October 2, 1980
Dave Cowens has always done things his own way, and his retirement yesterday was no exception. He wanted to transmit his thoughts directly to the public, without a writer serving as the middle man. Here is the text of his statement.
EVANSVILLE, Ind. - Why is it that athletes who retire always allow other people to write their career obituary? Isn't it important for the fans to realize firsthand the factors and thoughts behind the decision to hang 'em up? How could an athlete possibly sever the emotional bond between he and his loyal supporters without giving an explanation for his actions?
I always took pride in my performance and thought that I gave a little extra something to the game. I never identified myself as a great player, only as one who set high standards regarding his performance. I worked diligently to live up to those standards so as to make my mark on the world of basketball. I wanted to offer something different. Perhaps it was just a certain flair or wildness or unexpected behavior on the court, but something critically different. I was given a fairly sound body to develop and train, and I worked it long and hard so that I would be asked to play a major role in the outcome of games.
I used to treasure the individual confrontations with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bob McAdoo and relished the fact that we were playing against teams like the Knicks of the early '70s and the old Chicago Sloan-Love-Walker quintets, who made you reach for everything you had in order to compete with their type of team play. These challenges were exciting and real; they were invigorating and exhausting.
However, I can no longer play that caliber of basketball, and it is unbelievably frustrating to remain in a rugged occupation with waning skills.
Enter here the fact that I have been playing basketball for 16 years on two feet which can best be described by the observations that a team of foot and bone specialists made a couple of years ago. They were amazed I had been able to play up to that point in time without any radical, serious injuries, at which time I pointed out that I had sprained my ankles at least 30 times over the duration of my career, broken both legs and fractured a foot. Now I am not explaining this for you to extend sympathy to me, or use it as a crutch, but only to explain that there is something fundamentally wrong with my feet and ankles that would make me more susceptible to injury. Just last year I sustained a different type of foot injury when I severely stretched all the tendons around my big toe. This joint is now twice its normal size, and possibly always will be.
The primary reason that I will not remain on the active roster of the Celtics or any other professional ballclub is the fact that I have a highly weakened and worn out set of feet and ankles. Knowing this about my feet, and the fact that I have not been able to play a full season since 1976, I'd say my chances of getting hurt and not being able to contribute in all the games this year were highly probable.
So now I must assess my situation. I have given my feet a valid test to see if they were able to make the grade after three weeks of training sessions and exhibition games. The result is that I am basically playing on one leg. My right ankle is so weak that I can best describe it by saying that I have a sponge for an ankle. My left leg and ankle are therefore taking an extraordinary amount of abuse and they would no doubt give out before the year was over.
Accompanying all of these injuries is a notable amount of pain which I have been able to tolerate during each season, but which is progressively getting worse. I do not believe in taking medication which many others utilize to mask the pain and allow them to play more years and earn more income.
I considered all the issues concerning the 1980-81 Celtic season- ticketholde r and the possible fraudulent act done to them on both an investment level and emotional scale while analyzing all this, and finally wondered if it wouldn't be more unjust to ask them to witness a deteriorated performance. I decided that even though there would be a small group of fans that would get bent out of shape, the majority of the folks who are serious viewers would recognize the tremendous talent of the players who are continuing to demonstrate their skills and would see I am not able to perform against these players in the manner I would want to and in the manner the fan expects me to. I hope I am correct in my assumption because I would not want anyone to get even remotely upset.
So I asked myself, "Why should I play?" To take up a slot that another man could fill? To jeopardize the success of the club? To risk injuring my ankles? To embarrass myself by not playing up to the expectations of the fans?
I'll tell you why it is such a difficult decision to make - because of the financial reward.
I have climbed the ladder of success in the NBA to the point where I command top dollar for my services. But the last time I negotiated a contract was five years ago. The only reason I am getting paid top dollar now is not because I am a top talent; it is because I negotiated from a point of strength five years ago. I have one year remaining on my contract, and part of the pressure to play comes from the commitment I have to live up to my obligation with the Celtics.
I wouldn't feel guilty about the amount of money I would earn under these conditions if I thought I could play even as well as I did last year. But I can't. I have made an extraordinary living from basketball and feel that the Celtics and Dave Cowens have been equally fair to one another over the past 10 years. In addition, I don't want preferential treatment from the coach due to my status as a seasoned veteran, because then I wouldn't be able to expect maximum effort from my teammates. Fairness goes hand-in-hand with dedication, especially when one is involved in a group participation sport.
I do not want anyone to suspect that I was only going through the motions as a player. My whole reputation has been one of giving maximum effort, and I want to be remembered as just such a player. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not perfect. I've dogged it in practices, performed extremely poorly in games, and done my share of complaining. But I've always had the desire to work hard and do my part, more, if necessary. I think every one of my teammates enjoyed playing ball with me. I think one of the basic characteristics of a quality player is being able to complement his teammates, increasing their worth along with his.
So after all this deliberation and soul-searching over the past five months, and, taking into consideration the combination of positive and negative factors such as the exceptional talent the Celtics have in their front line, the camaraderie among players, the rigors of traveling, etc., I have decided to retire.
I have enjoyed performing for you over the past 10 years while hopefully engraving myself into the history of the Celtic organization.