6.17.2018

Bob Cousy: The Tri-City Hawk

The Bob Cousy Series: Part 4Pro basketball was barely out of the dusty barn stage when Cousy graduated from Holy Cross. The dominant team as the 1950 draft approached was Minneapolis, featuring the same 6-9 George Mikan who had been a college star at DePaul. The Lakers had won the championship the previous two seasons.



The Celtics, on the other hand, were a miserable lot. John (Honey) Russell had been the coach the first two years, finishing last and next to last. When Julian took over, the results were no better. The Celtics were next to last in '48 and on the bottom again in '49. They were not what you'd call the most exciting act in town.

Into this mess rode Arnold (Red) Auerbach. Auerbach had coached the Washington Capitals for three seasons with considerable success and had been hired by Celtics owner Walter Brown to bring a semblance of order to a depressing and depressed situation.

The Celtics, as a reward for finishing last, got to draft first, and Auerbach did not score a public relations coup when he bypassed Cousy and instead selected Chuck Share, a 6-11 bear out of Bowling Green.

It was as though the new coach had spit on the Bunker Hill Monument, as though he'd called Paul Revere a Communist. Cousy had taken it for granted that he would be selected by Boston. So had the Celtic fans, what few of them were hanging around.

The press landed on Auerbach with every typing finger. They questioned his expertise and demanded an explanation. Auerbach gave them one that angered them even more.

"We need a big man. Little men are a dime a dozen. I'm supposed to win, not go after local yokels."

The local yokel had finally been picked by Ben Kerner, operator of the Tri-Cities franchise. Tri-Cities was a team that represented Moline and Rock Island, both in Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. The NBA was not exactly big- city glitter and show biz in those formative days.

On June 6, 1950, a small story appeared on the news wire, to the effect that Bob Cousy had signed to play for the Tri-City Hawks for an estimated $9000 a season. Here, fate and luck, and unbeatable combination, took over.

Cousy never wore a Hawks' uniform, because Kerner traded him to the Chicago Stags. Cousy never wore a Stags' uniform, either, because the Chicago team folded and their players were put into a pool, to be distributed to the surviving teams in this struggling league.

The Stags had two established stars - Max Zaslofsky, who could score, and Andy Phillips, a playmaker. After much wrangling, the names of Zaslofsky, Phillips and Cousy, the spectacular but by now somewhat bewildered collegian, were put into a hat.

Representatives of the New York, Philadelphia and Boston teams were asked to select one name each from the hat. None of the three wanted Cousy.

For a reason Celtics owner Walter Brown could never satisfactorily explain to his dying day, he gave Ned Irish of the Knicks the first choice. Irish said thanks and came out with Zaslofsky, the player the Knicks wanted most.

Then it was Brown's turn, and he did not hide his disappointment when the slip of paper read, "Bob Cousy."

"When I drew Cousy, I could have fallen through the floor. I didn't have any secret feeling that maybe it would all turn out for the best in the long run."

Several championships later, Auerbach would say: "We got stuck with the greatest player in the league when we drew his name out of the hat."

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