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John Papanek
January 24, 1977
Dave Cowens shocked people when he quit the Celtics. Last week he was playing his game again, having decided that trotting was not his gait
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January 24, 1977

Back In Business In Boston

Dave Cowens shocked people when he quit the Celtics. Last week he was playing his game again, having decided that trotting was not his gait

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After the game, reporters mined the Celtics' dressing room for "gut reactions" to Cowens' appearance. The next morning's Globe carried a photograph of Cowens and a woman misidentified as his secretary. A box next to the photograph contained some "gut reactions." Jo Jo White: "What's he doing hanging around?" John Havlicek: "We've got too many things to worry about in the game without worrying about where he is."

Cowens, deeply disturbed at the Celtic reactions, called Larry Whiteside, the Globe reporter who wrote the story, and said, "I didn't mean for it to happen this way. I know the guys don't mean it. But I can understand them being upset.... I certainly didn't want to ruin Nellie's night. All I wanted to do was see him honored and to be left alone."

Nonetheless, it was a running story for several days. Boston was down on Dave, believing he had indeed thumbed his nose at his teammates; for his part, Cowens made up his mind that he would not return to the Celtics this year. But he said that he would be back next season, with all his old enthusiasm. The day after Christmas he called Hobson and told him he would report for work at the track on Jan. 11.

Over New Year's, Cowens flew to California to visit friends at the same time the Celtics were making a West Coast swing. General Manager Red Auerbach tracked him down and asked him if they could get together with Celtic Owner Irv Levin in Oakland on Dec. 30. Cowens agreed. It was a friendly session. As he had been since Cowens made his decision to leave, Auerbach was benevolent, making sure that things were going well for Cowens. Auerbach said he had heard about the racetrack job, and asked Cowens if he was sure he wanted to take it. Cowens said he was. Auerbach urged him to think it over, stressing that he was not trying to pressure Cowens into anything, just wanted him to do the right thing.

Eleven days later Cowens spoke to Auerbach on the phone and mentioned that he was driving up to Boston from Philadelphia. Auerbach said he was going to be in New York on Monday, Jan. 10. Why didn't Dave stop off and have dinner with him there? Auerbach and Cowens went to dinner at the House of Chan along with Paul Sann, the executive editor of the New York Post and Auerbach's close friend. Again, there was no overt pressure put on Cowens, just some friendly chitchat from the benevolent general manager to the prodigal son. According to an account by Sann, Auerbach said to Cowens: "I never put any pressure on you, Dave, have I...? You belong in this game. You've always belonged in it.... You know, Dave, we just came off a four and five road trip. The guys are knocking themselves out. We're not a cinch for the playoffs—and I'm still not putting any pressure on you but I'll tell you something. You kiss off that silly track and show up and we'll make the playoffs and we'll have just as good a chance as anybody else of winning it all." No pressure at all.

Auerbach also pointed out to Cowens, who hadn't thought of it before, that working for the track during the basketball season would represent a conflict with the Celtics, that people might choose to go to the track rather than to the Garden. That concept struck a raw nerve in Cowens.

The next day, the 11th, Cowens showed up at Foxboro on schedule and talked to some reporters, interrupting his discussion to smile and shake hands warmly with racetrack employees coming by to meet him. He was explaining about the job: "Definitely not PR. I'm not trying to do anything shaky here. I'll be at a desk writing notes, or out in the paddock. Nobody would even know I was here if it hadn't gotten into the papers. I'm just here to learn things."

"But you're in the public eye," said a reporter.

"And I'll fight that till the day I die," said Cowens. "Even now, I stand here and compound it by talking to you. But there is no solution to it, unless I quit doing everything, never show my face, just go to a monastery. But then people would want to write about that."

"Then why go back at all?"

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