Transition Game: Bob Pettit

Updated: February 18, 2004, 5:50 PM ET
By Dr. Jack Ramsay | Special to

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Dr. Jack Ramsay's new book "Dr. Jack's Leadership Lessons Learned from a Lifetime in Basketball." Ramsay interviewed many former NBA superstars who have used their athletic leadership capabilities to achieve success in the business world.

The Quiet Man: Bob Pettit

The voice on the other end of the phone didn't say "hello" or "good morning," just the name, "Bob Pettit," spoken in a quiet, firm tone that gave an immediate mental image of the person. It was a voice that implied, "You placed the call and now that you've got me on the phone, tell me what I can do for you." It was courteous, confident, and businesslike. It was what I expected, but I knew that it represented a great transition in a man who struggled early to attain his goals in life.

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When I had asked Bob, one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, who has made a remarkable transition from team leader to business leader, whether the qualities that made for success in basketball applied to professional life, he replied, "Absolutely. The same things apply: The preparation, the hard work, and dedication you bring to basketball produce the same results in the business world." I did the same preparation for my life outside of basketball as I did when I played. I think the proper mental approach is very important: Know what you have to do and then work hard at the job - be very dedicated to success."

As to his ability as a leader, Bob said, "I never tried to be a team leader in basketball. I wasn't a guy who did a lot of talking. I just wanted everybody to see that I worked hard, that I'd give my full effort all the time. In business, I try to surround myself with the best people and then let them do their thing." And if that doesn't succeed? "Then we all sit down, talk it over, and work things out."

He also learned early to plan for his future: "Players weren't making the money then that they make now. We all knew we'd have to find a way to take care of our families when we finished our careers. I had done some work in the off-season at the American Bank and Trust Company in Baton Rouge, and the president indicated that there'd be a job there when I finished playing."

So after the 1962-63 season, Pettit told Ben Koerner, the owner of the Hawks, that he was going to play just two more years and then retire. "I had the opportunity to join that bank in Baton Rouge as a vice president and I didn't want to let that opportunity pass by. But I wanted to let Ben know in advance, so that he could take whatever steps he felt necessary with the team."

After leaving Baton Rouge, he became chairman of the board at the Jefferson Bank in New Orleans and served in that capacity for 15 years. He now operates his own consulting business.

Dr. Jack Ramsay coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to Click here to send a question for Dr. Jack for possible use on ESPNEWS.

Legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Dr. Jack Ramsay served as lead game analyst for The NBA on ESPN Radio. He also contributed to and ESPN The Mag.