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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #70: Dave Cowens

I put professional athletes into five rough categories:

1. Ancient history: Ted Williams, Bob Cousy, etc. - guys my grandfathers read about in the papers.

2. Just Before My Time: Bobby Orr, Carl Yastrzemski, etc. - guys my dad watched on TV.

3. Childhood heroes: Larry Bird, Ray Bourque, etc. - guys I rooted for as a kid.

4. Peak fan: Pedro Martinez, Paul Pierce, etc. - guys I followed obsessively as a young adult spending too much time on sports.

5. Modern Day: Mookie Betts, Kemba Walker, etc. - guys playing now.

Of all these categories, the one I often find the least accessible is number two. The players from the late-60s through early-80s seem almost close enough to grasp, not the remote legends of the distant past, and yet I have no point of entry for them. I’ve read extensively about the real old timers, but I’ve only recently begun to dig into the guys from just before I was born. Tiant, Havlicek, Cappelletti, Sanderson. The plaid-jacket guys.

Dave Cowens is sort of the poster boy for this generation. His Celtics career neatly spanned the 70s, from 1970 when Boston picked him fourth overall from Florida State (he’s still the leading rebounder in Seminole history) to 1980 (When Parish and McHale replaced him in the Celtics frontcourt). In between he led the team to two more banners, winning rookie of the year honors in ‘70 and the NBA MVP in ‘73. He was an eight time all-star, yet to me his Hall of Fame career is still sort of a transition between the legends and the tangible heroes, that missing link between gods and men, between Bill Russell’s near-mythic deeds and Larry Bird’s exploits I saw with my own eyes.

My memories of Cowens aren’t of him in Celtics green on the court but in a suit on the sideline for the Charlotte Hornets as a coach. He’s a former player to me, a “thanks for the banners” guy I can name but have no memories of. I know he was a great player. That’s what everyone who was there says. I’ll just have to take their word for it.

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