Bob Cousy never thought he'd see this day. It has been more than two decades since the Celtics were in the NBA Finals and more than 50 years since he became one of the first players in the league to have his own shoe deal. Any memories he had of the Celtics as a title contender or of himself as a shoe pioneer were long ago buried in old scrap books.
SI.com recently caught up with Cousy to get his take on the current Celtics, a possible Lakers-Celtics Finals and what his old coach and friend, Red Auerbach, would think of it all.
SI.com: What's it been like to watch the Celtics go from the worst team in the league to the best heading into the playoffs?
Cousy: Thank god the Celtics are having a breakout season after 22 years of mediocrity. They may bring us a championship. God, I've been hiding in my cellar for 22 years. I haven't answered my phone. This is the first call I've taken. Well, I shouldn't say that because I'll be honest with you, nobody has called and asked me about the Celtics in 22 years.
SI.com: How have your old teammates reacted to the turnaround after waiting for a winner all these years?
Cousy: The whole Celtics family feels the same way. Our dear coach Arnold left us last year, and it's an emotional time for us. I wish I could tell you the Celtics were going to win the championship, but even if they don't win another game, they've given the old-timers like myself and Celtics fans more enjoyment this year than I thought I would ever have again.
SI.com: You mentioned Coach Red Auerbach. What would he have thought about these current Celtics?
Cousy: He's looking down, and he has to be a happy camper. This team fits the profile. They move the ball around so well. I've been giving the credit to Doc Rivers. I hope he wins the Coach of the Year award because people think it's easy, but it's much tougher to coach professional level players with superior talent than those with mediocre talent. Mediocre athletes know that they're mediocre so, hell, they'll listen to anything you say. They'll go and run through brick walls. The spoiled superstars of today, for all the reasons we're aware of, are a little more difficult to handle. They think they should put a shrink at the end of the bench for these guys instead of a trainer.
SI.com: What is it about this team that makes them so good, aside from the big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen?
Cousy: Danny Ainge has done a hell of job of putting this together; not only "The Big Three," but the complementary players. If they win it, it will be because of the players other than "The Big Three." Let's face it; "The Big Three" are going to do their thing and you know what you can expect from them, but if the other kids, such as Rajon Rondo, and late season additions, such as Sam Cassell, can become those final pieces to the puzzle, that's going to help. So Ainge and Rivers have done a great job and this team is playing up to the Celtics tradition. They are very unselfish. They are busting their asses defensively. They're working their asses off on the boards, all the things that coaches look for in a good team. Guys diving for lose balls and hustling. They come to work and they give 100 percent.
SI.com: What would a Lakers-Celtics Finals mean to you? Is that the matchup you're hoping for?
Cousy: Yes, and it could go that way. The way Pau Gasol has played since he came to the Lakers, and with Kobe Bryant having the year he's having, all the pressure is off the other guys and they're playing better. It could very well be a Lakers-Celtics final. It would be a nice exclamation point to the end of my athletic life and my life-long partnership with the Celtics. I would obviously be rooting for the Celtics, but it would be a meaningful experience for me just to see both those teams in the Finals again.
SI.com: What do you think when fans, many of which weren't even born when you played, are wearing your old sneakers and jerseys to games?
Cousy: Hopefully it ties into a positive image that I have worked on for about 60 years. I'd like to think that. I get more mail now than when I was playing because of the new communications that are in vogue. But I'd like to think that there is a certain amount of credibility still left among old-timers and kids that are well-read and follow the sport. I think this all ties into the past success of the Celtics.
The fact is that the Celtics of the '50s and '60s are still the most successful professional sports franchise of any sport that has ever existed in this country -- 11 championships in 13 years. I was happy to be a part of that for seven years. I think that still holds some weight. I haven't done anything nasty like the former governor of New York. I've worked at projecting a proper image all of these years. Well, I'm thinking about Britney Spears right now as I'm talking, so maybe the negative sells as well as the positive. Anyway, the point is I've worked at projecting a proper image of myself.
SI.com: What was it like being one of the first players in the league to have his name on his shoe when PF Flyers released the Bob Cousy All-American in 1956?
Cousy: I was ecstatic about it. This was the '50s, a time when everybody worked hard, saved their money and money had a different value to us and our family.. Having my name on a shoe was significant, not only from an ego standpoint, but I was the only one out there with my name on a shoe other than my buddy Chuck Taylor, and he couldn't pass the ball behind his back so I figured I had an advantage there. It was nice to say to anybody that you have my name on your shoe.
SI.com: Now, more than 40 years later, there are some players in the NBA making more money off their shoe deals and endorsements than they do on the court. What do you think about the current landscape in the league and how things have changed since you played?
Cousy: I'm from the old school, and my dear friend Arnold Auerbach who left us; he didn't even want us to shake hands with the opponent before the game. It's traditional and we reluctantly did, but that was the enemy, we were out there to do battle and he didn't want you to shake hands with anyone. This also extended to any distractions. I was the only one really getting any kind of endorsements in those days, and I would have to go to him on bended knee and say, "Arnold, can I please go to New York one day this week to shoot this commercial?"
I remember one year he found out Bill Russell had gotten a motorcycle and was riding it around California. He called out there and threatened Russell's life. He had only one motive in life, and that was to win a championship. And after he won it the first time, his big challenge and goal, which literally occupied 80 percent of his time, was to win every year, and he wanted us to have the same kind of focus.
SI.com: Do you think Coach Auerbach could have handled today's players?
Cousy: Arnold would not have been able to handle this. For Arnold to coach a Michael Jordan, who spent more time dealing with distractions off the court than on it, it would have been hard. Look at Shaq. I was following the Shaq situation in Miami this year and poor Pat Riley, who was also from the old school, has gone through the most miserable season of his entire existence. He finally traded Shaq, you know, because Shaq was showing up out of shape and, of course, he was only making $20 million for this year, so you know you can't expect consistency. He had a miserable season, wouldn't play, was hurt and all this stuff, but every day you read in the paper about him doing something. Arnold would have died if we came to him with any distractions at all.
SI.com: With that said, do you think it's possible for players today to still be motivated as you and the players of your day were?
Cousy: I'm not criticizing the current players. But you don't have to be a shrink and pass Psyche 101 to understand that if you take a kid with one or two years of college experience, who is 19 years old, and you tell him to sign this contract and say: "Oh, by the way, it's for $33 million and it's going to give you and your family -- and if you believe in Shirley MacLaine -- your next three lives enough money to live well. And the best thing about it is if you stub your toe walking out of the office and never play again, you still get the $33 million. You don't have to perform, and even if you do perform, you don't have to be good, bad or indifferent, the money is still going to be there because it's guaranteed."
SI.com: So you don't think there will be any more dynasties in the NBA?
Cousy: There are no more dynasties. The most you're going to have is two to three years because these guys get spoiled and pampered so quickly it effects their motivation. The cynic will say give me the $30 million and I won't be quite as motivated as you, but who gives a damn. It's a fact of life. You can't shower all the attention we do on athletes today from the moment they jump out of the womb and expect it to change. If a baby's got a muscle, his dad's going to send him to some specialized clinic and say, "Wow, he's going to be a quarterback one day." So they get all this attention early on, and if they become high school stars, they're beating the colleges and girls off with a bat and then they go to college for a year or two and then they get all these goodies thrown at them.
How the hell are you supposed to keep any perspective? It's a difficult time to be a coach because you're dealing with all these egos and spoiled little boys, really. Despite all their flashy chains and big talk and limousines and girls and the whole thing, trust me, the most insecure people in the world are jocks. They probably wake up crying in the night more than any other field of endeavor. It's a big show, but the motivating factor has become considerably neutralized, and that's why you're never going to see dynasties again.