The center position helped create the Cowens mystique. Playing a 6-foot-8 1/2 redhead at center in a 7-foot black man's league was originally considered by some to be an implied admission of Celtic weakness. Even Red Auerbach and Tom Heinsohn openly admitted that they really didn't know what Cowens' best position would be. The general thinking in the first few months of the 1970-71 season was that Cowens was a caretaker center until the team could come up with a real center; i.e., a 7-footer, preferably a black one. But it didn't take Cowens long to realize that center was where he belonged, that he was uniquely equipped to overcome the handicap of being a white Gulliver among black Brobdingnagians.
My attitude was, Let's see what these players are all about. I knew a
Wilt Chamberlain could overwhelm me on offense, but I said, "Let's just
see how hard these guys want to work." I think they got pissed at me
because I wanted to work hard. They weren't used to somebody who played
the way I did. I'd be running them, and after a while they'd think, "The
hell with this." That's intimidation, when you're in condition and you
can run somebody all the time. That, to me, is true intimidation. If
every time you're downcourt you're right in a guy's face, if every time
you're screening him out - I mean every time - it gets to a lot of
There is no question that Cowens would have been a standout forward.
Bill Fitch flatly states, "He would have been the greatest power forward
who ever lived." That's a coach talking. Had Cowens not played center,
he might have been good, but he never would have been special. That's a
I would not have enjoyed the game as much if I didn't play center. I've
always liked center. I thought it was a special position. There are two
guards and two forwards, but only one center.
The center position is the only one on the floor that was big enough to
accommodate Dave Cowens' heart and determination. The position is aptly
named, for the center is the focus of both the offense and the defense.
Offensively, the ideal center can both shoot and pass. Defensively, he
must relish the idea of being a court of last resort. He should be a
strong rebounder. Cowens fulfilled all the qualifications.