Born: August 9, 1928
Position: Point Guard
Boston Celtics (NBA): 1950-’63
Cincinatti Royals (NBA): 1969-’70
When George Mikan retired from the NBA in 1954, the NBA lost its first great star. The man assuming Mikan’s massive place as the Face of the NBA, was surprisingly only 6’1″ tall. Well, only surprising if you accounted for pure physical 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.
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.
Amidst his scoring and passing, Cousy found time to establish what would become the NBA players union in 1954. The NBPA wouldn’t fully flourish until Tommy Heinsohn and Oscar Robertson came along, but Cousy got the ball rolling for better labor rights in the NBA.
As the fight for pensions and medical care would take years to win, the Houdini of the Hardwood helped immediately 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.
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)
Regular Season Career Averages (924 games):
Playoff Career Averages (109 games):