After three All-American seasons at the College of the Holy Cross, just a short cruise from Boston, Bob Cousy entered the 1950 NBA Draft as a highly-touted prospect – at least for teams not named the Boston Celtics. The C’s owned the rights to the first overall selection in that draft, but Red Auerbach had no intentions of choosing Cousy with the pick due to his flashy play and small stature. Instead, Boston selected Charlie Share, a center out of Bowling Green. Two picks later, the Tri-City Blackhawks chose Cousy with the third overall selection.
Oddly enough, neither Share nor Cousy would go on to play for the teams that chose them. Share never suited up for the Celtics and began his career in Fort Wayne in 1951. Cousy’s story, however, is the stuff of legends.
The Blackhawks traded Cousy to the Chicago Stags prior to the 1950-51 season, but the Stags didn’t actually play a game that season. Instead, the Chicago franchise folded just a month before the regular season was set to begin. The NBA reacted by putting Chicago’s top three players’ names (Max Zaslofsky, Andy Phillip and Cousy) into a hat to be randomly drawn in a dispersal draft.
Three teams (the New York Knicks, the Philadelphia Warriors and Celtics) were invited to take part in the dispersal draft, and none of them wanted to wind up with Cousy, including the Celtics. But as fate would have it, his name was drawn as Boston’s selection. Less than a month later, on Nov. 1, 1950, Cousy and Auerbach made their debuts with Boston during the season opener in Fort Wayne.
It was a long and windy road that Cousy took to become a Celtic, but at the end of the day, it was meant to be. Soon after his arrival in Boston, he became one of the greatest players in the league.
Cousy was undoubtedly the top point guard of his generation. He led the NBA in assists-per-game in eight of his first 11 seasons, maxing out with an average of 9.5 APG in 1959-60. It may surprise you that a player who averaged around 8.0 APG during his prime would have led the league in assists, but take into consideration that there was no shot clock during Cousy’s era. Everything he accomplished was done in an era when the game was played at a very slow place, at least with the exception of Cousy and his teammates.
And that’s exactly why Cousy is seen as a player who changed the game. He was given the nickname “Houdini of the Hardwood” because of his unorthodox play, which often included behind-the-back and no-look passes. His style of play is the norm nowadays, but back in the 50s, he was often looked at as a showboat. No one, however, could deny the impact Cousy’s flashiness of play made on the Celtics.
Boston went on to win six titles during Cousy’s 13 seasons with the team thanks to his stellar play. He averaged between 7.5 and 10.8 APG during each of his final nine postseasons. His earlier playoff appearances included plenty of scoring, as he averaged between 20.2 and 31.0 PPG during six of his first seven postseasons.
Cousy also dominated regular seasons, as evidenced by his assist titles. He also hovered around 20.0 PPG for the majority of his career and finished with a final average of 18.4 PPG. As a 6-foot-1, thin-bodied point guard, Cousy managed to grab an average of 5.2 RPG throughout his 14-year career, with a career-high average of 6.9 RPG in his rookie season.
While playing for the Celtics, Cousy was chosen as the NBA’s MVP after averaging 20.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 7.5 APG over 64 games of the 1956-57 season. MVP awards were also given to Cousy after two of his 13 All-Star games, in 1954 (20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) and in 1957 (10 points, five rebounds, seven assists). He was named to 10 consecutive All-NBA First Teams.
After his career came to a close, Cousy’s accolades continued to pile up. Cousy was elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Celtics honored his greatness by retiring his No. 14 jersey on Oct. 16, 1963. He is also one of a handful of players who were chosen to the NBA’s 25th, 35th and 50th anniversary teams.
Had it not been for a freak accident during his sophomore year of high school, none of those accomplishments may have ever happened. Cousy fell out of a tree and broke his right hand not long after he was cut from the basketball team as a sophomore. With his right hand broken, he began to do everything left-handed – including playing basketball.
Soon enough, Cousy had transformed into an ambidextrous player who could dribble, shoot and pass with both hands. Those skills were crucial, because without them, he would have never been able to play with the style and grace that he showcased throughout his career. His other skills, however, were innate, and they helped him off of the court.
Perhaps more important than any of his playing or coaching days, Cousy played an instrumental role in the creation of the NBA Players Association, which launched in 1954. The NBPA was the first union organized in the four major American sports, and he served as its first president until 1958. That role helped him hone his business skills, which the Celtics saw as an asset. The team brought him back on board in 1999 as a marketing consultant, and he continues to hold that position in 2011.