American basketball player
Bob Cousy was one of greatest passers and playmakers in NBA history. A showman with flair and an entertainer as much as he was a basketball player, Cousy was a renegade in an era of rather conventional league play. He helped to build one of the revolutionary teams in the history of professional basketball. His contribution is as great as—if not greater than—any other single player who helped the Boston Celtics dominate the 1950s and 1960s. Cousy cared about basketball. He was the catalyst that turned the game into the popular modern spectacle that fans know it as today.
Bob Cousy was born August 9, 1928, to Joseph and Julliette Cousy, poor French immigrants who lived on Manhattan's East side. Cousy grew up a "ghetto rat," and while young played stickball and boxball and stole hubcaps for some occasional quick change.
Eventually his father was able to save up $500 from his job driving a cab and working for an airline, and the family moved into their own house in the St. Alban's neighborhood of Queens, Long Island. His mother worked days as a secretary and language teacher, and to keep himself occupied after school, Cousy discovered the game of basketball. Though early on he would have some basketball disappointments, getting cut twice from the Andrew Jackson High School junior varsity team.
There seems to be one pivotal moment or incident for most professional athletes, that time from which they can pinpoint their rise into greatness. Cousy is no exception. In what seems like the biography of a superhero, one afternoon when Cousy was thirteen, he fell from a tree and broke his right arm. Never dissuaded after being cut from the high school team, he still practiced daily. Since he was right-handed, he learned to dribble and shoot with his left. That season, when coach Lou Grummond saw Cousy played equally as well with either hand, he asked him to come back on the team—the high school team lacked a guard who could make important plays, and Cousy, able now to go either way and confuse opponents, fit the bill.
His rise to prominence happened quickly. In only a year and a half on the varsity squad, Cousy became something of a local celebrity. As a senior, he won the city scoring championship and helped lead his team to one of their best seasons.
The College Years
After seeing his success on the high school court, Holy Cross, a smaller school in Worcester, Massachusetts—less than an hour's drive from Boston—offered him a scholarship. This was in 1946, and in 1946 the style of basketball that was played at both the college and pro levels was not like it is today. The teams were much slower, playing a methodical and deliberate ball, their shots of choice typically were two-handed set shots.
But that was not Cousy's style of play, and Holy Cross was not ready for what Coach Alvin "Doggie" Julian saw as "showboating." Holy Cross was a powerful school, and they won the national championship in the 1946-47 season—without Cousy as a starter. He would win the spot his second year, but the coach, still fearful of his hotdogging, limited his playing time.
Given the circumstances, Cousy considered transferring, but the coach at St. John's actually convinced Cousy to stay at Holy Cross. He would be given his opportunity in a game against Loyola of Chicago played at Boston Garden (Holy Cross had an old, small gym). With less than five minutes left, Holy Cross was trailing. The crowd was aware of Cousy's style, and they enjoyed watching him play. They began chanting "We want Cousy! We want Cousy!" The coach had no choice left. Cousy was put into the game, and in the last few minutes of play, Cousy scored eleven points. He topped it off by putting down a buzzer-beating lefthanded hook, moving past a much larger player with his behind-the-back-dribble.
Cousy would earn All-American status three times while in college. He became the biggest name in college hoops. Under Cousy's floor leadership, Holy Cross won twenty-six straight games.
|1928||Born August 9 to Joseph and Julliette Cousy|
|1940||Moves from Manhattan to St. Albans, Queens|
|1941||Learns the game of basketball for first time|
|1941||Breaks arm in fall from tree; learns how to dribble and shoot with other arm|
|1942||Invited back on high school team by coach|
|1945-46||Wins city scoring championship as a high school senior|
|1946||Enters Holy Cross as scholarship player|
|1947-48||Becomes known as one of best-known players in college basketball|
|1949-50||Plays on Holy Cross team that wins 26 straight games|
|1950||Graduates from Holy Cross with a B.S. in business|
|1950||Drafted in first round by Tri-Cities Blackhawks, traded immediately to Chicago Stags; ends up with Boston Celtics when Stags disband|
|1950-51||Helps Celtics improve from one of worst teams to a team with a winning record|
|1956||Becomes first NBA player to appear on cover of Sports Illustrated|
|1956-57||Wins first NBA Championship with the Celtics|
|1962-63||Retires from game at age 35|
|1963||Takes position as head coach of Boston College, where he remains until 1969|
|1969||Hired by Cincinnati Royals (later the Kansas City Kings). Plays for one season as player coach|
|1974||Retires from coaching|
|1974||Begins long run as color commentator for the Celtics|
|1974-79||Serves as commissioner of the American Soccer League|
|1989||Named president of Boston Celtics|
|1994||Appears in movie Blue Chips, a film about corruption in recruitment of college basketball players|
Related Biography: Basketball Player K.C. Jones
K.C. Jones was an integral member of the Boston Celtics during their reign over professional basketball in the 1950s and 1960s. With Bob Cousy as their conductor, Jones, who played on the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1956, was a welcome addition to a glorious supporting cast that included his college teammate, roommate, and best friend Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey and Jim Loscutoff. He helped make an already-dominant Celtics team even more so.
Born on May 25, 1932, in Tyler, Texas, Jones was a bit suspicious of basketball as a child. But when his father abandoned the family, Jones's mother moved to San Francisco, where Jones would play every day at the recreation center. When he got into high school, he broke the Triple A prep league scoring record, and earned All-Star football honors.
Known for his deadly set shot on the basketball court, Jones was a master at passing the ball, and his constant hustle wore opponents down. He never stood still. After he retired, Jones would first work as an assistant coach at Harvard, then move on to coach the Washington Bullets. He eventually moved back to his basketball home, taking the helm of the Celtics in 1983. He led the team to two World Championships.
As a head coach, K.C. Jones won 522 regular season games and finished with a .647 winning percentage.
K.C. Jones was elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1983.
Cousy graduated in 1950 with a degree in business, but he would be known as one of the standout college players to ever come through the system.
Basketball or The Road?
It wasn't a foregone conclusion that Cousy would play professional basketball. The salary wasn't all that much, and Cousy could have easily made more money putting his business degree to use. In addition to entering the draft, he also contemplated opening up a driving school. Cousy opted to try his luck with the draft, and was picked up by Tri-Cities Blackhawks. He was then traded to the Chicago Stags, but that team folded before the season ever began.
A new team, however, the Boston Celtics, had been playing for three years in the Basketball Association of America, but had recently joined the NBA in the 1949-50 season. Since they had finished last in the eastern division, they were the team with the first pick in draft. They had not, however, chosen Cousy. When the Stags folded, Cousy's name, along with two other players, was thrown into a hat. The Celtics wound up with him anyway, with a contract for $9,000 a year.
In his first year with the Celtics, they had a winning record. Cousy averaged 15.6 points and 4.9 assists per game. People were drawn from all over the New England coast to the Garden to watch Cousy and his style of play. Just as in college, however, Celtics' coach Arnold "Red" Auerbach was not yet sold on the Cousy showman-ship, but it was hard to overlook his excellent timing, outstanding reflexes and deft touch.
By his third season, Cousy would win his first of eight straight assists titles, averaging 7.7 assists per game (remarkable in an era before the shot clock). In Game two of the 1952-53 season's division semifinals against the Syracuse Nationals, Cousy played a game that would become one of the most talked-about of his career. With a bad leg giving him trouble, he scored twenty-five points in regulation, tying the game at seventy-seven with a free throw. In the first overtime, he scored six of the team's nine points, then in the second extra period, scored all four points for the Celtics. In a game that didn't seem to want to end, Cousy found eight points in the third overtime, tying it yet again with a twenty-five-foot jumper in the final seconds.
Down 104-99 in the fourth overtime, The Cooz put in five straight points, and the Celtics would finally defeat the Nationals 111-105 in a game that went three hours and eleven minutes. Cousy finished with fifty points, including a record setting thirty free throws in thirty-two attempts.
The Dominant Era
As the fifties progressed, the Celtics acquired a supporting cast that would become one of the most fabled in NBA history, adding the likes of Bill Russell , Tommy Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Frank Ramsey, and Jim Loscutoff to a team that was already dominant. Although the Celtics won the 1956-57 NBA Championship, their first ever, they would lose the next year to the St. Louis Hawks. However, it would be the last time any team but the Celtics would touch the title for the next eight years, all helped in part by Cousy's masterful performances.
"Cooz was the absolute offensive master," Heinsohn told the Boston Herald in 1983. He was known as the "Houdini of the Hardwood. What Russell was on defense, that's what Cousy was on offense—a magician. Once that ball reached his hands, the rest of us just took off, never bothering to look back. We didn't have to. He'd find us. When you got into a position to score, the ball would be there."
|BOS: Boston Celtics.|
After his retirement, Cousy coached for Boston College, leading them to a 117-38 record over six years, but he grew to hate the recruiting game, and feeling that he could do more elsewhere, left after the 1968-69 season to join the pro ranks as coach of the Cincinnati Royals. He remained with the team until 1974, and even returned to the court as a player for seven games in his first year as coach.
The Cousy Legacy
Cousy retired at age thirty-five. The last game ceremony has since become known as "the Boston Tear Party," with a sold out Garden sitting in rapt silence as Cousy spoke his final farewell. In 1960, as Cousy was winding down his career, former Knicks coach Joe Lapchick said Cousy was the best player he'd ever seen. Celtics owner Walter Brown told a Boston Newspaper that "the Celtics wouldn't be here without him. If he had played in New York, he would have been as big as Babe Ruth . I think he is anyway."
He left the team having scored 16,955 points (18.5 points per game), 6,945 assists (7.6 assists per game), and an .803 free-throw percentage in 917 games. In 109 playoff games he averaged 18.5 points and 8.6 assists. In thirteen All-Star Games the two-time game MVP averaged 11.3 points and 6.6 assists. He has since been named to the NBA's 25th, 35th, and 50th Anniversary teams. In 1970 he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Bob Cousy would be the first NBA player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. In 1999, ESPN selected Cousy as #94 on the Sports Century top 100 athletes list.
When he retired from the Celtics in 1963, he was making $30,000 a year. He went out at what appeared to be the top of his game. Fans thought he had many more years left in him, and he probably did. But he told Tom Callahan of Time magazine, "I was very conscious of my skills eroding … The minute there is even a subtle diminishment of legs, you're the first to know. I became aware of when I should stop wanting the ball in key situations. For a couple of years, I decoyed myself at those moments, making
sure Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn—or whoever—ended up with the shot." Cousy opted to retire when he did because, as a man with a degree in business hanging on his wall, he knew something about marketing himself after basketball, something that agents do for players these days but which Cousy would have to do by himself to earn a living. "I knew I'd be exploiting this notoriety for 20 years," he said. "If it had been $300,000, chances are I would have played until 1969."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1951||NBA Rookie of the Year Award|
|1952-61||All-NBA First Team|
|1953||Set playoff record for most free throws made (30) and attempted (32)|
|1953-60||Led NBA in assists|
|1954, 1957||NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player|
|1957||NBA Most Valuable Player|
|1959||Single game record for most assists (19) in one half|
|1962-63||All-NBA Second Team|
|1970||Inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame|
|1974||All-NBA Silver Anniversary Team|
|1984||All-NBA 35th anniversary team|
|1999||ESPN selects Cousy as #94 on Sports Century top 100 athletes list|
|1999||All-NBA 50th anniversary team|
Bob Cousy was one of the greatest passers and play-makers in NBA history. A showman with flair and an entertainer as much as a basketball player, Cousy was a renegade in an era of rather conventional league play. He helped to build one of the most revolutionary teams in the history of professional basketball. His contribution is as great as—if not greater than—any other single player who helped the Boston Celtics dominate the 1950s and 1960s. Cousy drew audiences to the arenas where a new and struggling NBA was trying to get off the ground. Watching Cousy was fun, and the fans wanted fun, not fundamentals. He was the catalyst that turned the game into the popular modern spectacle that fans know it as today.
Where Is He Now?
Since retiring from the Celtics and then from head coaching in the seventies, Cousy has very much remained a public figure, and he can still be found doing occasional commentary on basketball or appearing at Celtics events (like the dismantling, in 2001, of the famed parquet floor in Boston Garden). He also appears in the occasional film project, making his debut in the 1994 film Blue Chips, a film about corruption in recruitment of college basketball players. More recently he has appeared in the Bill Russell documentary, Bill Russell: My Life, My Way, and the 2001 film Elvis is Alive.
Address: Bob Cousy, c/o CMG Worldwide, 8560 Sunset Boulevard 10th Floor Penthouse, West Hollywood, CA 90069.
"Bob Cousy." Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 21. Detroit: Gale, 2001.
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"Bob Cousy spans the ages." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (February 8, 1997).
Boston Globe (May 26, 1999).
Boston Globe (August 27, 1999).
Entertainment Weekly (March 4, 1984).
"Just one more season: if legs go first, how soon will pride follow?" Time (December 24, 1984).
MacMullan, Jackie. "Catching up with … Boston Celtics guard Bob Cousy." Sports Illustrated, (November 11, 1996): 4.
"NBA Legends: Bob Cousy." http://www.nba.com/history/cousybio_html/ (November 6, 2002).
"The Official Bob Cousy Webpage." http://www.cmgww.com/sports/cousy/ (November 6, 2002).
Schwartz, Larry, "Celtics tried to pass on ultimate passer." ESPN.com. http:/espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014144.html/ (November 6, 2002).
Sketch by Eric Lagergren
Known as "the Houdini of the Hardwood," Bob Cousy (born 1928) was a pioneer in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Many consider him the definitive point guard and an excellent playmaker, one of the best ever to play the game of basketball.
Cousy was born on August 9, 1928, in New York City. He was the son of French immigrants from Alsace, Joseph and Julliette (nee Corlet) Cousy. His father was a taxi driver and airline worker, while his mother worked as a secretary and language teacher. Cousy spent his early years in the East Side of Manhattan. He participated in such sports as stickball, boxball, and the stealing of hubcaps, but not basketball.
When Cousy was 12, the family moved from Manhattan to St. Albans, Queens. There, he learned to play basketball for the first time when he was 13. His early years were inauspicious. While attending St. Albans' Andrew Jackson High School, Cousy was cut two different times from the junior varsity squad. However, he was welcomed back after he broke his right arm, and was forced to learn to dribble and shoot with his left. His ambidexterity made him valuable. By the time he was a junior, Cousy was the team's star. As a senior, he won New York City's scoring title. Cousy scored 26 points in his last high school game.
Stand-Out College Player
Taking up a scholarship offer from Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, Cousy entered the school in 1946. He was platooned as a first-year student, 1946-47, the year Holy Cross won the NCAA title. Cousy played regularly beginning in the 1947-48 season, and soon became one of the best known players in college basketball. He had many flashy movies, and was responsible for popularizing the behind-the-back dribble. Yet Cousy was also benched at times because of this play by coach, Alvin Julian. At one point, Cousy considered transferring to St. Johns. He stayed the course and Holy Cross became a college basketball powerhouse. The team had two long un-beaten streaks while Cousy was a member. In the 1947-48 season, it won 18 consecutive games, and in 1949-50, 26 straight. Both streaks ended in the NCAA playoffs, though the 1949-50 team went on to win the National Invitational Tournament (NIT). Cousy himself garnered All-American honors. During his senior season, he averaged 19.4 points per game and was a co-captain. He graduated in 1950 with a B.S. in business.
Began Pro Career in Boston
After graduating from Holy Cross, Cousy's career plans were not set in stone. In addition to considering a career in professional basketball, he also thought about opening a driving school. Basketball won out. In the 1950 National Basketball Association draft, Cousy was a first round draft choice by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, then traded to the Chicago Stags. Because Cousy was well known in Boston, the Celtics and their coach Red Auerbach were vilified for not selecting him in the draft. Auerbach was unimpressed by Cousy's size (about 6′1″ tall) and razzle-dazzle style of play. However, the Stags folded before the 1950-51 season began and the team's players were distributed to three other teams in a dispersal draft. The Celtics drew Cousy's name out of a hat and he negotiated a contract for $9000 per year with the team. Auerbach soon began to appreciate the player he did not originally want.
Became Force in League
In Cousy's rookie season, 1950-51, the Celtics improved from one of the worst teams in the league to one with a winning record. Though the team lost in the first round of the playoffs, Cousy helped on numerous fronts. He posted impressive numbers, averaging 15.6 points per game and 4.9 assists per game. Cousy was named Rookie of the Year and finished ninth in the NBA scoring race. He was also a first-team All-Star.
What was even more valuable to the Celtics was the way he refined the point guard position. He could see plays that no one else could with his extraordinary peripheral vision. Cousy also had large hands, excellent timing, outstanding reflexes, and a deft touch with the basketball that allowed him to make these extraordinary plays. Cousy had the ability to make passes anywhere with both hands, including blind, behind-the-back passes, passes between his legs and over his shoulders. He could also dribble with both hands, make outside shots, and penetrate. While it took some time for his teammates to get used to his accurate, if unorthodox passes, it made Cousy a hard player to defend. Cousy's playing style also attracted an audience to the struggling young NBA, which welcomed the attention. Cousy made the game fun and people came just to see him.
Cousy gradually improved his game in the early 1950s. In the 1951-52 season, he averaged 21.7 points per game and 6.7 assists per game, but the Celtics again lost in the first round of playoffs. By 1952-53, he was leading the league in assists, averaging 7.7 per game. In the semi-finals that year, Cousy played his most legendary game, scoring 50 points (including 25 in regulation) in a four overtime game against Syracuse on March 21. He also made 30 of 32 free-throw attempts. Though the Celtics made it to the finals, they eventually lost the league title.
Cousy reached the height of his career in the mid-1950s. He led the NBA in assists from 1953-60, and was also always near the top of the league in scoring and free-throw percentage. In 1953-54, Cousy was the second highest scorer in the league, averaging 19.2 points per game and the All-Star Game MVP. A few years later, in 1956-57 Cousy was both the league's MVP and All-Star Game MVP. He led the league in assists (7.5 assist per game) and was eighth in scoring with 20.6 points per game. In 1956, he also became the first NBA player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The Celtics had the best record in the league and won the NBA championship in seven games over the St. Louis Hawks. With the addition of Bill Russell in the late 1950s, the Celtics won the NBA championship six of Cousy's seven last seasons with the team (except 1957-58). He also appeared in the All-Star Game every year he played with the Celtics, save 1961-62, and was a 12-time all-NBA selection. Cousy was a league leader in other ways: in 1955, he helped organize the NBA Players Union. His affect on the league was recognized near the end of his career. In 1962, a sports editor poll named him the NBA's number one player of all time.
Retired from Celtics
Cousy retired from the Celtics after the 1962-63 season, making $30,000 per year. During his last regular season home game, March 17, 1963, he received a 20-minute farewell. The Celtics went on to beat the Lakers in finals to secure yet another NBA championship. Though many believed Cousy was still near the top of his game, he knew his skills were on the decline. For example, his scoring average was down to 13.2 points per game. He told Tom Callahan of Time magazine, "I was very conscious of my skills eroding…. The minute there is even a subtle diminishment of legs, you're the first to know. I became aware of when I should stop wanting the ball in key situations. For a couple of years, I decoyed myself at those moments, making sure Sam Jones, Tommy Heinsohn or whoever ended up with the shot." Cousy could have played longer, but the decline would have been too obvious, and he feared any marketability he had would have been lost. He had already done numerous commercial endorsements during his playing years.
Over the course of Cousy's career in Boston, he scored nearly 17,000 points and 7,000 assists in 917 regular season games. He averaged 18.4 points per game, and had a career .803 foul shooting percentage, and .375 field goal percentage. When he retired, he held two NBA records, later surpassed, for most minutes played (30,230) and most assists (6949). Cousy was also fourth-leading scorer of the time (16,995 points) and second in total games played (917). He was the only player to play in 13 All-Star games, and only fouled out 20 times. In his 109 playoff games, Cousy averaged 18.5 points per game, 8.6 assists per game, and had an .801 foul shooting percentage.
Began Coaching Career
Immediately after retirement, Cousy began a coaching career, first on the college level. Remaining in Boston, he coached the Boston College team from 1963 through 1969, posting a record of 117-38. In four seasons, the team racked up more than 20 victories. Cousy also took the team to several NCAA tournaments and one NIT tournaments. Cousy left the college ranks in 1969 in part because he did not like to recruit.
Cousy was immediately hired by an NBA team. In 1969-70, Cousy was the coach of the Cincinnati Royals. He briefly unretired as a player during the season and played in seven games. Cousy made the move to help his team and was well-paid for the effort. At the time, he was the oldest player to ever play in the NBA. In the 1970-71 season, the team moved to Kansas City-Omaha and was renamed the Kings. Cousy remained as coach until 1974, when he retired. His record as a professional coach was 141-209. During his tenure as coach, his accomplishments as a player were not forgotten. Cousy was inducted into the Naismsith Hall of Fame in 1970, and he was named to the All-NBA Silver Anniversary Team in 1971. He was later named to the 35th and 50th Anniversary Teams as well.
Became Television Commentator
After retiring as a coach, Cousy could not leave behind the game. Beginning in 1974, he was a color commentator for Celtics games for many years. Known for his blunt opinions, Cousy told Terry Pluto of Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service "Some games, I really have to bite my tongue on the air. I get so mad at those guys, I want to run on the court and just wring a few necks." In the late 1990s, he added another basketball role, working as a marketing representative for the Celtics' front office. Cousy also remained involved in the labor movement in basketball, believing pre-1965 players should have better pensions. Though Cousy despised old timers charity games, he suited up for at least one that benefited the pensions of older players.
Cousy also worked outside basketball. He served as the commissioner of the American Soccer League from 1974-79. He also ran for a Congressional seat, but lost the election. Cousy even took on an acting role. In 1994, he appeared in the movie Blue Chips, a movie about the corruption in recruitment of college basketball players. Cousy played the athletic director of the fictional Western University. Still, it is as a real basketball player that Cousy remained best known. His former coach, Auerbach, was quoted in The Modern Encyclopedia of Basketball as saying "Cousy was one of the greatest all-around basketball players in the game, and undoubtedly he was the best backcourt player."
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