Dave Cowens

Born: October 25, 1948
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1970-’80
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1982-’83

Dave Cowens
Dave Cowens

With so many great players and Hall of Famers, the following sentence may apply to a bushel of players, but, here it goes…

Dave Cowens may be the overlooked Celtics legend.

Yes, other guys like Satch Sanders, Sam Jones, Bill Sharman, Jo Jo White, and others get the overlooked treatment, but Cowens is one of just four Celtics to win an MVP award as a Celtic. Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Larry Bird are the others. Cowens, however, doesn’t ever seem to demand the kind of historical attention those other three command.

This is a strange turn of events given that Cowens demanded and commanded all kinds of attention while he played. How could you ignore the firebrand who yelled and wailed at horrendous referee calls that he considered crimes against humanity? (Famously Cowens, disgusted with a ticky tack foul call, decided to show the ref a real foul by body-checking the flopping Mike Newlin of the Houston Rockets. “Now that’s a foul!”, Cowens howled at the ref.) How could you miss the 6’9″ center crashing the boards relentlessly knocking bodies out of the way in the process? How could you possibly overlook his lefty hooks, outstanding jump shot, and agile athleticism?

And most of all, how could you ignore the startling success of the Celtics while Cowens was with them?

Joining Jo Jo White and John Havlicek in the 1970-71 season, Cowens was Rookie of the Year and helped re-establish Boston as a force after the retirement of Bill Russell in 1969. Their 44 wins weren’t good enough to make the East playoffs in 1971, but in 1972 they improved to 56 wins and in 1973 they reeled off a ridiculous 68 wins.

That Celtics squad may be the most undervalued great team in NBA history. Sixty-eight wins and I bet most readers never even knew about it. The problem is that Havlicek hurt his shoulder that postseason and the Celtics were (barely) dislodged in the 1973 Conference Finals by the New York Knicks in seven games.

Cowens for his efforts that year was named MVP. It’s one of the more controversial MVPs in NBA history. Cowens made the All-NBA 2nd Team that very same season while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the All-NBA 1st Team at center, but still lost out on MVP to Cowens. To his credit, Dave averaged 20.5 points, 16.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists that year. Then again, Kareem averaged 30.2 points, 16.1 rebounds, and 5.0 assists.

In any event, the distressing playoff loss to the Knicks in ’73 didn’t cause any let up in Cowens’s intensity for the 1973-74 season. The Celtics finished with 56 regular season wins, but more importantly captured the NBA title. They did so by besting Kareem’s Milwaukee Bucks in a classic seven-game series where Dave left behind his most famous play, which accurately depicts his determination and style of play.

After poking the ball loose from Oscar Robertson, Cowens and the Big O got into a foot race for the ball. Dave started stumbling and then decided to just make a giant leap for the ball and skid across the floor for what seemed like a mile:

Dave_Cowens_dives_for_the_ball

Another title followed in 1976 over the Phoenix Suns, but that was the last great year for Cowens’ original gang of Celtics. Havlicek would soon retire, Paul Silas and White were traded, and a string of underwhelming stars were brought in. Big Red himself temporarily lost his fire the sport and took a one month sabbatical in the 1976-77 season.

However, by the 1979-80 season, the Celtics and Cowens had a return to glory. Teaming up with Larry Bird, Tiny Archibald, and Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, Boston won 61 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Dr. J’s 76ers proved a tad bit better and won the series in five games. That offseason, the Celtics made their swindle/trade with Golden State for Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

Perhaps Cowens could have stuck around for a chance to win a couple of more titles in his twilight. After all, he was just 31-years-old, had only played 10 seasons, and had just come off a year averaging 14 points, eight rebounds, and three assists. Not bad at all for a starting center. So, surely he could put together three or four more seasons of good basketball as Parish’s back up.

Instead, Cowens chose to retire. At least temporarily.

He made a quirky return to the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1982-83 season at the age of 34 – he averaged eight points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes. But Cowens was always a strange character. Cowens drove a taxicab during the late 1970s just for fun. He sold Christmas trees in his home-state of Kentucky during his 1976 sabbatical. And the fiery countenance he exhibited on the court transformed into an amazing sense of humor off of it.

But when he was on the court, heaven help you if you were the opposing team, or even worse, the referee…

Honors

NBA –
2x Champion (1974, 1976)
MVP (1973)
3x All-NBA 2nd Team (1973, 1975-’76)
All-Defensive 1st Team (1976)
2x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1975, 1980)
8x All-Star (1972-’78, 1980)
All-Star Game MVP (1973)
All-Rookie Team (1971)
Rookie of the Year (1971)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (766 games):
17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.9 BPG
.496 TS%, .460FG%, .783 FT%
17.0 PER, .140 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (89 games):
18.9 PPG, 14.4 RPG, 3.7 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 0.9 BPG
.480 TS%, .451 FG%, .744 FT%
16.6 PER, .119 WS/48

 

Robert Parish

Born: August 30, 1953
Position: Center
Professional Career:
Golden State Warriors (NBA): 1976-’80
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1980-’94
Charlotte Hornets (NBA): 1994-’96
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1996-’97

Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)
Robert Parish (Celtics Pride)

Robert Parish’s NBA career lasted longer than any player in history. He strung together 21 seasons and played in 1795 games between the regular season and playoffs. Naturally, luck plays a role in anyone being able to play for that long, but also credit Parish’s stringent training, yoga, and vegetarian diet for keeping him spry year after year.

Most of those years, of course, were spent with the Boston Celtics. From the 1980-81 season through the 1993-94 campaign, the Chief called Boston home. His presence alongside Larry Bird and Kevin McHale created what many think is the best frontcourt trio in NBA history. They have a good case given the trio of titles they captured together.

Parish, no doubt, was the lowest key of the three. He didn’t say much to begin with and his game was perhaps even quieter. He wasn’t prone to dazzling displays of athleticism, he never averaged over 20 points a game, and he didn’t swat shots into the 5th or 6th row.

But what Parish delivered certainly was constant and consistent. In his second NBA season (with the Golden State Warriors) in 1978, Parish scored 12.5 points per game. 16 years later in 1994, Parish at the age of 40 was still scoring 11.7 points a night. His defense and rebounding followed a similar ever-ready suit. Opposing centers rarely got the upper hand on the Chief who resolutely patrolled the paint and registered stifling resistance night after night.

For another perspective on Parish’s triumphant longevity, He was just a year younger than Bill Walton, his teammate on the 1986 Celtics. Walton entered the NBA in 1975, Parish in 1976. By the time Parish retired in 1997, Walton had been retired from the NBA for a decade and was in the midst of broadcasting playoff games that Parish was still appearing in. Parish was also just a year younger than George Gervin. Imagine the Ice Man still on an NBA roster in ’97. That’s the longevity of Parish.

Robert Parish schools Kareem

If there was anything “flashy” about Parish it was his insanely high-arching turn-around jumper. Already 7’0″, Parish lofting a shot from such a perch was impossible to block and he hit the shot an absurd amount. That shot enabled Parish to have games like a 31-point demolition of Detroit in the 1987 playoffs while making 10 of his 12 field goals, plus 11 of his 12 free throws.

The other patented Parish move was his one-handed, always-in-stride dunk. The Chief was an underrated finisher on the break since he never ran that fast, but he never stopped running so he could get down the court and finish with authority.

Notice how unfast Parish was running in that clip, but he kept a-movin’ and got the jam.  And at the age of 43 Parish was still doing his unfast floor trot to slam home dunks…

That’s the kind of ceaseless determination that defined the career of Robert Parish.

 

Honors

4x Champion (1981, 1984, 1986, 1997)
All-NBA 2nd Team (1982)
All-NBA 3rd Team (1989)
9x All-Star (1981-’87, 1990-’91)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1611 games):
14.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.571 TS%, .537 FG%, .721 FT%
19.2 PER, .154 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (184 games):
15.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 0.8 SPG
.547 TS%, .506 FG%, .722 FT%
16.6 PER, .121 WS/48

Bob Cousy

Born: August 9, 1928
Position: Point Guard
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1950-’63
Cincinatti Royals (NBA): 1969-’70

Bob Cousy

When George Mikan retired from the NBA in 1954, the NBA lost its first great star. The man ssuming Mikan’s massive place as the Face of the NBA, was surprisingly only 6’1″ tall. Well, only surprising if you accounted for stature. If you counted for talent and wizardry, then it’s not the least bit shocking that Bob Cousy mesmerized NBA fans in the 1950s and became the league’s big star.

The Cooz captivated crowds with his straight-from-the-playground theatrics. He never did these things for show, however. It was perfectly natural for Cousy to dribble behind the back and flip no-look passes. Elevating to dump dimes by dropping them over his head were legitimately done not for showmanship. These types of dazzling displays were genuinely natural Cousy. It’s how the game made sense to him. The deceitful pass beguiled the opponent and therefore gave his team the advantage.

Cooz

Cousy’s breathtaking passing has always, and rightly, held supreme over his ability to score. However, he was a fearful scorer. From 1951 to 1959 he finished in the top 10 in points per game seven times topping out in 1954 and 1955 with back-to-back second-place finishes. All the while, Cousy was leading the league in assists per game for eight straight years, 1953 through 1960.

Only Nate Archibald, Wilt Chamberlain, and Oscar Robertson have also finished so high in PPG and APG simultaneously. And of course, the Cooz was the first of these four to accomplish it.

The Houdini of the Hardwood helped transform the Boston Celtics from bottom dwellers in the East to perennial contenders. Along with Ed Macauley and Bill Sharman he formed the first of Boston’s many fabled Big 3s. And although Cousy ended his Celtics career with six titles, it was a rough road to that glory.

The Cousy-Sharman-Macauley Celtics always made the playoffs from 1951 to 1956, but were always thwarted, particularly by the Syracuse Nationals. The team was an offensive juggernaut, but was a sieve on the defensive end. Sharman more than held his own on both ends, but Cousy and Macauley just weren’t good enough on defense. That agony finally faded when Boston traded Macauley for Bill Russell while also drafting Tommy Heinsohn in 1957. With the team finally finding the right balance of offense and defense, the Celtics were better than ever winning the title in ’57 and Cousy won his only MVP award that same season.

It came not a moment too soon. After the numerous playoff failures, the Celtics management contemplated breaking up the most expensive roster in the NBA if they lost the 1957 Finals. The ultimate victory was particularly sweet as Boston swept their longtime tormenters, the Nationals, in the Eastern Division Finals. After breaking though that year, though, Cousy enjoyed five more championship victories over the next six years, finally retiring in 1963.

It’s often hard for those of us today to fully appreciate just how out-of-this-world Cousy was as a rookie 1951. His moves don’t seem as miraculous 60 years later. His 9.5 APG were earth-shattering in 1960, but have since become routine. The best we can do is remind ourselves that once upon a time in Beantown, NBA fans were dazzled by a Houdini of the Hardwood with never before seen tricks and left everyone spellbound.

Honors

MVP (1957)
6x Champion (1957, 1959-’63)
10x All-NBA 1st Team (1952-’61)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1962-’63)
13x All-Star (1951-’63)
2x All-Star Game MVP (1954, 1957)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (924 games):
18.4 PPG, 7.5 APG, 5.2 RPG, .375 FG%, .803 FT%
19.8 PER, .139 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (109 games):
18.5 PPG, 8.6 APG, 5.0 RPG, .342 FG%, .801 FT%
17.4 PER, .109 WS/48

 

 

Bill Sharman

Born: May 25, 1926
Died: October 25, 2013
Position: Shooting Guard
Professional Career:
Washington Capitals (NBA): 1950-’51
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1951-’61
Los Angeles Jets (ABL): 1961-’62

Bill Sharman
Bill Sharman

Ask folks for a list of great shooting guards from NBA history and you will likely get Michael Jordan. Then Kobe Bryant. Perhaps, Jerry West and Reggie Miller. Maybe…. maybe Sam Jones. But Bill Sharman? He would likely never crop up despite in many regards being the man who prototyped the shooting guard position.

Bill Sharman started out his NBA career at the age of 24 with the Washington Capitals in the 1950-51 season. At this stage in his life, Sharman appeared more likely to enjoy a lengthy pro baseball career than a prolonged NBA life. In 1950, he appeared in just over 120 minor league baseball games batting .288. The next year, Sharman was called up by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Although he never played a game from the Dodgers, he was ejected from one, making him the only player in Major League Baseball history ejected from a major league game without ever appearing in one.

By that point in September 1951, it was still unclear whether Sharman’s basketball career was more promising than his baseball hopes. Tje Capitals folded midway through the 1950-51 season leaving Sharman without a basketball employer. Sharman, however, showed promise averaging 12 points in 31 games. Not exactly the stuff that would leave teams around the league scrambling for Sharman, but enough for someone to take a flier on him.

Continue reading

Tommy Heinsohn

Born: August 26, 1934
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1956-’65

Tom Heinsohn SI

Tom Heinsohn’s influence in today’s NBA has boiled down to how many Tommy Points he hands out on a given night to the Boston Celtics. Or how many vitriolic rants he aims toward incompetent referees.

Back in the day, though, Heinsohn still dished out points, but they were the ones that actually counted on the court. As the Boston Celtics’ official gunner, he shot so much and so often that he was nicknamed “Tommy Gun” and “Ack-Ack.” You know, “Ack-Ack” as in the sound a tommy guns made in those old black-and-white gangster movies.

Continue reading

Bailey Howell

Born: January 20, 1937
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1959-1964
Baltimore Bullets (NBA): 1964-1966
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1966-1970
Philadelphia 76ers (NBA): 1970-1971

Bailey_Howell

The Lowdown: A great power forward, Bailey Howell wasn’t the type of player to demand glory, attention, or top status in a team’s pecking order. He desired a key role, but he never sought out acclaim. Despite a routine average of 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, most of his career was spent on middling teams. A fateful trade to the Boston Celtics in 1966 gave Howell the opportunity to play an integral and needed role in keeping the last few seasons of the Celtic Dynasty alive. That balanced team environment was what the six-time All-Star desired all his career. Better late than never for the maniacal rebounder and hustling forward.

Continue reading

Paul Silas

Born: July 12, 1941
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
St. Louis Hawks (NBA): 1964-’68
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1968-’69
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1969-’72
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1972-’76
Denver Nuggets (NBA): 1976-’77
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977-’80


Paul Silas (spokeo)
(spokeo)

The Lowdown: Paul Silas was never much of a scorer, but his NBA career lasted 16 years thanks to his grinding defensive play and tireless effort on the boards. Silas was also heralded for the accountability he demanded from all teammates. He could begrudgingly forgive mistakes, but never a lack of effort. With this ensemble of talent, hustle, and personality, Silas carved out a place on two All-Star Teams and three NBA champions during his lengthy career.
Continue reading