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NBA 75 Series: #39 Dave Cowens

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Ranked #39 in my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is man who dived for every loose ball, gave 110% every possession, a tenacious defender and rebounder, and played bigger than his 6’9 size at center in an era of great bigs, and that is Boston Celtics legend, Dave Cowens. Cowens was born on October 25th, 1948, in Newport, Kentucky.

He would go on to star at Newport High School and eventually get offered to play his college basketball at Florida State University for the Seminoles for coach Hugh Durham where he would average 19 points per game, scoring 1,479 career points. Cowens would become the Seminoles all-time leading rebounder with 1,340 for his career (17.2 RPG), and top-10 on the all-time scoring list.

Cowens still holds the team record for most rebounds averaged in a season, (17.5 in 1968-69), and would be named to The Sporting News All-America second team in 1970, while also getting his jersey retired years later.

Cowens would go on to be selected fourth overall in the 1970 NBA Draft by the Celtics who had just finished the Bill Russell era a year earlier and were looking for their next anchor inside. Russell even gave Cowens praise when many critics thought he was too small to play center in the NBA when he stated “No one is going to tell that kid he can't play center.”

He would go on to prove Russell was right his rookie year, putting up 17 points and 15 rebounds per game on his way to garnering Rookie of the Year honors. Cowens would go on to earn the nickname “Big Red” because of his bright red hair, he was an undersized 6-foot-9 center who played with intense fire and tenacity. Playing in the era of Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, and Pete Maravich, Cowens didn’t possess the flash and glamor of those high-profile superstars. Instead, it was his consistency, unselfishness, versatility and energy that established him as one of the most solid and respected centers in NBA history.

He was an unlikely hero in a sport dominated by men of greater size and natural ability, the red-haired lefthander relied on hustle and heart to achieve NBA greatness. His determination helped to resurrect a Celtics dynasty presumed dead after the departure of legend Bill Russell, helping lead them to two championships in 1974 & 1976. At his 1991 Hall Of Fame Induction Cowens stated, “I never thought of myself as a superstar, I represent the working class of the NBA. I’m honored they’ve selected me, because I could name a whole lot of guys who were better than Dave Cowens. You have to play with the right people and get picked by the right team. Let’s face it — I was pretty lucky.”

He played with other great players such as John Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Cedric Maxwell, and others. Cowens is an MVP (1973), eight-time All-Star, All-Star MVP, four-time All-Defensive selection, the 1971 ROTY, and had his No.18 retired by the Celtics. He was the ultimate hustle player any coach would love to have on their team.

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