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YouTube Gold: Dave Cowens

Boston’s undersized center played with grit and passion

Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics
BOSTON, MA - CIRCA 1980: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Dave Cowens #18 of the Boston Celtics during an NBA basketball game circa 1980 the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Abdul-Jabbar played for the Lakers from 1975-89.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

When Bill Russell retired in 1969, the Boston Celtics really bottomed out - for a year.

In 1970 and 1971, the Celtics missed the playoffs for the first time since 1950.

But wily Red Auerbach picked Dave Cowens in the 1970 draft, partly at Russell’s recommendation, and the rebuild was underway. Cowens was smallish at center even in the 1970s. Just 6-9 and 230, and with relatively short arms, he compensated with immense intensity and energy.

Cowens teamed with the late John Havlicek, the key holdover from Boston’s astounding dominance in the late 1950s and 1960s, to bring Boston right back to the forefront.

And in the 1974 playoffs, Boston met the Milwaukee Bucks and their brilliant young star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the finals and won, adding more to the Boston mystique. They won the title again in 1975-76.

He walked away for a time in the 1976-77 season but later returned and was with the Celtics at the dawn of the Larry Bird era.

He’s a good example of a guy who used desire and intensity to overcome relatively average athleticism. In a way, he was a template for Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, neither of whom was a particularly outstanding athlete.