The Bob Cousy Series: Part 5
In 1961 and again in 1962, Cousy talked of retiring. He was still among the leaders in assists but no longer in the top 20 in scoring, turning that department over to Sam Jones, Heinsohn, and Russell. At the end of the 1962 season, a year in which the Celtics won 60 games and lost only 20, and then beat both Philly and Los Angeles in exciting seven-game series to capture the championship, Cousy sat down with Brown and Auerbach to discuss his future. He talked with Auerbach for half an hour and with Brown for almost an hour. When the talks were over, Cousy decided, at age 33, to give it one more season. That season and his career would end in triumph. He would go out, not with a T.S. Eliot whimper, but with a bang.
Most of the dynasty was still with him. Sharman was gone, but Russell, Ramsey, Heinsohn, the Joneses, Loscutoff, Sanders, and a crew-cut rookie named Havlicek from Ohio State were there to make sure the championship banner hung from the Garden rafters.
Though he played fewer minutes than ever before and his scoring average dipped to 13.2, Cousy remained third in the league in assists. They had his retirement ceremony March 17, and a Syracuse player said, "I knew we were in trouble when I noticed that even the referees were crying."
There were still games to play before Cousy officially retired, however, and it all came down to one last hurrah - the championship clincher with the Lakers on April 24, 1963.
The Celtics led the series, three games to two, as the teams took the floor in LA, but the emotional edge was with the Lakers. They'd kept the series alive by beating the Celts three days previously in Boston, in a game Cousy characterized as "the lousiest game I'd played in years." He'd fouled out, and the performance had done little for his peace of mind.
When Cousy arrived in LA for Game 6 he walked into his hotel room and, for 36 hours, did not leave except to practice. His meals were sent up. He did not answer the phone. He was getting ready for the game. More, he was psyching himself up so there wouldn't be a repeat of his sorry performance in Game 5. He wanted a blue ribbon for his final appearance.
He and the rest of the Celtics played well, and when the fourth quarter began, they were ahead by 14 points. Cousy got a rest, and slowly the Lakers bit into the lead. Cousy returned, and, 14 seconds later, sprained his left ankle.
He was helped to the bench, and as soon as he was sat down, the pain eased. Trainer Buddy LeRoux (who later would become co-owner of the Boston Red Sox) strapped the ankle, and Cousy stood, gingerly putting some pressure on it.
The Lakers were now a point behind with almost three minutes remaining. It was, as they say, anybody's game. Cousy wanted it to be his.
Auerbach asked him how he felt.
"I think I can go," Cousy responded.
"Go in for Havlicek," said Auerbach.
Cousy didn't score for the rest of the game, and every time he cut on the ankle, he could feel a stab of pain. It is impossible, of course, to measure the emotional lift his return gave the Celtics, but the fact is that when Cousy came back, the team steadied and beat the Lakers, 112-109.
With three seconds to go and the game tucked away, Sam Jones passed the ball to Cousy. The basketball was in his hands for the last time as a Celtic. But not for long. The jubilant Cousy threw one final slingshot pass, not downcourt this time, but into the rafters as the final buzzer went off. He had gone out a champion.