“When the Big O First Played the Garden: 56 in ’58”
By OSCAR ROBERTSON
Published: March 9, 2008
When we took the court that night, we had an 8-2 record. A guard in high school, I was playing forward and averaging about 30 points and 16 rebounds a game. An injury had sidelined our 6-10 senior pivotman, Connie Dierking, so we were still adjusting at both ends of the court. We were a fast-breaking, high-scoring team, and given the opportunity, my teammates could put the ball in the basket as well.
Our game tipped off in front of what seemed like a mostly empty building. (I think the crowd was about 4,500.) I missed my first jumper, but on the next possession, I backed my defender down, then spun off him for a scooping layup. From that point, I was pretty much in a zone, hitting jump shot after jump shot, or posting up, or finishing fast breaks. The ball kept going in the basket for me, and our whole team was fast-breaking and scoring at will. I was taken out with two minutes left, and the final score was Cincinnati 118, Seton Hall 54.
I did not know how many points I had until I was cornered in the dressing room by the largest horde of reporters I had ever seen, all of whom wanted to ask about my record night. I had hit 22 of 32 field-goal attempts and 12 of 12 free throws.
I’m afraid I wasn’t a very exciting interview, giving mostly monosyllabic replies and identifying my first state high school championship as my biggest thrill to date. One writer stayed until after all the others had left, and introduced himself as Milton Gross of The New York Post.
“You know, if you’re a star, you have to learn how to talk to the media,” he said.
“But I don’t know them,” I replied.
He said he would be willing to give advice on dealing with the press — an offer I was happy to accept — and he became a trusted friend and confidant for the rest of my college and professional careers.
When I finally dressed and left the Garden, it was late; the streets were empty and glowing. A light snow was in the air. I was with my roommate, Chuck Machock. The team had long gone, so we walked back to the Paramount Hotel, talking about the game we had just played and everything that had happened afterward. I was not sure why, but I had a sense that my life would never again be the same after that night.