Born: August 9, 1928
College: Holy Cross
Drafted by: Tri-Cities Blackhawks, 1950
Height: 6′ 1″
Weight: 175 lbs.
Bob Cousy was more than just a basketball player; he was a playmaker who was considered to be ahead of his time. He brought things to the court that were never seen or tried before. His style was something that basketball fans all around the world came to love, but it was also what got him benched early in his college career.
These days, it’s hard to imagine a 6’1″ skinny kid revolutionizing basketball with razzle-dazzle ball handling skills. Let’s go back about 50 years when “The Cooz” was capturing the imagination of basketball fans around the world. The son of poor French immigrants, Cousy grew up a “ghetto rat” on Manhattan’s East Side. Somehow, he managed to save $500 playing stickball and his family bought a house in the St. Albans neighborhood of Queens, Long Island. Humbly, this is where the play making began.
Cousy was cut twice from the Andrew Jackson High School junior varsity team. At the age of 13, he fell out of a tree and broke his right arm. What would he do now? Learn to dribble and shoot with his left arm, of course. When his former coach, Lou Grummond, saw him playing in neighborhood leagues, he invited him back on the team as a much needed play making guard. Cousy became the most talked-about kid in town after only one and a half years on the varsity squad.
The following summer, after accepting a scholarship at Holy Cross, Cousy earned a starting spot in his second year during the national championship season. He would later consider transferring to St. John’s when his coach, Alvin “Doggie” Julian, accused the sophomore guard of being a show boater and limited his playing time. But in spite of Coach Julian’s apparent terrible judgment of great talent, St. John’s coach Lapchick persuaded him to stay. Coach Julian would soon realize how lucky he and his team were.
During a game against Loyola of Chicago at Boston Garden, Holy Cross was trailing with a mere 5 minutes on the clock. Cousy had not been in the game the entire first half, but when the crowd began contagiously chanting “We want Cousy! We want Cousy!” Julian knew he had no choice but to put him in the lineup. Cousy went right to work, earning 5 field goals and 2 foul shots, totaling 12 amazing points, including a buzzer-beating left- handed hook shot that he threw up after spinning past a much larger player with a behind- the-back dribble.
With Cousy leading the way as a senior in 1949-50, the Holy Cross Crusaders won 26 straight games and finished second in the National Invitation Tournament. It became almost inevitable that the lowly Celtics (finishing last in 1949-50 in the NBA’s Eastern Division with a 22-46 record) would get Cousy in the 1950 NBA Draft. Instead, new coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach chose Chuck Share, a 6-foot-11 center from Bowling Green. Auerbach was scolded in the press after saying, “We need a big man…..Little men are a dime a dozen. I’m supposed to win, not go after local yokels.”
Cousy went to the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, who soon traded him to the Chicago Stags, who folded before the 1950-51 season even started. The names of Cousy and two other much-sought-after Stags players were tossed into a hat. The owners of the Celtics, the New York Knicks, and the Philadelphia Warriors gathered in a hotel room and each pulled out a name. “When I drew Cousy, I could have fallen to the floor,” Celtics owner Walter Brown said later. And so began an era of basketball which was to be etched in stone.
“Mr. Basketball” dribbled, shot, passed and ran rampant as the Celtics ended the 1950-51 season with their first winning record, 39-30. The 22-year-old Cousy averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 assists.
The Cousy legend started to form by the end of the 1952-53 season, only his third in the NBA. He won the first of eight straight assists titles, averaging 7.7. The Celtics won a then franchise-record 46 games and swept the Syracuse Nationals, two games to none, in the division semifinals. Cousy’s dominating performance in Game 2 of that series, on March 21, 1953, would be one of the most talked about of his career and would even be compared to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962.
By 1956-57, the Celtics were nearly unstoppable. Their 44-28 record was the best in the league that year. Cousy won the NBA Most Valuable Player Award, finishing first in the league in assists (7.5 apg) and eighth in scoring (20.6 ppg).
Cousy was the ultimate point guard, and the driving force within the team. His repertoire of no-look passes, spinning dishes, behind-the-back feeds, and half-court rocket shots (which many NBA superstars mimic today) were indeed one of a kind. An amazing dribbler, Cousy could keep the ball away from defenders long enough to allow plays to develop.
At age 35, “The Houdini of the Hardwood” retired as a player. Even his final moments on the court were spent basking in Celtics glory. His last regular-season game became widely known as “the Boston Tear Party.” He was rendered speechless by the emotion of the crowd during a 20-minute farewell statement that was supposed to last only seven minutes. Then a voice cried out from the stands, “We love ya, Cooz.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.
The summer after he retired, Cousy landed the head coaching job at Boston College. He directed the team to a 117-38 record over six years, posting four seasons of 20 or more victories and making two appearances in the NCAA regionals and one in the NIT Finals. However, after two early losses in the 1968-69 campaign, he announced that the season would be his last because he grew tired of the recruiting game and felt unchallenged.
At age 41, he returned to the court as a player for seven games during the 1969-70 season with the Cincinnati Royals in an effort to spark his slumping team and draw fans. Season ticket sales jumped 77 percent. He stepped down as coach early in the 1973-74 season with a 141-209 record.
Cousy began broadcasting Celtics games in 1974. In 1989, he became the first Hall of Famer to be named president of that institution. Cousy left the game respected by players and worshipped by fans as no other player had been before him, and as few