Bob Cousy was the basketball player everyone wanted to be in the 1950s – sure-handed, swift and good at running the game. He had an uncanny way of anticipating how a play would unfold and dishing off the ball to the right guy at the right time. With no-look and behind the back passes, he was undeniably flashy, but he got results. He got the best out of everyone on his team – the Boston Celtics, but it almost wasn’t to be.
There is no shortage of great Bob Cousy stories, but one of the best is how the man known to generations of fans first for his on-court leadership, and later as a broadcaster, nearly made his NBA home with the Tri-Cities Blackhawks.
Legendary coach Red Auerbach passed over the local favorite from Holy Cross in the 1950 draft. He famously said he needed a big man, not a “local yokel.”
But Red’s luck was working that year, even if he and Celtics owner Walter Brown didn’t realize it.
The Bob Cousy Deal
Cousy balked at signing with a team in the Midwest. He had plans to start a driving school in Worcester, and he didn’t want to move. Meanwhile, the Chicago Stags were in the process of folding. A struggle went on to see who would pick up their best players.
Max Zaslofsky, the Stags’ guard/forward, was the real prize. In the horse-trading that went on, the owner of the Blackhawks agreed to give up the rights to Cousy in exchange for getting Stags’ guard Frankie Brian.
But what should happen to Cousy? The commissioner put three names in a hat: Zaslofsky, Stags’ point guard Andy Phillip and the now teamless Cousy.
The Knicks pulled Zaslofsky, the Philadelphia Warriors snagged Phillip and the Celtics got Cousy. Initially, Walter Brown was disappointed – having missed out on two proven veterans. But eventually he and Auerbach would change their tune.
Cousy’s six NBA championships and 13 all-star appearances made him by far the best of the three available players. Today, the award for the best college point guard is the Bob Cousy Award.
But with all his accolades, perhaps the best that can be said about Cousy is he is a good guy. For decades it was not uncommon to bump into Cousy in the bowels of the old Boston Garden preparing for his broadcast job. Any and all could expect a friendly hello from one of the best ever to play.
This story was updated in 2021.