25th Anniversary Spotlight: Dave Cowens

December 28, 2016

Dave Cowens played the game of basketball with a boundless energy that allowed him to fairly compete with anyone who has ever played this great game. It was Cowens’ fundamental versatility, consistent effort and unselfishness that established him as a trusted, solid and respected center in college and the NBA.
Of his 11 years in the league, all but one was spent with the Boston Celtics. The red-haired lefthander’s determination helped to resurrect a Celtics dynasty presumed dead after the departure of the legendary Bill Russell. He had always played for coaches who liked to fast break and full court press so it was a natural transition for him to play in the famed Celtics style of play. Cowens ultimately joined his venerated predecessor in the Hall of Fame, a feat he never dreamed of achieving.
Though a native of Newport, Kentucky, Cowens left the Bluegrass State in 1966 and headed south to Florida State University after averaging 13 points and 20 rebounds per game as a senior at Newport Catholic High School. Cowens continued to rebound as a Seminole, pulling down 1,340 boards (still a school record) during his three varsity seasons in Tallahassee. He also scored 19.0 points per game and shot 51.9 percent from the floor.
Celtics General Manager Red Auerbach realized that he needed someone to at least attempt to fill the shoes of Bill Russell, whose retirement after the 1968-69 championship season left the Celtics with only 34 wins the following year, despite the presence of the great John Havlicek. Auerbach liked Cowens’ hard-working attitude and work ethic, so Boston made Cowens the fourth overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. Red said, “He brings a new dimension to the game as a center who plays forward and a forward who plays center. He’s a big man and a little man. He has size, speed and can really jump. He’s going to make other clubs start looking for guys like him.”
Cowens averaged 17.0 points and 15.4 rebounds as a rookie, the most ever by a first-year Celtics player besides Bill Russell and the Celtics record improved to 44-38. Cowens’ achievements earned him a share of NBA Rookie of the Year honors, with Geoff Petrie of the Portland Trail Blazers.
In his first 5 years with the Celtics, he averaged 19 points, 15 rebounds per game and played over 40 minutes a game in all but 6 of 328 contests. In the first of seven All-Star Game appearances (1972), Cowens scored 14 points and pulled down a game-high 20 rebounds. Along the way to two Championships (1974, 1976) he won the Most Valuable Player award in 1973 and the All-Star game MVP award the same year.
During his NBA career, Cowens averages 18 points and 14 rebounds per game, which nearly achieved his personal goal of grabbing as many rebounds as points scored in every game. He was selected to seven All-Star Games, was named to the All-NBA Second Team three times, and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team in 1976 and All-NBA Defensive Second Team in 1973 and 1980.
Cowens coaching career began as the player/coach for the Boston Celtics during the 1978-79 season. He coached the Bay State Bombardiers of the Continental Basketball Association in 1984-85, served as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs in 1994-96 and was the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets from 1996-1999 and of the Golden State Warriors from 1999-2001. Cowens crossed over to the WNBA in 2006 where he was the coach and GM of the Chicago Sky during its inaugural year in that league. In 2006 he began a three-season stint as an assistant for the Detroit Pistons.
In 1972, he began running a basketball school and throughout the last 44 years he has personally supervised the training and instruction of more than 40,000 kids at these week long, overnight basketball camps. With the help of many dedicated youth and high school coaches, the Cowens Basketball School has been teaching boys and girls, ages 10 to 17, what it takes to be a competitive player by emphasizing fundamentals, team play, sportsmanship and proper conditioning in a safe, fun and equitable environment.
Dave also spent ten years as the Executive Director and Chairman of the Sports Museum of New England during its formative years. The Sports Museum is a non-profit, educational institution that has grown into an enduring and respected organization that celebrates the true spirit of sports competition. It curates the region’s great sports history, both amateur and professional, partners with many schools to inspire young people to aspire to greatness, runs its renowned Boston vs. Bullies program and in general, and has had a positive impact on the community for 35 years.
Dave Cowens has been inducted into the Kentucky, Florida and FSU Halls of Fame and was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991. Dave is one of the 5 Founders of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.