NBA legend Bob Cousy grew up in Queens

By Greater Astoria Historical Society

In conjunction with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, TimesLedger Newspapers presents noteworthy events in the borough’s history.

Born on Aug. 9, 1928 in Manhattan, Bob Cousy electrified NBA fans for 13 seasons with his seemingly magical passing ability and prolific scoring as a point guard for the Boston Celtics.

Born to poor French immigrant parents and as a youth in Queens during the Great Depression, Cousy was cut twice from his high school junior varsity team before going on to hardwood greatness at the College of the Holy Cross and the Celtics. One of the greatest point guards ever to play the game, Cousy won six NBA titles in Boston and was a 13-time league All Star. When he retired from the game in 1963, President Kennedy sent him a wire proclaiming “The game bears an indelible stamp of your rare skills and competitive daring.”

As a child growing up in Astoria and St. Albans, Cousy spent his childhood playing stickball and other street games with an ethnically and racially diverse group of friends. These experiences made him an outspoken opponent of racism and bigotry throughout his playing and coaching career. The future All-Star first took up basketball at age 13 and was “immediately hooked.” Success didn’t come easy, however, as Cousy didn’t even make the team at Andrew Jackson High School until his junior year. After a breakout senior campaign, the boy from Queens accepted a basketball scholarship from Holy Cross.

Early in his college career with the Crusaders, the former schoolboy standout from New York City became frustrated with his lack of playing time. Finding Cousy’s up-tempo, streetball style of play with behind-the-back dribbling and no look passes a poor fit for the static, slow style of play of the 1940s and 1950s, the Holy Cross coach frequently relegated the talented guard to the bench. With Holy Cross trailing late in a game in Cousy’s senior season, however, the coach sent in the talented guard who led the team to a comeback victory and a 26-game winning streak. In spite of early struggles, the dynamic scorer earned NCAA All-America honors three times and contributed to a 1947 team that won the national title. Holy Cross retired his No. 17 jersey in 2008.

Initially drafted by the Tri-Cities Blackhawks as the third overall pick of the 1950 NBA draft, Cousy eventually landed with the Boston Celtics after refusing to sign with the Blackhawks. He enjoyed a remarkably successful career in Boston, leading the league for an unprecedented eight straight years in assists, winning six NBA titles and being voted into 13 NBA All-Star Games in his 13 full NBA seasons. He also earned 12 All-NBA First and Second Team honors as well as the 1957 NBA Most Valuable Player Award. After 13 seasons spent redefining a staid, deliberate game of flat-footed shots with his crowd-pleasing finesse, Cousy retired from the Celtics in 1963.

Immediately after hanging up his jersey, the New York native coached the men’s basketball team at Boston College from 1963 to 1969. In his six seasons in Chestnut Hill, Coach Cousy led the Eagles to three NIT appearances, two NCAA tournament appearances and an overall record of 117 wins and 38 losses. The Houdini of the Hardwood bid farewell to Boston in 1970 to coach the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA. He remained with the team, currently the Sacramento Kings, until 1974 and compiled a 141-209 record. The 41-year-old Cousy even made a brief comeback as a player with the team in 1970.

For many years following his retirement from coaching, Bob Cousy made a name for himself among a new generation of Celtics fans as a color analyst for his former team on Boston area television. He continues to live in the Worcester, Mass., area near his alma mater. His No. 14 has hung in the rafters of the Boston Garden since 1963.

“Do your best when no one is looking. If you do that, then you can be successful in anything that you put your mind to.” — Bob Cousy

For further information, contact the Greater Astoria Historical Society at (718) 278-0700 or visit www.astorialic.org.

More from Around New York