Before Magic, There Was the Cooz

The Bob Cousy Series: Part 1

Bob Cousy played with fire and emotion. He left basketball fans with something to remember every time he walked on the court.

Cousy dressed James Naismith's dowdy YMCA game in brand new clothes. There were great players before Cousy's time, plenty of them, but none with his flair.

The object of the game after all, was simple. Put a round leather ball into a 10-foot-high basket whose circumference was slightly larger than the ball. Cousy introduced new, imaginative methods of reaching that objective. And along the way, he made himself the standard by which all other players would be judged.

His name became a cliche to those of lesser skills. If a kid persisted in throwing behind-the-back passes that went astray, he was sure to hear: "Who do ya think ya are, Cousy?" If a schoolboy began to draw an inordinate amount of attention for his play, someone was sure to comment: "He's good, but he ain't no Cousy."

It is no exaggeration to say that Cousy's name is synonymous with basketball, the way Babe Ruth's is with baseball. Long before Earvin Johnson came out of Michigan State and was called "Magic," Cousy worked his own magic act.

Some of Cousy's magic seems elementary now. Even 6-foot-9 forwards dribble behind their backs, and 6-5 guards dribble through their legs, change directions seven times while bringing the ball upcourt, hang in the air for what seems to be an eternity, and dunk the ball.

Still, there was a mystical something about Cousy that remains, well, different. Grainy, black-and-white films of the Cousy-directed Celtics may look hopelessly outdated, but Cousy's actions aren't. His amazing peripheral vision as he whipped a pass to a teammate cutting from either side, the instincts that told him when to drop a pass off to a man trailing him on a fast break, the halfcourt bullets he threw, the behind-the-back stuff not for showtime but at precisely the right moment -these Cousy tricks are as fresh as tomorrow.

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