Today’s National Basketball Association (NBA) superstars, such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, command multimillion dollar salaries and millions more in endorsements. While they may be unaware of it, they most likely owe their largesse to Bob Cousy, the consummate hardball artist who used the Boston Celtics as the stage to bring professional basketball to public prominence. It was Cousy who showed the world that amazing playmaking could endure side by side with solid team play, thus paving the way first for stars such as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, and now for James and Bryant.
Bill Reynolds, a sportswriter for The Providence Journal, takes us through the personal and professional life of Cousy, who parlayed an outstanding college career to professional glory. In Reynolds’ well paced and intricately researched narrative, Cousy’s basketball skills and his personality are intertwined, each affecting and in turn informing the other.
If a troubled childhood is a motivating factor for adult success, Cousy was primed for NBA glory early on. His immigrant parents fought constantly and created a tense and bitter atmosphere at home. Cousy took solace in the basketball court where his talents, at first slow to blossom, soon took on street legend status. Desiring to stay as far away from his New York City home as possible, Cousy chose Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. There he honed his uncanny passing and dribbling skills. His glory days, though, were with the Boston Celtics. Together, Cousy and the Celtics became NBA juggernauts winning six championships in the 1950s and 1960s.
Cousy played a significant part of his professional career with Bill Russell, the intimidating defensive center. That Cousy was white and Russell a proud black was picked up and made an issue of by the press as stories developed about the troubled relationship between the two. Reynolds puts an emphatic end to it when he quotes Russell, who speaks about his relationship with Cousy:
“I used to joke with Bob Cousy, and I admired what he stood for and
the way he conducted himself. I thought he was the smartest man I
ever played with, and I had too much respect for him to get sucked
into the jealousy others tried to promote between us. Still, I can’t
say I was ever close to Cousy; we never sat down and had a real
conversation the way real friends would.”
The book is a great read because it takes us back to an earlier era, when professional sports was not like what it is today, and yet, upon their stage strode giants such as Bob Cousy. Reynolds offers a well-crafted portrait of both a player and the times he played in.