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Bob Cousy had heard so much about the NBA's latest sensation, and had assured so many inquiring minds that the league always catches up to unscheduled comets streaking across its sky, that he finally decided to see for himself.
On Feb. 19, the 83-year-old former point guard of the Boston Celtics needed to break down the 23-year-old current point guard of the New York Knicks. An avid golfer who can shoot his age, Cousy canceled a round to watch Jeremy Lin play ball on TV.
Suddenly the Hall of Famer realized he'd been misleading friends and strangers alike. Linsanity, he decided, wasn't something opposing coaches would surely bottle up and store away in a month or two, never to be heard from again.
|Celtics legend Bob Cousy had his doubts about Jeremy Lin ...|
Cousy absorbed Lin's 28-point, 14-assist performance against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks and came away with a new scouting report.
"The game of basketball over the years has been associated with big people," Cousy said from his home in West Palm Beach, Fla., "but what separates the men from the boys is speed and quickness, and I saw that Lin has both in abundance.
"For two weeks, every time I went by somebody down here they were talking about him, and I'd tell them the hoopla was probably overdone, that it's not unusual for this to happen with a young player who catches the league by surprise. But I got a completely different sense from watching Jeremy play. Now I'm telling people he'll definitely find a niche in the realm of good-to-great point guards in this league."
With the Knicks in Boston on Sunday, Cousy allowed himself a laugh over the possibility the visitors will have more stability at point guard, his position, than the Celtics, his team. Who could've imagined this a month ago, when the Knicks had no quarterback and almost no chance of saving their coach, Mike D'Antoni, while the aging Celtics still had a young All-Star who had already helped deliver Doc Rivers a title?
But now Rajon Rondo is reported as trade bait and Jeremy Lin is Jeremy Lin, with Baron Davis behind him. Cousy can appreciate Lin's amazing journey, if only because he has a zillion-to-one quality to his own back-story.
The son of French immigrants, Cousy was a skinny kid from an East Side ghetto where, he said, "the rats and cockroaches were bigger than the tenants." He didn't pick up a basketball across the first 12 years of his life, and it took his cab-driving father those 12 years to save $500 and move his family to Queens, where Cousy was cut twice by the high school coach at Andrew Jackson.
Only an absurd twist of blessing-in-disguise fate -- Cousy fell out of a tree, broke his right wrist, and started dribbling everywhere with his left hand -- salvaged what had been a non-career. An ambidextrous Cousy finally made the Andrew Jackson team and won the city scoring championship in his senior year before, he said, "I got deluged by two college offers."
|... then he watched Lin mow down the Mavs -- and was sold.|
Holy Cross and Boston College. BC didn't have any dorms at the time, and Holy Cross did. "I wanted to get away from the city and live somewhere on campus," Cousy said. "I remember the letter Holy Cross sent me. It was, 'Hey kid, we understand you're a hotshot at Andrew Jackson. If you have any interest in Holy Cross, fill out this application and we'll give you a scholarship.' That was the extent of my recruiting."
Holy Cross immediately won the NCAA title, and the rest is playmaking history. Cousy is widely credited as the first point guard to make an art form out of the pass, to blend showmanship with the selfless act of giving up the ball. He won six NBA championships with the Celtics, and his style was transcendent enough to inspire generations of New York City point guards, including Kenny Anderson, who said he tried to emulate Cousy above all.
So the old man is a leading scholar on the position, and one who sees staying power in the visionary named Lin.
"My greatest asset was peripheral vision, and it seems Jeremy has that, too," Cousy said. "People thought I was doing supernatural things with my vision, like, 'Wow, you must have eyes behind your head,' but every good point guard needs that asset.
"Lin sees the floor extremely well and has good size for a point guard. He seems smart, not just because he went to Harvard, but in the way he plays. Just based on what I saw against Dallas, it's hard for me to believe [Golden State and Houston] cut him. It's hard to criticize without being there, but point guards who can run the show in the NBA are in such demand."
Lin's meltdown in Miami didn't concern Cousy; he figured the kid was due for a lousy game, and he knew the Heat had the talent and motivation to shut him down. "They'd heard about Lin for a while," Cousy said, "and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade don't want to read about people other than themselves."
Cousy doesn't believe Lin will have to fall out of a tree to develop a stronger left hand, one of his few game-day needs. "It's a simple adjustment," Cousy said. "I used to go through periods where guys were picking off my path to the right, and I had to keep them honest. You don't have to go five times to the left and five to the right -- two and eight is fine, and Lin will be able to develop that part of his game."
Cousy kept coming back to Lin's speed and quickness, the weapons the 6-foot-1 Celtic used against bigger opponents. Of course, Cousy was surrounded by Hall of Fame finishers.
Lin? He's got Carmelo Anthony on one side, Amare Stoudemire on the other, and Tyson Chandler in between to run the pick and roll. Lin can also throw the ball to the likes of Steve Novak and J.R. Smith, at least when Davis doesn't come off the bench with them.
This is how far the undrafted, unwanted point guard has come: Lin had 19 points, 13 assists and one turnover against Cleveland on Wednesday night, and it felt like he'd only brought his B game.
"He's got the physical skills to reach a good, very good or great level in this league," Cousy said. "He's exactly what the Knicks needed, a leader and someone to distribute the ball as opposed to a bunch of guys just letting it fly."
Funny how it worked out: The old Celtic figured the young Knick would be another here-today, sort-of-gone-tomorrow flash until he put away his golf clubs one Sunday and saw what the fuss was all about.
"I assumed the league would catch up to him," Cousy said, "but now I certainly don't think that's going to happen."
Bad news for the Celtics. Good news for fans in love with point guards who see the floor the way Bob Cousy saw the parquet.
Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.