Here’s the thing about Bud Olsen – former Sonic, former Louisville Cardinal – the man had a way of finding memorable teammates.
You look at Olsen’s career and you don’t reach for superlatives; four points a night in about 450 games will do that. But the teammates, oh the teammates the man had.
Let’s start in Cincinnati, the introduction of Olsen to the NBA, where he played with Oscar Robertson (future Hall of Famer), as well as Jerry Lucas (HOF). From Cincy, Olsen was sent to San Francisco, where he was introduced to Rick Barry (HOF), as well as Nate Thurmond (who would be if he had played for Boston or LA). Then to Boston for a brief spell, where, naturally, Olsen picked up a few more HOFers, including Bill Russell, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, Tom Sanders, and Don Nelson (not yet, but we know it’s coming some day).
Next came Detroit, where Olsen played with Walt Bellamy (HOF), Dave Bing (HOF), and Dave Debusschere (HOF). That gives us 11 so far. Next comes two more – Bill Sharman and Alex Hannum – both HOFers, both of whom coached Olsen at some point, making the total 13. Add in Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore from the year Olsen served as an assistant with Kentucky and we’ve got 15 Hall of Famers with whom Bud Olsen had direct contact as a player or coach. For someone who never played in the NBA Finals, averaged fewer than eight points a game, and had a career of less than a decade, it’s a remarkable feat. Who knows, maybe I missed a couple in there, but after awhile you start to lose count.
Enoch “Bud” Olsen made a name for himself in Ohio high school ball in the 1950s, where he ran into folks like Bobby Knight, John Havlicek, Jerry Lucas and Mel Nowell, before heading to Louisville, where he took the Cardinals and their new building – Freedom Hall – to the Final Four in 1959. Perhaps as important, Olsen’s presence helped lure his brother, Bill, to Louisville, where he wound up being a key figure in the revitalization of the Louisville athletic program in the 1990s and 2000s.
Anyhow, thinking he’d make a nice addition to their club, the Cincinnati Royals took the local kid in the second round of the 1962 draft, where Olsen began his rather vagabond journey through the NBA. Obviously, Olsen wasn’t expecting life in the pros to be just life in Kentucky, but just how different it would be was a revelation.
Olsen was a teammate of the great Oscar Robertson with the Royals, who recalled this humorous story to the NY Times’ Ira Berkow in 2002: