From a historical perspective, however, Robertson's most important contribution was made not on the court, but rather in court. It was the year of the landmark Oscar Robertson suit, an antitrust suit filed by the NBA's Players Association against the league. As Robertson was the president of the Players Association, the case bore his name. In this suit, the proposed ABA-NBA merger between the NBA and the American Basketball Association was delayed until 1976, and the college draft as well as the free agency clauses were reformed. Robertson himself stated that the main reason was that clubs basically owned their players: players were forbidden to talk to other clubs once their contract was up, because free agency did not exist back then. Six years after the suit was filed, the NBA finally reached a settlement, the ABA-NBA merger took place, and the Oscar Robertson suit encouraged signing of more free agents and eventually led to higher salaries for all players.
Robertson is regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history, a triple threat who could score inside, outside and also was a stellar playmaker. His rookie scoring average of 30.5 points per game is the third highest of any rookie in NBA history, and Robertson averaged more than 30 points per game in six of his first seven seasons. Only two other players in the NBA have had more 30+ point per game seasons in their career. Robertson was the first player to average more than 10 assists per game, doing so at a time when the criteria for assists were more stringent than today. Furthermore, Robertson is the only guard in NBA history to ever average more than 10 rebounds per game, doing so three times. In addition to his 1964 regular season MVP award, Robertson won three All-Star Game MVPs in his career (in 1961, 1964, and 1969). He has the all-time highest scoring average in the All-Star Game for players participating in four or more games (the league standard for the record) at 20.5 points per game. He ended his career with 26,710 points (25.7 per game, ninth-highest all time), 9,887 assists (9.5 per game) and 7,804 rebounds (7.5 per game). He led the league in assists six times, and at the time of his retirement, he was the NBA's all-time leader in career assists and free throws made, and was the second all-time leading scorer behind Wilt Chamberlain.
Robertson also set yardsticks in versatility. If his first five NBA seasons are strung together, Robertson averaged a triple-double over those, averaging 30.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists. For his career, Robertson had 181 triple-doubles, a record that has never been approached. These numbers are even more astonishing if it is taken into account that the three-point shot did not exist when he played, which was introduced by the NBA in the 1979–80 season and benefits sharpshooting backcourt players. In 1967–68, Robertson also became the first of only two players in NBA history to lead the league in both scoring average and assists per game in the same season (also achieved by Nate Archibald). The official scoring and assist titles went to other players that season, however, because the NBA based the titles on point and assist totals (not averages) prior to the 1969–70 season. Robertson did, however, win a total of six NBA assist titles during his career. For his career, Robertson shot a high .485 field goal average and led the league in free-throw percentage twice—in the 1963–64 and 1967–68 seasons.
Robertson is recognized by the NBA as the first legitimate "big guard", paving the way for other over-sized backcourt players like Magic Johnson. Furthermore, he is also credited to have invented the head fake and the fadeaway jump shot, a shot which Michael Jordan later became famous for. For the Cincinnati Royals, now relocated and named the Sacramento Kings, he scored 22,009 points and 7,731 assists, and is all-time leader in both statistics for the combined Royals/Kings teams.
Robertson was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on April 28, 1980. He received the "Player of the Century" award by the National Association of Basketball Coaches in 2000 and was ranked third on SLAM Magazine's Top 75 NBA Players in 2003, behind fellow NBA legends Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Furthermore, in 2006, ESPN named Robertson the second greatest point guard of all time, praising him as the best post-up guard of all time and placing him only behind Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson.
In 1959, the Player of the Year Award was established to recognize the best college basketball player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association. Five nominees are presented and the individual with the most votes receives the award during the NCAA Final Four. In 1998, it was renamed the Oscar Robertson Trophy in honor of the player who won the first two awards because of his outstanding career and his continuing efforts to promote the game of basketball. In 2004, an 18" bronze statue of Robertson was sculpted by world-renowned sculptor Harry Weber.