Long before Dwyane Wade, there was a guard who dominated all others with his power, quickness and skills. Before Jason Kidd there was a guard who had triple-doubles so often that it wasn’t even thought about as an extraordinary achievement. Before Magic Johnson there was another big guard feeding the ball to Kareem in the post so he could hit his shot. He was the Big O, Oscar Robertson. His career began in the era of Wilt and Russell and Baylor and ended in the prime of Dr. J and Pistol Pete. If you’re any kind of hoop fan, Oscar Robertson basketball cards should be on your want list.
The Oscar File
Even before he entered the NBA, Robertson had achieved more on the basketball court than most players do in their entire career. He averaged over 30 points every season in college and was the College Player of the year three times while at Cincinnati. Robertson also won a Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics for Team USA. At age 75, Oscar is now an elder statesman, but in the tumult of the 60s and early 70s, he was as cool as cool could be.
In 1960, the hometown Cincinnati Royals drafted him and for a decade he was one of the very best in the league. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1960-61 as he averaged 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game. The next season was even better, and if it happened today, there would be a nightly countdown on the network sports shows. Robertson averaged a triple-double for the season. Oscar finished with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists per game. The Royals had talented players so it wasn’t just a guy chasing numbers. The Royals had Wayne Embry and Bob Boozer also getting more than 10 rebounds a game and forward Jack Twyman capable of putting up a 20-10 game. Oscar’s 1961-62 Fleer rookie cards (the regular card and the In Action) coincide with that legendary season and it’s one fans of basketball history actively seek for that reason.
The Royals were close but never a champion, and when the new Bucks went looking for a veteran to put them over the top they made a deal with Cincinnati. Milwaukee had gone quickly from being an expansion team to a contender by drafting center Lew Alcindor, who would later be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and to acquire Robertson they sent Flynn Robinson and Charlie Paulk to the Royals. Oscar’s impact was immediate. The Bucks won 66 games in the regular season then lost only two games in the playoffs as they won their first and only championship in 1970-71. Robertson played four seasons with the Bucks before calling it quits.
Oscar Robertson Cards: Vintage to Modern
His card career was short because there simply were no mainstream cards being made between 1962 and 1968. After Oscar’s rookie card, he was a regular in Topps sets until his retirement. During the last couple of decades, licensors have tried to catch up with a variety of issues including some autographs and the occasional memorabilia card. Some include cards he shares with those he played with and against or modern era players who have been compared to him. The statistics usually indicate The Big O was better.
Collectors still want to get Oscar Robertson rookie cards, #36 in the 1961-62 Fleer set, and the condition of the card has a big say in the price. A PSA 8 rookie sold for $1,799.99 on eBay recently. A PSA 7 sold at $595, PSA 6 for $299.99 and PSA 4 for $205. In 2007 a PSA 10 Robertson rookie sold for $25,838 at Legendary Auctions.
Other hard-to-find cards from the first half of his career include the regionally issued Kahn’s Wieners cards made from the early and mid-1960s. In fact, his first Kahn’s issue is a true rookie card, unlike the Fleer issue.
Topps grabbed the NBA Players license in 1969 and Oscar appears on the company’s cards and inserts from 1969-70 until 1974-75. Including some league and team leader cards as well as the folded Topps Ruler insert from 1970-71 and the tough ’71-72 Topps Trio Insert, Robertson has less than 30 cards that were produced during the time he played in the NBA. Thanks to the multiple sets produced in recent years, however, there may be close to 1,000 cards that have been produced since he retired.
Oscar helped get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar his first NBA title, and Kareem would get many more as a Laker later, but few card companies have paired the two on a card. In 2008-09 UD Black there were a very small number of autographed cards featuring the two superstars. There were also signed cards featuring both players in 2010-11 Panini Gold Standard, the Golden Age Signatures Dual #9 card. Numbered to 10, one sold on eBay recently for $150.
An inexpensive card of the two Bucks is the Classic Combos #4 from 2010-11 Classics, which also comes in numbered parallel versions. Kareem and Oscar also shared the Team Leader card from 1974-75 Topps, #91, when Kareem led Milwaukee in scoring and rebounding and Oscar was the best for assists and free throw percentage. Robertson and Kareem also share other cards with a bunch of other players, including the 2006-07 UD Black Octo-Jerseys #8.
Robertson shares cards with many other NBA superstars. His Imagine #I-6 card in 1996 Topps Stars is one he shares with Michael Jordan while the Classic Confrontations #10 in 2009-10 Classics puts him up against Jerry West and long-time fans certainly recall those battles. West and Robertson formed the 1st Team All-NBA backcourt for six consecutive years in the 1960s. LeBron James, a player with the ability to average a triple-double, shares several memorabilia cards with Robertson including the Premier Remnants 4 #PR4-RJ card in 2008-09 UD Premier and the 2009-10 SP Game Used 3 Star Swatches #3S-BMJ card which also features Kobe Bryant as well.
For such an exciting player, very few of Robertson’s early cards had action photography. His 1973-74 Topps #70 is one that does as he takes on the tall trees in the paint. Robertson’s 2007-08 Topps Stadium Club #96 card gives fans a look at how fast he was when handling the ball. Those cards that do use a picture from a game often show him turned around and backing down his opponent, which used to advantage his size at the point guard position, or dribbling the ball as he looks to make the right pass. The cards from new Panini releases do sometimes show him driving hard with the ball, often using his left hand.
2013-14 Flawless and Immaculate had several different Robertson autographs in each set, and fans could decide if they wanted him in a Royals or Bucks uniform on the cards. The prices for the cards were around $100. A Flawless Robertson base card with a diamond in it sold for $70.99 on eBay.
While you have to be over 50 to have any recollection of his playing career, taking a long look at Oscar Robertson basketball cards—front and back– will help anyone appreciate one of the NBA’s all-time legends.
To see all of Oscar Robertson’s cards on eBay, click here.