JANUARY 9, 1956
In the fall of 1950, when the NBA was still suffering growing pains, the Chicago Stags folded. Their roster was dispersed, one by one, among the other league teams until three players remained. Their names were placed in a hat. Boston Celtics coach Arnold (Red) Auerbach, hoping to snare forward Max Zaslofsky, instead drew the name of the one player he didn't want: Robert Joseph Cousy, the rookie guard who had dazzled New England with his flashy, unorthodox style while playing for Holy Cross. The disappointed Auerbach, anything but dazzled by his pick, dropped the slip of paper with Cousy's name on the floor. If anyone had suggested that Cousy would become a 13-time All-Star, Auerbach would have proclaimed the notion preposterous. In his words, Cousy was just a "local yokel" who had considered passing up pro basketball to open a driving school.
Cousy was revolutionizing the playmakers' position (now called point guard) with his deft no-look passes and behind-the-back dribbles when he became the first NBA player to grace our cover, on Jan. 9, 1956. He would help lead Boston to six NBA titles, and when he retired, in '63, all of New England, including Auerbach, wept. Asked if he and Auerbach have ever kidded about their rocky start, Cousy says, "I honestly don't think we've ever discussed it. Arnold's sense of humor is somewhat restricted."
Today, at 68, Cousy is a Celtics TV analyst who can often be found on the golf course, playing for pleasure or with corporate clients as, he says, "the weakest seven handicap in North America." He is busy organizing the second Bob Cousy 6-foot-2 and Under International Basketball Tournament, which raises funds for underprivileged children in his home city of Worcester, Mass.; last summer the tournament attracted 560 players from 22 countries. Cousy has also served as a quiet yet powerful voice in the recent push to provide better pensions for pre-1965 players.
Cousy's broadcasting has enabled him to keep up with the NBA game, which, he claims, has changed very little since his day—except financially. Says Cousy, who was paid $9,000 to play with the 1950-51 Celtics, "Today a guy with tattoos all over his body, who changes hair color every week, swings at officials and gets fined more than I made in my NBA career."
Cousy gets at least one old SI cover a week in the mail to sign. "I don't know why people are still interested in me," he says. "I guess after all these years pure point guards are still in demand."