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

month.

The 73-year-old said his diagnosis followed a routine PSA

screening.

”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

decision.

”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

Orlando.

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

awareness initiatives.

”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.

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at

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