Posts Tagged ‘Dave Cowens’

Boston’s Ryan shares stories from press-row seat in ‘Scribe’ memoir


VIDEO: Bob Ryan recaps the surprising end to the 2013-14 season

Bob Ryan covered 11 Olympics in his sportswriting career, as well as dozens of World Series, Super Bowls, Stanley Cup finals and NCAA championships across multiple sports. He spent 44 years, give or take, chasing and breaking stories big and small for the Boston Globe, worked in local TV in that sports-crazed market and still entertains, informs and cracks wise on a global stage as a frequent ESPN contributor.

But he set a standard for NBA coverage during his years on the Boston Celtics beat and, later, as a Globe columnist that arguably never has been surpassed. And while Ryan’s new memoir, “SCRIBE: My Life in Sports” (Bloomsbury USA), set for release Tuesday, cuts across all the sports he has covered in his career, it returns again and again to pro basketball. And the Celtics. And the NBA.

“The NBA was the centerpiece for me,” Ryan said in a recent phone chat. “It launched my so-called career and it gave me the chance to make a name for myself. I grew up playing basketball – it was the one sport I could play through prep school.

“If I’d been presented with the opportunity in 1969 to cover the Red Sox, I’d have been a very happy baseball writer. … But I’m very proud of my basketball-writing career and, frankly, I think I wrote game stories as well as anybody wrote ‘em.”

Game stories, for fans who might not be familiar with them, were newspaper accounts of what actually transpired in the previous night’s game. Now it is assumed that everyone already knows that from TV and the Internet, so writers working a game wind up spinning forward a little mini-feature or quickie analysis instead.

Newspapers? OK, for fans who might not be familiar with them

“I’m so glad I did it when I did it,” said Ryan, who retired from the Globe in 2012 and spent eight months of 2013 working on “SCRIBE.” “I’m grateful. There’s no way it’s as enjoyable now. Because of the relationships and the access.”

Ryan, 68, did some MLB coverage, columnist duty and TV work in his early-to-mid career but returned time and again to the Celtics beat in Boston in the 1970s and ’80s. Back then, he could chat up players in the locker room before practice, then sit in the gym to watch the entire workout. Teams flew on commercial flights same as the writers back then, so a delay or cancellation would keep them elbow to elbow in coffee shops or airport lounges. And the players’ six-figure salaries didn’t dredge the moat between them that exists in an eight-figure sports salary world.

“The two biggest things to ruin life for the beat writers were charter flights and the Chicago Bulls,” Ryan said. “The charter flights are self-evident – you no longer traveled with them. The Bulls, because they became the rock-star team that traveled with security and then they built the Berto Center [practice facility] where you could no longer even figure out where their cars were. And because they were successful, naturally, everybody wanted to follow suit. That changed everything and it’s never going back.”

Ryan’s memoir is more thematic than chronological, though the early chapters track his youth and steps toward scribe-dom in straightforward fashion (“Trenton Born,” “Boston College,” “Becoming a Reporter”). He devotes chapters, too, to baseball, football (“I Can Hardly Believe It’s Legal”), hockey, golf, ESPN, the Olympics and major college sports (“Smitten By a Lady of Low Repute”). He saves room near the end to write about music, another of his great passions alongside hoops and his wife Elaine.

Dave Cowens (left) battled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (right) and other powerhouses in his era.

Dave Cowens (left) battled with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (right) and other powerhouses in his era.

But Ryan’s embrace of the NBA permeates the project. He gives Red Auerbach, the Dream Team, Chuck Daly, Bob Knight and the 2008 Celtics title season their own chapters. And there is no mistaking the topics addressed in those entitled “This Guy Ain’t No Hick” and “Michael v. LeBron.”

Former Celtics center Dave Cowens, however, gets both a chapter of his own and the prologue. Ryan starts the book with the tale of Cowens’ unexpected decision to retire at age 31 in October 1980. Cowens wanted Ryan’s help editing his retirement statement and he wanted it to run in the Globe:

The truth is it was very nicely and powerfully written, which did not surprise me because this was not the first time I had recognized his writing ability. …

“I’ll need some time,” I told him. “Maybe an hour.”

He was heading out the door when he turned around. “Do you mind if I call Red first?” he inquired.

Excuse me? Do I, Bob Ryan, mind if he, Dave Cowens, calls the hallowed Red Auerbach, Mr. Celtics, on my phone to inform him he is retiring from active duty in the National Basketball Association, effective immediately?

I gave him my blessing.

“He’s the most interesting person I’ve covered by far,” Ryan said of Cowens on the phone. “I love Larry [Bird], Larry and I are friends, and watching Larry play was a joy. But watching Dave play was an other-worldly experience and watching him compete against [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar and [Bob] Lanier and [Willis] Reed and everyone else, spotting those guys size and running them into the ground and being their equal and very often their superior was a fan-inviting experience.

“But knowing him was the payoff. For his world view on basketball and on other things… He’s one of those guys who is a standard of something that people try to compare others to and find the next one, and in vain they have not found the next Dave Cowens.”

Ryan considers the Celtics’ John Havlicek to be the most underappreciated player he covered. “When he first retired, there was no issue, he was a demigod,” the writer said. “But Jordan comes and now LeBron, other guys come, and when the dust settles 36 years later, he’s still the greatest forward-guard, two-position player there ever was – and don’t give me Scottie Pippen.”

Given Ryan’s press-row seat before, during and after the dual arrival of Bird and Magic Johnson in 1979, he can attest that the NBA was in trouble for several years prior to that. “A down period artistically and every way,” he said.

“The great fallacy is that Bird and Magic instantly saved the league,” Ryan added. “They stopped the slide. They focused attention on the game, the passing was great and they revived Kareem, which was good. It’s interesting to think how [Abdul-Jabbar] would have been regarded if Magic had gone to another team and he stayed in that [bored] attitude that he had in the late ’70s. I think he would have quit probably two or three years into the [’80s] and gone on to do something else.”

Here is Ryan at one point on Bird:

For me, his arrival was as if I were an art student and into the classroom walked the new professor – Michelangelo. Who could be prepared for that? … I had been covering the NBA for 10 years. … I didn’t expect to be surprised and educated and thrilled by anything new.

And Ryan on officiating:

I came to realize that in any given game the referees had an influence that made them the equivalent of a good player, if not necessarily a great one. Referees decide who will stay on the court and how the game will be played. They cannot be ignored. I didn’t reference the officiating every night, and not all references were negative. But I was always on the lookout for exceptionally smooth, well-officiated games.

Then there’s the serendipity of his own career, which began at age 11 with his self-published column “The Sportster” growing up at home in Trenton, N.J.:

I have been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time on many occasions. I received a Globe internship interview when my roommate turned it down. I was handed the Celtics beat at age 23 because there was no one else in the department with either the interest or the basketball feel to take the job. They got very good after one year and I rode the wave. I lucked into doing a TV show because the guy who bought it was an old friend.

Had someone else taken over the show, he would have hired his friends. Some great things have happened to me over which I had zero control.

Michael who? Ryan says he prefers to watch LeBron more.

Michael who? Ryan says he prefers to watch LeBron James play more.

As for Ryan’s take on the growing debate of Michael Jordan vs. LeBron James, you can read the book in search of his answer. Over the phone, Ryan just said: “Do I think that Michael is clearly a ruthless competitor and his six championships will stand the test of time in the non-Bill Russell category? Yes. But I’d rather watch LeBron play. I just love the full scope of his game.”

Ryan’s memoir gives you the full scope of his game, from filing stories by wire with a young Chris Wallace (future news anchor) at a Western Union office in Harrisburg, Pa., to his appearances on “Around The Horn,” from his very modern squabbles with the analytics crowd over their beloved WAR theories to the irritated phone call he received one day from Amelia Earhart‘s sister.

Said Ryan, “I was thinking 37 years was the statute of limitations.”

Slick-passing big man Sam Lacey dies at 65

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com

Bob Lanier. Rudy Tomjanovich. Pete Maravich. Dave Cowens.

Those names now are part of NBA lore, the players revered for the brilliance of their skills and validated by championship rings, plaques in the Naismith Hall of Fame or both. That those men were stacked up at the top of the 1970 NBA Draft – Nos. 1 through 4, picked in rapid succession by the Pistons, the Rockets, the Hawks and the Celtics – only adds to their legend. So much skill, so many highlights, so much winning.

Kansas City Kings vs. Boston Celtics

Big man Sam Lacey was a talented NBA passer and scorer.

Well, the guy taken at No. 5 was no slouch either.

When the news of Sam Lacey‘s death broke Saturday, it hit hard for many who knew him or at least knew of his terrific basketball achievements. Here’s how the Las Cruces (N.M.) Sun-News framed it in a late-night report:

LAS CRUCES – And, then the celebration just stopped.

Moments after New Mexico State’s Aggies won the Western Athletic Conference men’s basketball tournament, with a 77-55 victory Saturday against the University of Idaho, word came that former Aggie great Sam Lacey died. Lacey, 65, apparently died of natural causes…

Lacey was a hero of NMSU basketball, a 6-foot-10 center who led the Aggies to a 74-14 record in his three varsity seasons and their only trip to the Final Four in 1970. Lacey was a little overshadowed that weekend by St. Bonaventure’s Lanier, Jacksonville’s Artis Gilmore and UCLA’s Sidney Wicks, all future NBA stars. He was overshadowed two days later, going fifth in the Draft that also produced Calvin Murphy, Dan Issel, Randy Smith, Geoff Petrie, Gar Heard, John Johnson and the great Nate (Tiny) Archibald, who like Lacey was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals (who moved to Kansas City and became the Kings in 1972).

But Lacey more than held his own through a 13-season NBA career. In fact, no one from that 1970 Draft class played more games than he did (1,002). And of those four more-famous players taken in front of him – for all of Maravich’s fancy passes, Lanier’s skills or Cowens’ unselfishness – none passed for more assists than Lacey (3,754).

The big man’s prowess at finding and putting teammates in scoring position came up just two weeks ago in NBA circles, after Chicago’s Joakim Noah posted a triple-double against New York, passing for 10 assists in the first half on his way to a career-high 14:

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that’s the most assists by a center since Sam Lacey had 14 for the Kansas City Kings on December 6, 1978.

Lacey also had 14 assists for the Kings in a 1977 game, giving him two of the four games in the past 40 years in which a center had at least 14. The other two: Noah and Bill Walton in 1975 for Portland.

The native of Indianola, Miss., who would have turned 66 on March 28, was Archibald’s center when the quick Kings’ point guard led the NBA in scoring (34.0 ppg) and assists (11.4 apg) – and minutes (46.0 mpg), by the way – in 1972-73. That earned Archibald the first of six All-Star appearances in his Hall of Fame career; Lacey got there once, earning an All-Star spot in 1975.

Over his first six seasons, Lacey was a double-double machine, averaging 12.8 points and 12.5 rebounds. Here’s the elite list of Lacey’s opponents who managed to average 12 and 12 in those same six years (1971-1976): Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Spencer Haywood, Paul Silas, Nate Thurmond, Cowens and Lanier.

As a passer, Lacey grew more adept over time. After averaging just 2.0 assists through his first three seasons, the big man boosted that to 4.8 per game over his next eight. In his 1974-75 All-Star season, he averaged 5.3 assists. Lacey dished 5.2 assists in 1978-79, 5.7 the next year and 4.9 in 1980-81, the season in which he turned 32.

With vision and generosity like that, it’s no wonder Lacey was popular with teammates, as noted in the Kansas City Star’s story of his death:

“He was the heart and soul of the Kansas City Kings,” said former teammate Scott Wedman.

And:

Early in his career, he played with the likes of Nate “Tiny” Archibald, and later in his career teamed with Otis Birdsong, Wedman and Phil Ford.

“He was the team captain during our best run, so that says a lot about him as a leader and teammate,” Wedman said. “He’d take the young guys like me and Phil Ford under his wing. He expected a lot out of you, and you didn’t want to let him down.

“And he was all about winning. A great defensive center. He went up against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Lanier, Dave Cowens, Nate Thurmond and worked his tail off against those guys.”

Lacey, who made his home back in Kansas City, finished his career with 54 games with New Jersey and 60 with Cleveland. He retired in 1983 with 9,687 rebounds, which ranks 42nd in combined NBA/ABA history. He blocked 1,160 shots, good for 58th on the all-time list. And had he managed just one more steal – officially he finished with 999, though the stat wasn’t tracked in his first three seasons – Lacey would be on another short list: Only 22 players have managed 1,000 steals and 1,000 blocks.

Not bad for a guy who beat long odds, coming out of a small town in the Mississippi Delta to become an NBA All-Star, as he was quoted a few years ago:

“They say you have a better chance of getting hit by lightening than becoming a pro player,” said Lacey.

After his playing days, Lacey did some radio and TV work and reportedly took an interest in efforts to bring another NBA franchise to Kansas City. His jersey number (44) hangs in the rafters of the Sacramento Kings, where the Cincinnati/Kansas City club moved in 1985. In 2008, Lacey was one of the first players enshrined in New Mexico State’s Ring of Honor.

Celebrating Cousy As Player-Coach

Legendary Celtic Bob Cousy went on to be a player-coach after his Boston days.

Legendary Celtic Bob Cousy went on to be a player-coach after his Boston days.

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — When you think of Bob Cousy, a man celebrating his 85th birthday on Friday, you think of black & white photos, grainy film clips and a “Leave It to Beaver” world. Cousy’s Hall of Fame career largely played out in shades of gray — he led the Boston Celtics to six NBA championships and appeared in 13 consecutive All-Star Games, all before retiring after the 1962-63 season.

The Kennedys were in the White House. Cousy’s signature shoe was a P.F. Flyer canvas high top.

But on the occasion of Cousy’s 85th birthday Friday, it was worth remembering that the legendary point guard made himself relevant again as a player — for a brief time — in living color, in the age of Aquarius, with “Laugh-In” on the tube and space junk on the moon.

On Nov. 21, 1969, at age 41, the rookie head coach of the Cincinnati Royals stepped on the floor against the visiting Chicago Bulls. Cousy scored three points, his first in more than six years, in a 133-119 victory, before a crowd of 3,450.

Two nights later, he would play again, making a scoreless cameo appearance against Phoenix in another 14-point Royals victory. This time, 2,866 fans were on hand at the Cincinnati Gardens. He would play five more times as the Royals’ player-coach that season, scoring only two more free throws, partly as backup to the great Oscar Robertson, partly as an intended gate attraction.

The Royals finished last in the league in home attendance in 1969-70 — for the third of five straight seasons — averaging 3,800 per game. Cousy’s bosses were paying him more than $100,000 a season, so the novelty of selling a few tickets to see the old “Houdini of the Hardwood” made marketing sense. Cincinnati GM Joe Axelson, after four months of negotiation that began in the summer, finally pried Cousy’s playing rights from Boston’s Red Auerbach by sending injured forward Bill Dinwiddie to the Celtics.

But the brainstorm didn’t work. Of Cousy’s five “home” appearances, only New York’s visit on Nov. 28 generated much buzz — and that game was played in pre-Cavaliers Cleveland, where 10,438 showed up to see the championship-bound Knicks of Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the rest go to 23-1 that day.

Still, Cousy’s return to action — after six seasons coaching at Boston College, with a team other than the Celtics, as the latest in a considerable line [at the time] of NBA player-coaches — made headlines.

He scored only five points in his seven token appearances, none in the last four. He added 10 assists to his Boston total of 6,945, which stood as the NBA record until Robertson passed him in 1968-69. And he remains the only player-coach to step back onto the court after such an extended gap from his legit playing days.

The NBA had a rich history of player-coaches in its first three decades or so, with something like 40 men handling both jobs at one time or another.

Richie Guerin, one of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2013 inductees, logged 372 regular-season games and 43 more in the playoffs in that dual capacity for the St. Louis/Atlanta Hawks from 1964-1970. Bill Russell, Cousy’s great Boston teammate, took over for Auerbach in 1966 while still playing, and became the NBA’s first African-American coach. By the end of the 1968-69 season, he was the only player-coach to win multiple championships.

Lenny Wilkens, who won 1,332 games as a coach, got 159 of them as player-coach for Seattle [1969-72] and Portland [1974-75]. Dave Cowens was NBA’s the last player-coach, guiding Boston in 1978-79 late in his player career. And of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players chosen in 1996 to commemorate the league’s 50th anniversary, seven — Cousy, Russell, Wilkens, Cowens, Dave DeBusschere, Bob Pettit and Dolph Schayes — pulled double-duty for some period of time.

Since the arrival of the salary cap, the NBA’s collective bargaining agreements between the league and the players association have not allowed for player-coaches. But Jason Kidd’s hiring by the Brooklyn Nets this summer generated some chatter on the topic, not so much involving coaches returning to the court but veteran players who might be capable of steering their teams through an NBA season.

Kobe Bryant? LeBron James? Kevin Garnett? In a league driven by stars, some might argue that the best and biggest-name players already run their teams. But what has Chris Paul been, if not a “coach on the floor” for the Clippers [beyond any snide remarks about former boss Vinny Del Negro]?

Kidd, for as much as he played for the Knicks last season, might have been able to handle both jobs, especially on a team with more modest ambitions. Some would say the same thing about Chauncey Billups at this stage of his playing career, which takes him back to Detroit this season before, should he want it, a coaching role in the near future.

What Cousy did nearly 44 years ago, though, remains special — one of his many magical accomplishments in lifetime 85 years young now. Happy birthday, Cooz!

Great Player, Lousy Coach?

Posted by Shaun Powell

ORLANDO – Do great NBA players make so-so or even lousy coaches? That’s been tossed around the league in recent years because the evidence seems to support that theory. The only great player (NBA 50th anniversary team) who comes to mind is Lenny Wilkens, and he holds the career record for most losses while only winning one NBA title.

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Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson coached and received mild results. Dave Cowens could never produce a winner. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can’t even get an interview. Some great players don’t even bother chasing such a career, given the demands of the job. And on and on. We bring this up because Patrick Ewing wants his shot.

Ewing is finishing up his 3rd season as a bench assistant with the Magic and awaits his chance to move a few seats to his right on someone’s bench. He knows he’s fighting an uphill battle, mainly because of perception. He works with Dwight Howard, and that could be holding him back; some general managers might see Ewing as strictly a big man’s coach.

“That’s true,” Ewing said. “But I can do much more than that. All I want is for someone to give me an opportunity.”

We’ll see. There are vacant jobs in L.A. with the Clippers, and in New Jersey (where Ewing has a home) with the Nets. He’s never even received an interview. Given what he’s done in his career, that’s the least he should receive.

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