RAFTERS AWAITING COWENS
October 5, 1980
It follows as night does the day that when a noted Celtic retires the man's number will go up to Hoop Heaven in the Boston Garden rafters. The question with Dave Cowens, therefore, is not "If?" The question is "When?"
"All I can tell you," explains Celtic vice president Jeff Cohen, "is that we won't do anything until we talk to Dave first. You know Dave. He may not want to do it in a public way." Cowens will let it go up if he knows what's good for him. Two previous wearers of that number are Bob Brannum and Jim Loscutoff. "They're liable to break his arms if their number doesn't get up," Cohen jests.
The Cowens retirement decision may have come as a shock to most people, but it couldn't have surprised Pete Maravich. En route to the airport and his own retirement two weeks ago, Pete announced, "I'm leaving now, and Dave isn't far behind." The two had grown very close during The Pistol's brief Celtic tenure, and Pete spent his final night as a Celtic visiting with the Cowens family.
Though the action was perfectly in keeping with the character of the man, Cowens' Celtic teammates were nonetheless in awe of his decision to walk away from a reported $500,000 by not playing this season. "We were part of history today," said M.L. Carr.
Cowens could still shoot, pass and play defense, but he had completely lost his rebounding skill. Against the Pacers on Monday evening, he twice missed easy rebounds that I know he would have hauled in last year. He was constantly back-tapping rebounds because he couldn't quite reach the ball, and he found his inadequacy on the boards to be galling. He might have beaten people by winning a 15-round decision, but he still wanted to win by a knockout.
The reaction of rivals was interesting. "This is a competitive business," said Philadelphia GM Pat Williams, "and even though some of his skills are gone, he will be a hard guy to replace. I think this gives us an edge over Boston we didn't have. Dave Cowens was the integral force behind last year's Cinderella Celtic team." But Denver GM Carl Scheer sees it in a different light. "We're losing a man who represents what I'd like to think pro basketball is all about," Scheer declares. "He was truly a Celtic in every sense of the word, and pro basketball will miss him. I hate to see people like that leave our game. The league is the one who will suffer, even more than the Celtics. The game lives on. Players must be replaced, and the Celtics generally do a better job than most people of replacing them. But it's the entire league who suffers when Dave Cowens retires."
Dave Cowens' last practice was at Terre Haute North High School, and no, it wasn't a very good practice. "But you know what makes me feel good?" Fitch inquires. "He made his last shot."
One of the more positive developments in the Celtic camp is that Fitch and K.C. Jones seem to be working well together, which was seldom the case last year. Apparently each man recognizes that he could have given the other more of the benefit of the doubt last year. The players are happy to see that the advent of Jimmy Rodgers as an assistant has not resulted in K.C.'s being shoved aside. "When K.C. went on a scouting trip," says one player, "we wondered if that was going to be the pattern. But Jimmy went on the next one. It was a good gesture on Bill's part."
Cowens' appraisal of Rick Robey, whom he was largely in favor of making a Celtic by trading Billy Knight to get him: "He's got to make up his mind if he's always going to be Eddie Haskell, or if he's going to grow up. He's cocky one day and Mr. Humility the next." Eddie Haskell? With lines like that, Cowens will be a smash on the banquet circuit.
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