at half-court during games, and knowing the impact he not only made here but in the NBA as well, being a part of LSU means a great deal. I’m looking forward to him having his day on Saturday.”
The years between his final game at LSU and Saturday give Pettit pause.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “It was 1954 when I played my last game here, and I hate to think how many years ago that was.”
Not so long that they still don’t remember, Bob. Remember as well they should.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.
BOB PETTIT, at a glance
6-9 * Forward * Baton Rouge High
1970 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee
First LSU athlete in any sport to have a number (50) retired, 1954
Two-time All-American, three-time All-SEC selection
Led LSU to 1953 Final Four
Holds LSU single-season rebounding average record (17.3, 1953-54)
Third-highest career scoring average at LSU (27.4), sixth in points (1,916)
First-round pick by Milwaukee Hawks, 1954
Played entire 11-year NBA career with Hawks and was an all-star each season
1956 and 1959 NBA MVP
1954 NBA rookie of the year
Became first NBA player to surpass 20,000 career points, 1964
Named one of 50 greatest players in NBA history, 1997