Years Active: 1961 – 1971
Regular Season Stats: 874 games, 29.2 mpg
14.8 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.4 apg, 46.2% FG, 76.1% FT
Postseason Stats: 48 games, 26.7 mpg
11.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.2 apg, 46.7% FG, 73.9% FT
Accolades: NBA Champion (1971), All-Star (1968)
The sure hands of Bob Boozer dealt the Boston Celtics their first defeat in eight [NBA] games this season. The 6-foot-8 former Kansas State star hit on a couple of jump shots sandwiched around a Celtic Sam Jones basket for a 116-115 victory… Boozer’s last basket was a short jump shot with five seconds left in the game.
“I knew they were going in as soon as they left my hands,” Boozer said in the happy Royals’ dressing room after the game.
That performance early in the 1963-64 season would be one of Bob Boozer’s final games as a member of the Cincinnati Royals, the only pro club he’d known to that point in the NBA. His trade to the New York Knicks mid-season would be start of a sojourn across several teams in the NBA.
His time with the Knicks was brief. A mere 129 games through the rest of 1964 and all of the 1965 season. From there he hooked up with the Los Angeles Lakers for a year in 1966. His stop in California provided Boozer with his first taste of the NBA Finals. The Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in 7 games, which was the style at the time. Everyone lost to the Celtics in the Finals. Boozer hardly played a role though in the defeat, appearing in only half the games and barely getting any playing time when it occurred.
Boozer’s career found rejuvenation the next year courtesy of the Chicago Bulls. The new club made him one of their expansion draft picks and he enjoyed the best statistical seasons of his career over the next three seasons with 20 points and 9 rebounds a game. Boozer even found acclaim with his sole all-star selection in 1968. But team success, as with most expansion clubs, didn’t come immediately for the Bulls and at the end of Boozer’s third season with them, he was on the move again.
The 32-year old was now traded to Seattle. For one season in the northwest he averaged 15 points, but, naturally enough, was sent packing the very next offseason to his final destination: Milwaukee. With the Bucks, Boozer ended his career in 1971 in the best way for any professional. Behind the trio Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Dandridge and Oscar Robertson, the Bucks captured the title that year after a sparkling 66-win regular season.
Boozer left the NBA that season a champion, but he entered it an Olympian and as one of the best college players in the country.
As a standout at Kansas State, the Omaha, Nebraska, native was named an AP All-American twice and in February 1958 took down the powerful in-state rivals at Kansas who featured Wilt Chamberlain:
Wilt Chamberlain? Who is he? The big guy in major college basketball today is Bob Boozer, a 6-8 junior who did a virtual one-man wrecking job on Kansas and the Stilt in Kansas State’s big bid for a crack at the national title.
Boozer scored 32 points and carried the Wildcats in the clutch for a 79-75 double overtime victory at Kansas last night… He counted 14 of the Wildcats’ 29 field goals and after they had blown a 13-point half-time lead, scored the basket that tied it 60-all at the end of regulation play.
It was Boozer, again, whose field goal brought K-State from behind for a 65-65 deadlock at the end of the first overtime.
Then he hit two field goals before fouling out that gave the Wildcats the lead for keeps in the second five-minute session.
It was performances like that that compelled the Cincinnati Royals to draft Boozer #1 overall in the 1959 NBA Draft. But Cincy would have to wait one full season to retrieve their prized pick. Competing in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, the squad included Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas, all future NBA teammates of his. They throttled the competition and are widely considered the best amateur basketball team ever assembled. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Boozer fully explained passing up the NBA for the Olympics:
“I always had this deep desire to represent this country on its Olympic basketball squad,” Boozer says, “and at that time, you only had one go-round at it. Everyone told me, ‘Your chances are remote,’ et cetera, et cetera. Each person that tried to get me to sign on the dotted line expressed that, but I said, ‘Hey, this is something I’ve got to go for.’
“I knew I only had once chance.”
The 6-foot-8 former forward made the most of it, taking his place on a team coached by Pete Newell that tore through its Olympic competition in Rome by an average of 42.4 points a game.
Finally joining the Royals for the 1960-61 season, along with Oscar Robertson, Boozer didn’t immediately set the world on fire with just 8 points and 6 rebounds in 20 minutes a night. However, over the next two seasons, Boozer would come into his own with averages of 14 points and 10.5 rebounds as one of Cincy’s starting forwards. Together with Jack Twyman and Wayne Embry, Boozer helped form a formidable Royals frontline. They achieved modest success by the 1962 postseason where Boozer averaged 18 points and 10.5 rebounds in a 4-game loss against the Detroit Pistons.
The culmination of their efforts, though, was the Eastern Division Finals in the 1962-63 season. Boozer averaged a robust 17 points against the 1st round opponent (Syracuse Nationals) before the showdown with Boston in the EDF. Boozer could never found his groove against the Celtics as his average fell to just 10 points. Nonetheless, the Royals, spearheaded by Oscar Robertson, pushed the Celtics to 7 games before finally losing.
Boozer’s NBA wanderings began the next season.
But for all his wandering in the NBA, his post-basketball life was remarkably stable, consistent and filled with purpose. He spent 27 years working for Ma Bell and also volunteered countless hours with Boys Town in his native Omaha. After his days as a telephone man, Boozer then served as a member of Nebraska’s parole board all the while continuing to mentor children. Like his Royals teammate Jack Twyman, Boozer was a better man off the court than he was on it and that’s saying something.