"Because if I didn't, I would be denying myself the privilege of doing what I do best."
"It's going to be worse when you come back."
"I know it. Listen, I believe I did the right thing. The worst thing in the world is to be confused. When I was confused I had to make a decision. What I did was selfish, but I couldn't think of any other way. I may look back five years from now and say, 'Boy, that was about the dumbest thing you've ever done.' "
Next morning Cowens picked up the papers and read a banner across the top of the Herald American: WHAT I DID WAS SELFISH—COWENS. A piece in the Globe quoted Auerbach as saying. "We've checked out many things, and Pres Hobson is a fine person and very honest. But I can't say the same for harness racing. There are scandals throughout the business, and I just don't think it's a proper atmosphere for Dave. And that's what I told him."
This final assault got to Cowens. "I wasn't too happy when I read that story in the Herald," he said. Cowens drove to Foxboro and told Hobson and Andelman that it might be best if he turned down the job. He was going back to talk to Auerbach.
Cowens walked into Auerbach's office and surrendered. He told Auerbach he would rejoin the Celtics immediately—practice Thursday and be in uniform Friday night for the game against Portland. Auerbach returned him to the active list and reinstated his salary, lightened by the estimated $102,000 his unpaid leave had cost him.
The Celtics also called a press conference at which Cowens delivered his one practiced line: "I came back because Jim Loscutoff and Bob Brannum told me to. They both wore No. 18 and they want it retired." Everyone laughed. Then Cowens said, "Everything gets distorted whether I'm playing or not playing. So I might as well play instead of always explaining why I'm not playing."
That night the Celtics faced the Indiana Pacers. Cowens stayed home in Wellesley, in his apartment above the toy store, running the events of the last 65 days through his mind, wondering if he'd done the right thing by agreeing to return. For all their troubles, the Celtics had managed to remain close behind Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division with Ard and Tommy Boswell as the centers. But 55 seconds into the Indiana game, Charlie Scott fell under the Boston basket and broke his left arm. The Celtics lost 112-101.
At the Garden on Friday night Cowens dressed quickly. He refused to have his ankles taped, and no one asked for reasons. He tried to be unobtrusive when the Celtics came onto the floor to warm up, but the sellout crowd of more than 15,000 gave him a big hand. A cameo appearance would have satisfied them. But when Ard picked up three fouls in the first 4� minutes against the Trail Blazers, Heinsohn walked down the bench and pointed at Cowens. The ovation was the kind Garden fans reserve for things like seventh-game playoff victories and tearful retirements. It lasted for a full minute and when it was over Cowens got down once again to playing the game he loves. He had that look on his face that is not of this world. The fire was back. And so was Cowens.
After two months away from basketball, in 21 minutes against the Trail Blazers' Bill Walton he provided the Garden with everything that the return of Dave Cowens should have included: he went hard for the boards, triggered fast breaks, threw pinpoint passes, hurled his body for loose balls—winding up three rows into the stands once—led a 15-2 surge in a brilliant display of Celtic basketball at the end of the first half, forced Walton to shoot from behind the glass once and finally fouled out with nine seconds left after blocking two shots in a vain attempt at keeping the Blazers from increasing a 12-point lead to their final 107-92 margin.