Big O provided big fun

By Gary Bedore,, Friday, April 21, 2006

I had to chuckle after reading “Ostertag notables,” an insert in a Utah Deseret News article accompanying a story on Greg Ostertag’s decision to retire after playing 11 years in the NBA. Ostertag’s career highlights, according to the paper …

• Played in 87 playoff games for Utah’s Jazz, including the 1997 and 1998 NBA Finals.

• Slapped by Shaquille O’Neal before season opener in Los Angeles in 1997.

• Played the part of Joe Sparks in “Eddie,” a 1995 movie starring Whoopi Goldberg.

• Donated a kidney to sister Amy Hall in 2002.

To the surprise of nobody who knows Ostertag, three of the four items regarding the NBA career of the happy-go-lucky, 7-foot-2 manchild, had nothing to do with on-court performance. It got me to wondering what kind of highlights I could come up with for Ostertag’s four years at Kansas. Here they are:

• Dazed after getting dunked on by Purdue’s Glenn Robinson in a 1994 NCAA Tournament game, Ostertag stuck out his big mitt and shook Robinson’s hand, the Boilermaker power forward puzzled by the gesture made in the heat of battle.

• Suffered a bruised big toe when his parked van rolled over his foot the week of KU’s first-round 1995 NCAA Tournament game against Colgate. Ostertag was able to play in the game, but the mishap oh-so-angered coach Roy Williams.

• Lip-synched a Garth Brooks country song during his first Late Night With Roy, back in 1991, and dressed in a Frankenstein outfit his sophomore season.

• Held Oklahoma State center Bryant Reeves — one of the best players in the country — to zero points in KU’s Big Eight-title-clinching victory over the Cowboys in 1995.

• Set the KU and Big Eight all-time shot-block record with 258.

That’s two positive on-court highlights in a list of five, if anybody’s counting. Ostertag — who had Fred Flintstone tattooed on his calf early in his pro career — is the player Williams said, only half-jokingly, was responsible for his hair turning gray prematurely. Not that Ostertag’s a bad guy. He’s not, as he proved by lending his name for several years to a benefit golf tournament for the American Lung Assn. He made national headlines in saving the life of his beloved sister.

Ostertag simply had basketball not so high on his priority list, and that’s not a crime. So, he drove KU fans batty for not dunking and dominating more. He did the same to Jazz fans, who were excited by his performance in two NBA Finals, perplexed by his numbers in other games.

I, for one, wouldn’t be shocked to see Ostertag come out of retirement next fall. Sure, the Duncanville, Texas, native loves to hunt and fish, and, sure, he says he’s worn out right now, but, at 33, he truthfully has about five good years left. And with $1 to $2 million a year — maybe more — likely available from some team who needs a big guy who can block shots for 15 minutes a game … my guess is somebody’s going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.

Not that he needs the money. If Greg does stay retired, he’ll need not work another day in his life. A responsible family man, he has earned just under $45 million since leaving KU. Not bad for a guy with so few hoop highlights in his resume.