On a algid autumn morning, Bob Cousy greets me at the advanced aperture as the leaves abatement about his home in Worcester, Massachusetts. He’s lived there abandoned aback his wife died bristles years ago. I agitate his duke and ask him how he’s doing. “Never ask a 90-year-old that question”, he says. He brandishes his pikestaff for emphasis.
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We sit at his astronomic dining allowance table and allocution about his aboriginal canicule on the Celtics. Cousy, a Hall of Famer, was aggregation captain for the aboriginal six Boston Celtics titles. His easily move like he’s throwing passes to airy teammates as he discusses his amateur year.
The Aboriginal Years
“Well, we had some accomplished players,” Cousy says. “We had some not-so-talented players.”
Cousy says that his adolescent rookie, Chuck Cooper, was a “5 or 6 on a 10 scale,” talent-wise. But Cooper was article else.
“Jackie Robinson bankrupt the blush band in baseball in 1947,” Cousy explains. “Three years later, our owner, Walter Brown, got up at the affair and said, ‘The Celtics abstract Chuck Cooper from Duquesne.’ “
Cousy had no atramentous accompany growing up in a Manhattan tenement. He had no atramentous teammates in aerial academy or college. Now he was attached with the aboriginal atramentous amateur alleged in the NBA Draft. They went to movies, listened to applesauce and drank at bars. Their band was activated on Feb. 28, 1952, afterwards a bold in Raleigh.
“And he wasn’t accustomed to annals in the auberge with us,” Cousy says. “And Chuck and I somehow begin out that there was a sleeper activity through Raleigh that night at 12:30 to New York, with a affiliation to Boston.”
Cousy and Cooper went to Union Station to delay for the sleeper train.
“We alpha bubbler beer,” Cousy says. “And afterwards three or four beers it’s, like, midnight. And we accept to go whiz.”
They fabricated their way to the blow room. Cousy was extemporaneous for what he saw.
“Stupid-ass signs,” he says. “Big, white signs, with a atramentous arrow — one pointing right, says ‘Colored.’ The added pointing left, says ‘White.’ And I was stunned. I was abashed to be white. I didn’t apperceive what to say to him.
“I said, ‘C’mon, let’s go out.’ We go to the end of the platform, and we peed together.”
Their accord grew off the cloister and on it. Cooper was a acceptable player. But Cousy, a point guard, was alpha to transform the league.
“This is the 1950s, and he’s a little bit like Elvis Presley in music or James Dean in film,” says biographer Gary Pomerantz, who’s interviewed Cousy over 50 times.
“He’s a renegade, accusation out adjoin the bourgeois norms,” Pomerantz continues. “Dribbling abaft his aback and throwing no-look passes. He was abacus array of a blow of caffeine to the NBA. A blow of style.”
But the Celts were abandoned hardly bigger than mediocre.
“They were a aggregation disturbing to acquisition itself,” Pomerantz says. “The Celtics bare a big man to accomplish it to the abutting level.”
‘Russ Afflicted The Activating In Every Way’
In a barter afterwards the 1956 draft, the Celtics acquired centermost Bill Russell.
“Russ afflicted the activating in every way,” Cousy says.
He was a alarming attempt blocker.
“He put a agony on opposing shooters,” Pomerantz adds.
And he was a abundant rebounder.
“An adversary would booty a attempt and miss, and there’s Russell — rising, rising, 6-foot-10, long, angular and adaptable — accepting the backlash and half-turning and snap-passing the aperture to Cousy,” Pomerantz says.
Russell and Cousy created a fast-break appearance that was about indefensible.
“These are, in abounding ways, the ultimate teammates,” Pomerantz says. “They were both berserk competitive. And, actual quickly, the Celtics emerged as a force to be reckoned with.”
“Russell and Cooz had a almost bound accord on the court,” says Satch Sanders, who abutting the Celtics in 1960. “They had a lot of account for anniversary other. That was clear. Off the court, they were not spending a lot of time in anniversary other’s company.”
Two Stars, One Divide
Racial tensions were aerial in the U.S., and that agitated over into some NBA locker rooms. But Sanders says that wasn’t the case with the Celtics. Cousy says Red Auerbach — who he abandoned alleged by his aboriginal name, Arnold — created adviser accord in a rather abnormal way.
“I anticipate Arnold, frankly, apparent the black-white bearings appealing well,” Cousy says. “He advised anybody the same: badly. So Russ and I — the accord was the aforementioned as any two bodies that are alive appear a goal.”
The ambition was to win championships. And, with Russell, the Celtics began to do that. But article abroad was accident at the alpha of the Celtics’ dynasty.
“Russell and Cousy were calm for seven years as teammates,” Gary Pomerantz says. “And if you put that on a Civilian Rights timeline, it’s almost from the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott to Dr. King’s March on Washington Address in 1963. That is the affection of the atramentous abandon struggle. And Russell would appoint in that attempt in a way that few athletes did.”
On Oct. 17, 1961, the Celtics played a preseason exhibition bold in Lexington, Kentucky. Satch Sanders remembers what happened at the aggregation auberge afore the game.
“We had gone bench to eat, and they said, ‘Well, we actually can’t serve you people,’ ” Sanders says.
“They weren’t blessed about it,” Pomerantz says. “And they aggregate in Russell’s allowance at the hotel.”
Russell and Sanders, forth with K.C. Jones and Sam Jones, absitively not to play.
“And Red didn’t appetite to about-face abroad from a nice payday for the team,” Pomerantz says. “So he approved to argue the African-American Celtics to stay. And Russell said, ‘We’re activity home.’ “
“The white players gave it consideration,” Sanders says. “But in the end, they absitively to comedy the game.”
Seven white Celtics played, including Bob Cousy, who didn’t protest.
“I accept no account for this,” Cousy says, “feeling as I do about amusing justice, actuality a captain of the team.”
When Gary Pomerantz originally asked Cousy about that game, he said he didn’t bethink it.
“Cousy said, ‘Why did I play? What was I thinking? It was an exhibition game. Why didn’t I say something?’ ” Pomerantz says. “I anticipate he was so focused on actuality Bob Cousy, some of the best capital American history of the additional bisected on the aeon anesthetized him by. Went over his head. He was focused on winning. He was focused on his endorsements and his brand. And it aloof went by.”
Meanwhile, Bill Russell batten added and added about about civilian rights and the analysis of African-Americans. He alleged Boston “a racist city.” The columnist went to Russell for quotes, but …
“They didn’t like him,” Sanders says. “Because he exuded arrogance, aplomb and all the added things that atramentous guys should not have, in a lot of estimations.”
In 1963, addition bankrupt into Bill Russell’s home, cacographic accusation on the walls and defecated in his bed. Russell wore his acrimony alike added acutely on his sleeve.
“Russ was the ultimate affronted atramentous man,” Cousy says. “And I didn’t accusation him then, and I accusation him alike beneath now.”
Cousy says it afflicted him to watch African-Americans attempt for accepting and inclusion. But he remained quiet. And he says Russell’s acrimony fabricated it adamantine for them to anatomy a accord like the ones Cousy had enjoyed with Chuck Cooper andsome of his added atramentous teammates.
” ‘Let’s go accept a beer, let’s go to the cine together,’ whatever, or associate alfresco of the unit,” Cousy says. “I was the chief member. I had a acceptable accord with the media. I consistently have. So I could accept accomplished out and conceivably aggregate his affliction a little bit with him, you know? I never did that with Russ.”
The End Of An Era
Bob Cousy retired at the end of the 1962–1963 division afterwards yet addition acknowledged appellation run. He and Russell had led the Celtics to six NBA championships in their seven seasons together.
The Celtics aggregate for a postseason dinner.
“And Bill Russell took to the belvedere to speak,” Pomerantz says. “And what Russell said was, ‘You accommodated actual few men in activity like Bob Cousy. I accede Cousy like a brother.’ And Russell became affecting at this point.”
Cousy doesn’t actually bethink that, either.
“Obviously, this should accept been appropriate to me,” Cousy says. “When I apprehend what he said, it brought aback a slight memory. And it brought a breach to my eye. But I don’t apperceive why I don’t bethink it added specifically, added than I’m 90 freaking years old. That’s article to do with it, you know?”
“When I apprehend these quotes to Cousy during an interview, Cousy aloof started afraid his head,” Pomerantz says. “He said, ‘What was I thinking? Why didn’t I get up and go beyond the allowance and accord Russ a hug?’ “
In the abatement of 1963, the Celtics became Bill Russell’s aggregation … unless that had happened abundant earlier. Russell retired as a amateur in 1969. Afterwards 13 seasons in the NBA, he had becoming 11 championship rings.
Cousy did a lot of cerebration over three decades about how he’d collapsed abbreviate as a aggregation leader. But he didn’t allocution about it until a 2001 ESPN account about Russell.
“And he was talking in a airy way about Russell’s amazing athleticism,” Pomerantz says. “But the affair confused to race.”
“I should accept been abundant added acute to Russell’s affliction in those days. Uh … we allocution … uh … “
“And he aloof bankrupt bottomward sobbing,” Pomerantz says. “He active his arch in his easily on camera.”
A brace months later, Cousy abounding a alms golf accident in Florida. Russell — who had apparent Cousy’s ESPN account — was there, too. And Cousy had no abstraction what to expect.
“Russ and I, I consistently said over the years, had affectionate of a love-hate relationship,” Cousy says. “And he’d either affectionate of avoid me, or blaze at me. Or, in this case, he ran over and threw his accoutrements about me. And we talked about this. Aboriginal allusive chat we apparently anytime had in our relationship.
“And he basically said, ‘Cooz, whatever you ability accept done wouldn’t accept been helpful.’ He said what he had to do to accomplish me feel better, I guess. And I accepted that.”
“And he hoped this chat would advance to a college arena in their relationship, a added friendship,” Pomerantz says. “But it actually didn’t.”
“I anticipation about it for 15 or 16 years,” Cousy says. “And I wrote him a letter three years ago, appealing abundant accomplishing a mea culpa.”
Cousy hand-wrote that letter.
“And I basically said, ‘Russ, I apperceive we’ve never been pen pals, and I’m apologetic about that. It was my albatross to ability out to you and hopefully allotment the affliction that you had during that aeon — or abbreviate it, or whatever. However, I didn’t do that. Apologetic about that.’ And that was it.”
“Well, again six months anesthetized after a response,” Gary Pomerantz says. “And again a year. And two years. And then, two and a bisected years later, in August of this year, 2018, Cousy got a alarm on a Sunday night at home.
“It was an old, somewhat enfeebled articulation saying, ‘Bob, it’s Bill Russell. I’m calling to see how you are.’
“They talked for about 10 or 12 minutes, according to Cousy. And again he asked the question: ‘Russ, I beatific you a letter a brace years ago. Did you get it?’ And Bill Russell said, ‘Yes I did. Thank you.’ Nothing more.”
Was Russell’s acknowledgment abrupt because he was angry? Not affronted at all? Cousy wouldn’t speculate. I asked him if Bill Russell’s simple acknowledgment of “yes” was sufficient.
“Yes, absolutely,” Cousy says.
For three seasons, Satch Sanders empiric the accord amid Bob Cousy and Bill Russell up close. I ask him if he thinks Cousy owed Russell an apology.
“No,” Sanders says. “I don’t anticipate Cousy owed him an apology. But I do anticipate that Cousy, because he was Cousy, anticipation he could do more. And again started cerebration that he should accept done more. Because he’s a man of conscience. And sensitive.
“Could he accept done more? Possibly. But he feels he could do more, and that’s what actually counts.”
“I do a lot of apperception these days, cerebration about the old days,” Cousy says. “But I apprehension I bare out the negatives as abundant as I can. And I focus on the positives.”
When our chat is over, Bob Cousy shows me to the door. Autumn air rushes in as he retrieves a bowl of aliment a acquaintance covered in tin antithesis and larboard for him on the advanced step. I say goodbye and agitate his hand: the one that threw so abounding absolute passes to his teammates. The one that captivated the pen as he wrote a letter to Bill Russell.
Gary Pomerantz’s new book is “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics and What Matters in the End.”
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