NBA legend raising awareness after cancer fight
Oscar Robertson is stepping back into the spotlight.
After living quietly in Ohio, the NBA Hall of Famer wants to
raise awareness about prostate cancer.
Robertson was diagnosed with the disease about a year ago and
had his prostate removed. He is serving as honorary chairman at the
International Prostate Cancer Foundation’s gala in Orlando next
The 73-year-old said his diagnosis followed a routine PSA
”I had some numbers that went up a little bit and that was the
indicator something was wrong,” he said in a phone interview with
The Associated Press.
Most men over 50 get PSA blood tests, but they’re hugely
problematic. Too much PSA, or prostate-specific antigen, only
sometimes signals prostate cancer is brewing. Moreover, most
prostate tumors detected after screening will prove too
slow-growing to be deadly. But it’s hard to tell in advance who
will need treatment and who can safely skip it.
Treatments include surgery or radiation; some men opt for close
monitoring and treatment only if the cancer grows.
While the initial news was surprising to Robertson, it wasn’t
the first serious medical issue he’s faced since his playing days.
In 1997 Robertson donated a kidney to his then-33-year-old daughter
Tia, who was suffering from lupus.
But with no history of prostate cancer in his family, Robertson
went into scouting-mode against his new opponent before making his
”I talked to lot of doctors about it and decided I’d rather
have mine taken out,” he said.
Robertson wanted a minimally invasive procedure and doctors in
Ohio eventually steered him to Dr. Vipul Patel, a urologist in
Having grown up in Los Angeles and been a fan of the hometown
Lakers, Patel instantly made the name connection.
”Obviously, the Big O, everybody knows him,” Patel said. ”I
actually met him in person the day before surgery. He’d already
decided what he wanted to do.”
Patel did the surgery and Robertson was able to go home the next
day. Now, almost a year later, Patel said Robertson is cancer-free
and has an excellent prognosis.
During his more than 60-year association with basketball,
Robertson earned both championships and pioneer status. He was the
only player in NBA history to average a triple-double for an entire
season (1961-62). He was a founder of the National Basketball
Retired Players Association.
Now, Robertson has shifted his attention to helping others
through his own experience. A founder of the National Basketball
Retired Players Association, Robertson also has already reached out
to associates across the NBA, including current NBA players’ union
executive director Billy Hunter, to enlist their help in future
”Years ago, born in small-town Tennessee, I seldom went to
doctors. I didn’t know about early detection, or about heart attack
prevention or anything. Nobody knew about prostate cancer unless it
killed them,” he said.
According to the National Cancer Institute, African-American men
have the highest incidence rate for prostate cancer in the United
States and are twice as likely to die from it as white males.
”No doubt about it. I want to raise awareness in all
communities,” Robertson said.
He’s working with Patel’s newly-formed International Prostate
Cancer Foundation. Patel said Robertson is having an effect.
”We can see people calling and being screened. He’s having an
impact already,” Patel said.
Robertson said he isn’t taking his current health for granted,
having known people who have died from prostate cancer.
”I guess I was one of the lucky ones,” he said.
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