I got the gooseflesh this week talking to LSU legend and NBA Hall of Famer Bob Pettit. Sometimes the best way to learn is simply to listen to elders; the way they approach the moment, the answer, the opportunity to impart knowledge and wisdom. To give their history. Going into the interview as not the biggest LSU fan, I only had one history with Bob Pettit and it was through my grandfather and his dad. Oddly enough, it started with a baseball game.
I was blessed enough to spend time with my great grandfather Alvin Bellgard up until he passed when I was in middle school. Old enough to hear him out and have a conversation. He was a Braves fan through and through. I’d listen to him and my grandpa Jim, the other Old Man Dodson, during games but sometimes not pay attention. I’d hear a strikeout and get quizzed afterward.
(Why the quizzes? They thought I might make the majors. I never topped 85 in high school. I played soccer in college and was a hoops practice dummy for the 2-time D2 national champs Florida Southern College. Go Mocs!)
They’d ask, “You know why that changeup in a 3-2 count worked?”
I’d barely start to fumble out a complex and likely wrong answer before Old Pappa B’gard would blurt out, “Because Greg Maddux threw it!” Sometimes Maddux wasn’t even pitching but the old man went through hellish wars. I wasn’t going to argue with him.
Well, one day we all dozed off during one of those longer and lazier than usual baseball games that populate summer television. When we woke up, there was a basketball game on as they clicked through the few channels in rural north Louisiana. Couldn’t tell you who, just know I thought I was going to be the next Pistol Pete at the time as well as the first American Pele. Kids can dream, right? I remember the game being almost over and grandpa asking if I’d done some of the Pistol Homework Basketball Drills. (I still have the VHS tapes!)
At the mention of Pistol Pete Maravich, Old Man Bellgard came out of nowhere. “If Pistol Pete and LSU would have had a big man good as ol’ Bob Pettit, Press would have beat Pete’s ass for not passing the ball!”
Kids can dream but not as much as old men can argue different sporting eras. Never did I dream I’d get to interview Bob Pettit. I’m pretty sure those two old heads are still having a sports argument in the great stadium in the sky.
Pettit just laughed at the story, chuckling as he commented, “You know, Pete was a wonderful player. I got an opportunity to watch him after I retired; I came back to Baton Rouge and I watched him play for a couple of years and he was exciting to watch. He was a great player.”
There were no arguments during the interview. It was just a bunch of insight on basketball and life’s journey throughout, with a local Louisiana flavor of course.
Pettit said of his alma mater, “LSU is really, I think, becoming a real powerhouse in college basketball. They had a great recruiting class and a couple of transfers that have come in and helped them. Their program is going up.”
He thinks the New Orleans Pelicans have helped bring more attention to the Gulf South hoops scene and that young team is on the rise as well, that’s why he bought season tickets.
“Basketball is definitely on the rise in Louisiana I think. Hopefully, the Pelicans will continue to improve. They have a couple of great players. They can build around them and hopefully, they can continue to improve, which I think they will. I bought my season tickets there so I’m looking forward to seeing them play.”
As covered in the MMH Culture Series with Coaches Dumas and Poplion, the hoops foundation is strong in Louisiana. There is a deep, rich history. As Pettit said,
“The interesting thing I think about basketball in Louisiana, there are eight players that I think of…You know, people always think of Louisiana as a football state but you think of Willis Reed, Elvin Hayes, Bob Parrish, Bob Pettit, Pete Maravich, Shaquille, Bill Russell was originally from Monroe, Louisiana. He went to Oakland when he was nine or ten years old…so there are about seven or eight great, great players that came out of Louisiana and people don’t often realize the number of great basketball players that have originated from here…It’s a lot of basketball history.”
We talked a lot more hoops, especially about who from his generation could still be a star today.
“It’s a different time and a different game and in many ways has continued to improve…” but still he thinks “there are still some things that went on in the early days that could still, some of the players I played against, would be great players in the league today. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlin, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor. These guys were wonderful basketball players. They could play anytime, anywhere, and still be a superstar today. It was a different game but we still had, I thought, really great players. And I didn’t mention Bob Cousy and some of the others that still I believe could have been really great players today.”
We did not talk much music, though we did touch on how different the gameday experience was with all of the entertainment and media. As for movies, television, and shows, that’s a limited selection as well. Pettit likes to see the game played like it was back in his day so his favorite movie should come as no surprise: Hoosiers.
“The one I watch more than most of them is Hoosiers. When I see that come on TV here, I’ll watch it four or five times. That would be one I really enjoy. I thoroughly enjoy watching basketball that way. As far as the movies? I watch the NBA on TV and I go to the Pelicans games when I can.”