Cousy Has Concerns About Today's Game
With snow moving across New England, Bob Cousy, one of the National Basketball Association's all-time greats, decides he will stay home rather than venture out to that night's Boston Celtics game.
He does not sound especially disappointed during a phone interview that he conducts from his Worcester, Mass., residence, some 35 miles away.
Cousy has seen countless NBA games since his retirement in 1963, and although an analyst on Celtic road telecasts, he confesses to being "tired and bored" of watching the endless succession of ordinary contests.
"Some of it has to do with the way the game is played now," he observes, "the other is that the motivation of the athletes has been eroded by no-cut, guaranteed contracts that pay athletes millions of dollars for playing a child's game. You can be good, bad, or indifferent and still get $120 million."
As a result, Cousy contends, the sports world gets less bang per buck out of its protagonists than it once did. "When I see players going through the motions or giving what our old mentor [Celtic coach] Red Auerbach used to call 'false hustle,' that's a turnoff for me and I lose interest."
These hollow efforts, he claims, have led to constant upsets, as good teams struggle to find a spark.
"I enjoy the NBA during the playoffs," he says of the postseason, when everybody's concentration presumably intensifies.
Cousy was the playmaking guard on the NBA's most dominant team. The Celtics won six championships in the seven years before his tearful retirement, punctuated by a fan's "We love ya Cooz" bellow from a Boston Garden balcony.
Having graduated from Holy Cross in Worcester, Cousy was a natural for the struggling Boston franchise. In 1950, however, he was headed for Illinois/Iowa as the first draft choice of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks, who traded him to the Chicago Stags. But when the Stags folded, the Celtics drew his rights out of a hat.
His acquisition catalyzed the team, especially once center Bill Russell arrived in 1956.
Cousy finds it ironic that he became known as "the Houdini of the Hardwood" for his moments of freewheeling brilliance - most noticeably, behind-the-back dribbling and no-look passing.
Despite the flashy, unorthodox moves, Cousy claims his "entire life has been led very conservatively. I played conservatively. I coached conservatively." And to this day, he prefers Worcester to Boston because he likes the smaller-town feel and the privacy it affords.
"Nobody believes me, but I never worked on any of these [ball-handling] things before I did them," he says. "Literally I would do them in the game for the first time. I was just blessed with those kind of skills. I was ahead of my time. What I was doing then every 12-year-old in the school yard does now, and probably with more panache."
Besides being an innovative playmaker, Cousy pioneered in another area: He started the players' association in 1955. "I'm not sure I'm happy with the way the players' association has evolved, but that's another subject," he says.
When the association was founded, he adds, every club was operating in the red.
He has been amazed by the NBA's spectacular modern growth. Speaking for players of his era, he says, "In our wildest imagination I don't think any of us could even come close to conjuring up what's been done marketing-wise. Basketball just fits [today's world] in every way, which is why I firmly believe in the next five years it will become the No. 1 sport [internationally]."
He thinks it will even surpass soccer, a sport he once served for five years as commissioner of the American Soccer League. The shoestring operation eventually failed and Cousy stands by his views of the sport. Soccer's rules, he's convinced, must be modified for North American fans to create more goal-mouth activity, not necessarily more scoring.
As for his beloved basketball, Cousy says he occasionally hears complaints about "the big monsters who just slam-dunk."
"If the game is an art form," he says, "the art is in the play development, the transitional game, the passing, the dribbling, etc." In other words, the game played below the rim.
For a while Cousy, at 6 ft., 1 in., was a spokesman for a pro league for players 6 ft., 4 in. and under, which folded. Today, he's still an advocate of the concept as organizer of the Bob Cousy 6-foot-2 and Under International Basketball Tournament played in Worcester. Last summer 22 countries participated in the benefit event and now Cousy wants to add a women's division and attract corporate backing.
The NBA gave the event some support last time and he's talked to the league about escalating its commitment. Clearly, as a former player he knows the league's not broke, so he most likely will drive hard to the goal, in typical Cousy fashion.