Cowens was ignorant about the NBA when he came into the league. Whereas an old college rival named Neal Walk had boasted of having posters of the great pro centers on the wall of his dormitory room, Cowens came into the league with all the advance knowledge of a lifelong Brooklyn resident dropped into the middle of downtown Ulan Bator. He found himself going up against players he not only had never seen before, even on television, but also against players he had never read about. And yet he was able to turn this ignorance into an asset.
Instead of wondering what these people were all about, I decided I was
going to show them what I was all about. I figured, Hey, what can I
They found out very quickly exactly what Dave Cowens was all about. He
was an original. He ran as no big man had ever run before. In a league
dominated by black men who had been used to seeing landlocked white men
play the game far below the rim, he was a phenomenon, a certified White
Leaper. Early in his rookie season, a black referee named Ken Hudson,
who is now a Coca-Cola vice- president, said that Cowens was the victim
of reverse discrimination. "Referees," Hudson said, "can't believe a
white guy can jump that high and block shots that well, so they call
fouls on him he doesn't commit." But Cowens' most distinguishing
characteristic was his aggressiveness. Opponents seeing him for the
first time were ready to sign petitions aimed at deporting him to the
National Football League. He gave and, more important, he took. No
first-year player ever became more quickly, and totally respected. His
name immediately became synonymous with competitiveness.
I never considered myself as being that much more competitive than other
people. I looked at it logically. I knew my height, and I knew what I
had to do.