Joe Roberts, starting power forward on Ohio State's 1960 NCAA championship team, dies at 86

Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch
The 1960 Ohio State starting five, left to right: Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell , Joe Roberts , Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek .

Joe Roberts, a senior co-captain on Ohio State’s NCAA basketball championship team in 1960, died at his home in Oakland, California, Monday morning. The cause was cancer. He was 86. 

Roberts was a beloved figure, hale and well-met, quick to smile and laugh, and in possession of a piercing humor. He was also known for his sharp mind, which he maintained to the end. 

Roberts took a bachelor’s degree in biological studies and physical education from Ohio State, a master’s degree in psychology and counseling from Western Michigan, a master’s in special education from Cal State-East Bay and a master’s in administration from Cal State-East Bay. He also had a certificate to teach English as a second language from Stanford University. 

Roberts, 6 feet 6 and 235 pounds, was part of a pipeline of athletic talent that came out of Columbus East High School in the 1950s and ‘60s. At that time, college freshmen were ineligible for college varsity ball. Roberts became a three-year starter for coach Fred Taylor. 

When the Super Sophs – Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Mel Nowell, Bobby Knight and Gary Gearhart – became eligible, Roberts remained the brains and sinew that held Ohio State’s starting lineup together. 

*** NOTE: Photo also ran on 5/17/98 (6E) -- Id's left to right : John Havlicek , Dick Furry , Jerry Lucas and Joe Roberts from Ohio State 's 1960 basketball team . 35th reunion of the 1960 NCAA National Champion Basketball Team. They beat California 75-55. Revell Photo .  OSU

The 1959-60 Buckeyes went 25-3 and beat Cal-Berkeley by 20 points in the NCAA final. Roberts had 19 points and nine rebounds in the regional final and 10 points and five rebounds in the championship game. 

Ohio State has yet to win another national basketball title. Roberts remains the only starter off the 1960 team who has not been elected to the Varsity O Hall of Fame. 

Roberts was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, now the Philadelphia 76ers, in the third round of the 1960 NBA draft. He played four years in the NBA, at a time when there was an unwritten rule that limited teams to three Black players, and one year in the ABA, for the Kentucky Colonels. 

(NCL_OSU_1960_LAURON 30JAN10) Joe Roberts  member of Ohio State's 1960 basketball team returned to Columbus to celebrate the 50-year anniversary of their national championship at Ohio State's St. John Arena, January 29, 2010. Members of the 1960 team: Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried, Mel Nowell, Joe Roberts, Bob Knight, David Barker, Dick Furry, Howie Nourse, Gary Gearhart, Rich Hoyt, Frank Truitt (assistant coach)  (Dispatch photo by Neal C. Lauron)

Roberts went on to coach in college and the NBA. As an assistant with the Golden State Warriors during the 1975 NBA Finals, after head coach Al Attles was ejected from Game 4, Roberts led the team to a sweep in the title-clinching game. The Warriors didn't win another title for 40 years.

Roberts met his wife of 65 years, Celia, while at East High. They were together when he passed. 

Roberts leaves behind three adult daughters – Lori Casey, Kimberly Roberts and Jodi Jones – a grandson, and a great granddaughter.

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