Cooz and Russ: Linked by a Clock and a Letter, 53 Years Apart


They’re proud outdated males with canes: Cooz and Russ, Boston basketball treasures, at 90 and 84. In the course of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years, they shared glory because the atomic forces of the Celtics dynasty. Of their dominance, they earned our appreciation whilst each seemed on the world, and for a time one another, by way of cautious eyes.

Bob Cousy and Invoice Russell had the endurance that different N.B.A. star pairings misplaced. Shaq and Kobe, after three N.B.A. titles, imploded in Los Angeles. Kyrie Irving left LeBron James in Cleveland two seasons in the past for his personal highlight in Boston. Now, amongst stars in Golden State, there are rumblings of discontent between Kevin Durant and Draymond Inexperienced.

Celtics Coach Purple Auerbach by no means had that hassle together with his stars, Russell at heart, Cousy at level guard. Collectively they gained six N.B.A. championships throughout their seven seasons earlier than Cousy retired. “Each have satisfaction; each like to win and each know that it takes a staff to win championships, not one man,” Auerbach mentioned. “Males similar to these want no dealing with. They took care of themselves.”

Cousy and Russell had been interlocking items within the Celtics’ transition sport. They blended passing and shot blocking, dribbling and rebounding, offense and protection. As a passer, Cooz introduced theatricality to the sport; as a defender, Russ revolutionized it.

Off the courtroom, they had been cordial however by no means really associates. That they had risen from poverty and in them stirred an outsider’s starvation, Cousy scrambling towards the New York Metropolis ghetto, Russell towards the white world he knew as a baby in segregated Louisiana. Throughout their time, from December 1956 till 1963 — on the civil rights timeline from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the March on Washington — Cooz and Russ by no means mentioned politics, civil rights or their private lives; they settled for locker room banter.

Each males had been murderously aggressive and self-analytical deep thinkers. Each had egos; whilst they turned basketball’s Ruth and Gehrig, each needed to be Ruth. It didn’t assist their relationship that the white sportswriters in Boston, a metropolis with a fraught racial historical past, referred to the Celtics as “Cooz’s staff.” It wasn’t … except it was Cooz’s staff and Russ’s sport. As if to show that time, after Cousy retired, Russell led the Celtics to 5 extra N.B.A. titles over the following six seasons. That made for 11 titles in 13 seasons (and 5 MVP awards for Russell), making these Celtics probably the most prolific American skilled sports activities dynasty of the 20th century.

Barack Obama offered the capstone to Russell’s epic life, awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011; with it, Russell had gained the historic narrative of the Celtics dynasty. Now it is called Russell’s staff. Cousy is aware of what occurred: “Actuality occurred,” he says.

“A small factor,” Plutarch, the Greek biographer, urged, “usually makes a higher revelation of character than battles the place hundreds die.”

And so it has been with Cooz and Russ, character revealed by two small issues: a clock and a letter. Although they reside three,000 miles aside and barely work together, Cousy and Russell have created a respect and appreciation for the opposite’s humanity — as poignantly outlined in moments 53 years aside.

When Cousy retired in April 1963, Russell needed to offer him a private present. He had simply honored him on the Celtics’ annual Breakup Dinner, an intimate gathering for the staff’s interior circle. Russell unfold his palms an inch aside and mentioned, “If Bob Cousy had been this a lot much less a person than he’s, I’d have resented him. There may be such a factor as skilled jealousy. A fellow reads about Cousy, sees his image usually, however I can actually say I by no means resented Cousy.”

Russell turned emotional: “Cousy is excellent. We see one another as brothers, not as nice athletes. We will by no means discover phrases to say what Cousy has achieved simply by being himself. You meet a Cousy not as soon as a month however as soon as in a lifetime. Bob Cousy has made enjoying with the Celtics probably the most gratifying issues in my life.” Quickly after, Russell purchased a good-looking desk clock for Cooz, the one present he obtained from teammates. Russell included an engraved inscription: “Could The Subsequent Seventy Be As Nice As The Final Seven. From The Russells To The Cousys.” At present that clock sits in Cousy’s eating room in Worcester, Mass.

Cousy doesn’t recall Russell’s phrases on the dinner. Listening to them now, he wonders why he didn’t hug Russell. “Possibly that’s an indictment of my sensitivities in these days,” he says.

Cousy, a widower, lives alone within the 6,300-square-foot home that he and his spouse, Missie, purchased in 1963. It’s stuffed with recollections. He reads for 4 hours daily. Often, he watches the Celtics on TV, however normally turns in at halftime.

His thoughts stays sharp, like a basketball Library of Congress. He’s been closing circles in his life with individuals who matter most to him: First, Missie, who died in 2013 after practically 63 years of marriage, and their two daughters. In 2003, Cousy offered his memorabilia for $450,000 —— trophies, plaques, scrapbooks — and gave the proceeds to the daughters.

That left yet another circle for Cooz to shut on his Finish of Life To-Do Record — together with his best teammate, Russell.

Cousy was considered as one of many good guys by the N.B.A.’s early African-American gamers. He roomed as a rookie in 1950 with Chuck Cooper, the primary black participant drafted by an N.B.A. staff, they usually turned lifelong associates. But he harbors regrets about his time with Russell.

Racists focused Russell in St. Louis, the place at video games they screamed “Baboon!” and “Black Gorilla!” Within the Boston suburb of Studying, Mass., vandals as soon as broke into Russell’s dwelling, spray-painted racist graffiti on partitions and defecated on his mattress.

Auerbach inspired gamers to keep away from controversy. Cousy remained silent. Now he regrets that. He needs he had spoken out publicly towards the racism that enveloped Russell. “I may need been in a position to neutralize a few of this,” he mentioned, “if I had been extra outspoken.” He needs, too, that, as Celtics captain, he had informed Russell privately, “Russ, I’ve acquired your again.” However he didn’t say or try this.

It’s uncommon in America for a white man approaching 90 to rethink race and the way it performed out in his life. However that’s what Cousy has achieved. Most nice athletes embellish and burnish tales about their previous. Cousy is barely attempting to set the document straight. That is who I used to be. That is his closing declaration: I want I had achieved extra.

One morning in February 2016, Cooz pulled out paper and pen and wrote a one-and-a-half-page mea culpa letter to Russ. He apologized for not having reached out to him as a teammate. He mentioned he was sorry they hadn’t shared a extra significant relationship within the a long time since, and he accepted full duty for that.

This was Cooz’s confessional, his final move to Russ. He wrote his letter in reply to his conscience. That they had been teammates for under seven years. However the captain is aware of these weren’t simply any seven years for the Boston Celtics. He is aware of, too, that Russell was not simply any teammate.


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