The Cooz: Buying into Ubuntu


Posted by Kevin Arnovitz

Amy O'Loughlin has a tremendous Q & A with Celtics legend Bob Cousy at Hoops Addict. It's nearly impossible to properly introduce Cousy in the header of a blog post, so I'll let O'Loughlin's biography of The Houdini of the Hardwood suffice. 

O'Loughlin sat down with Cousy at his home in Worcester, Mass.  Cousy is very generous with his time and, over the course of the interview, we learn that Cousy plays golf in the wintertime, roomed with one of the NBA's first African-American players, isn't compelled to watch much college basketball, is compelled to watch a lot of Fox News, almost gave up his religion because of racial intolerance in the Catholic Church, and considers Arthur Ashe the closest thing he has to a hero.

Here's Cousy on last year's Celtics championship: 

O'Loughlin: And for the Celtics, it maybe seemed like it'd be a once-in-a-lifetime win?
Cousy: Yes. Well certainly thank goodness for [Paul] Pierce, who looked like he was going to go through a spectacular career individually, but never getting the brass ring. It was great for him, for all three of them for that matter. [Kevin] Garnett looked like he was going to be buried in Minnesota. No one would ever know anything about him.

O'Loughlin: Garnett brought such passion to their game . . . .
Cousy: Yeah, he did. And it was contagious. And [Coach Doc] Rivers did, I thought, a hell of a job of exploiting and selling them on "ubuntu, which is just another word for sacrificing for the whole. They bought it, and they sustained it pretty much the entire season.

O'Loughlin: The one-year turnaround that was accomplished is just unbelievable. How do you think Doc Rivers was able to make such a turnaround?
Cousy: Obviously, the talent was provided for him. And as they say on a professional level all the time, if you don't have the horses, it doesn't get done. You could be the best manager or coach in the world, but rhetoric doesn't do it if your talent's not there. If you're mediocre, you can get them to perform as well as that standard will allow, but obviously they're never going to overcome great odds. In college, you can do that sometimes because you're dealing with younger people. But on a pro level, it's a lot different. I dropped Doc a note afterwards saying basically those of us who've been through it know that it is much easier to coach mediocre talent than it is superior talent, and even though you need the superior talent you still have to draw them together. And now especially when they're all zillionaires, getting enough money for this life and the next one and all, you have that added challenge. You've got to bring twelve egos together, too. So this is where [Rivers] sold him on this village idea; and the fact that Pierce, Garnett and Allen wanted the championship so badly, they all sacrificed and made his job a little easier.

Prior to last season, Cousy had doubts about Paul Pierce's résumé as a Hall of Famer, but changed his mind:

I never knew he could play defense the way he did. He worked hard. My own belief in terms of his Hall of Fame credentials were suspect before this year. In fact, I dropped him a note and said, "Paul, if there was any question about whether or not you belong in the Hall of Fame, your work this year, especially defensively, proved all your critics wrong. It is difficult when you're the man, but you're the only man and there isn't a lot of help [on the court]. Last year and the season before were such long seasons for Pierce. It's easy to put your tail between your legs. But this year was a piece de resistance for him. It was nice to see him-to see all three of them-get their due.

Whom did Cousy have winning the Finals in June?

People were asking me before the final round started who I thought was favored. Obviously Los Angeles, I said. They've got the best player in the league and they scored whatever it was by the numbers. But, I hadn't seen them play all year long and after the first game I did a flip-flop and said: oh, hell, this'll be over in five games or six because LA couldn't play any damn defense. I wrote to my friend, Billy Sharman, who's still their honorary president, and said, "Billy, that bunch of turkeys you had couldn't have guarded you and me. What the devil happened out there? Their heart wasn't in it, and the Celtics wanted it so badly. That combination is how you end up with a forty point victory, which is so unusual at a championship level and when two teams are fairly evenly matched. The answer is that emotionally the Celtics were sky-high and the Lakers came out flat.

Check out the interview in its entirety here.