Celtic great Dave Cowens holds court with Laker basketball players

KICKING OFF THE LAKER HOOP SEASON last week was special guest speaker, Dave Cowens, former Boston Celtics great and Hall of Fame center. (Rivet Photo)

KICKING OFF THE LAKER HOOP SEASON last week was special guest speaker, Dave Cowens, former Boston Celtics great and Hall of Fame center. (Rivet Photo)

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer
When Lake Region Athletic Director Paul True received a phone call from Norway Savings Bank asking him if the school was interested in having former Celtics great Dave Cowens speak, he couldn’t answer “yes” fast enough.
So last week, Cowens joined Laker boys’ and girls’ basketball players for pizza and a side Q&A session as a kickoff to the upcoming winter sports season.
Cowens, who is featured in Norway Savings Bank commercials, congratulated the Lady Lakers on winning the Class B title last year, and encouraged the Laker boys to bounce back from their tough triple overtime playoff loss.
Considered a “late bloomer” as a high school basketball player, Cowens went on to a highly successful collegiate career at Florida State and then was selected by the Boston Celtics. The Hall of Fame center was both candid and comical during his talk with the Lakers.
Prior to last Wednesday’s hoop session, Laker players were instructed by True to go back in time and research the Hall of Fame career of Big Red and develop questions to ask him.
Nick Hall, “What was your most memorable moment outside of the game?”
Cowens: I got involved starting the New England Sports Museum (top two floors of the Boston Garden) — all about the history of sports in New England. This is the birthplace of sports in America. Where it all started. Rules of football. The first Olympic team in 1896, eight guys went, six of them were from Boston. Why don’t we have a museum that shows the great history of sports, but also the great educational programs. Also, my involvement with basketball camps.
Spencer True. When Spencer was ready to ask a question, Cowens asked her, “What position do you play?”
She said, “Guard.”
Cowens: “Do you pass the ball to the bigs?”
Spencer: “When we had bigs,” which drew plenty of laughter in reference to the Lakers preparing for life without star center, Tiana-Jo Carter, who now plays college ball in New York.
Spencer, “What is the most important characteristic that a player and team should have?”
Cowens: You have to trust everybody. You can’t get any place unless you trust. I always went into a game with 100% trust in my teammates that they would do the right things, at the right times, for the right reasons. I don’t care if I don’t like you off the court, doesn’t matter. Our job is to do what is right at that time to help our team win. Without trust, it is no fun. You can’t get any place without trust.
Jack Lesure, “How do you think the Celtics teams you were on would do against NBA teams of today?
Cowens: We would kick butt. We were pretty balanced. People ask how did I deal with those big guys. How did they deal with me? We all have a certain skills set. They might have an advantage in one place, but I was quicker and had an advantage some place else. You go out there and see what happens. Whoever executes the best and makes the best decisions usually comes out on top.
I remember the first time I saw Wilt Chamberlain when I went out to jump center. He was like 7-feet-2. He didn’t look like a happy person. He scored 100 points in a game. He never fouled out of a game in 15 to 16 seasons. They changed rules for that guy. The first time I saw him, I figured he didn’t know anything about me, and I didn’t know anything about him. We’ll go out there, have a good time and see what happens. You learn from failure. You learn real fast why you failed.
Sarah Hancock, “What was the greatest adversity you had to overcome?”
Cowens: Probably myself. Stubbornness. I started playing high school basketball as a junior. I loved track. I didn’t know if I really wanted to make that commitment (to basketball). I just wanted to have fun, goof off. I had a coach that demanded things from me. He said, “If you want to play, this is what you need to do — buckle down.” Once I made the decision, I had to really get into shape.

THIS LAKER GEAR former Boston Celtic Dave Cowens might actually wear. Cowens was presented a Lake Region shirt by Athletic Director Paul True. (Rivet Photo)

THIS LAKER GEAR former Boston Celtic Dave Cowens might actually wear. Cowens was presented a Lake Region shirt by Athletic Director Paul True. (Rivet Photo)

Nathan Smith, “What was your most memorable moment playing in the NBA?”
Cowens: When we won a championship in 1974, going against Kareem Abdul Jabbar, one of the greatest players of all time — high school, college and the pros. We played them in a seven-game series. We won on their floor. I had a decent game. It was the first time that I was on a team that had won something. We were always good, but never won a state title in high school, and never won a NCAA championship. I could put my finger up in the air that we were Number 1. It was a heck of a series. A big team against a smaller group, that was running all over the place to make plays.
Douglas Banks, “What was your greatest accomplishment — winning a NBA title, being elected to the Hall of Fame or having your number retired by the Celtics?”
Cowens: I think people relate to winners. I haven’t played basketball in 30 years, yet people want me to come up here and talk to them — the fact that we won and people could relate to my style of play. People enjoyed watching me play. One of the biggest compliments I get, be it in New York City with Knicks fans, they will tell me, “I hated you, but I really liked watching you play, because you played the right way — you played hard, no excuses, you went out there and did the best you could, and let the chips fall where they may.” That consistency of effort is what I am most proud of — my brand, you might say.
You don’t remember all of the games. You remember the people you played with. Those are the bonds you keep for a long, long time. I still have close relationships with teammates of mine when I was your age, that’s what it is all about.
Meghan VanLoan, “What inspired you to play at the professional level?”
Cowens: It just happened. I didn’t have a goal as a high school or college player to be a pro. They had only 15 or 16 teams, and had the ABA for about 10 years, offering more jobs. Nobody played overseas. I just never thought I would be in the pros. Until I was a junior in college, I started getting letters from different teams. As a senior in high school, I averaged 13 points per game and 20 rebounds per game. My coach told me, if you get the ball four feet or out from the basket, pass it unless it is a layup. When you hear that, you’re not thinking about going pro. I got scholarship offers from Florida State and Cincinnati. When I went down to FSU, I found out they had eight girls to every guy there. Key stat. I got better skill-wise. I started working out. I knew as a 6-6, 190-pound center, I would be playing against guys 6-9, 250. They were not as talented as I was as far as athleticism, they were just bigger. If I was going to run into these people all of the time, I needed to get bigger. I went to work the next four years. When I graduated, I was 6-9, 235. I gained 45 pounds of muscle.
Marcus Devoe, “What was the transition like going from college to the pros?”
Cowens: I was lucky. In high school and college, we ran. In high school, we averaged 90 points per game. We pressed all the time. College, the same way. The conditioning made it easier going to the pros. You learn that every time you move up, players get better. Big guys were just as quick as a guard.
I was lucky to be drafted by the Celtics. They needed me. Russell had retired after the 1968-69 season, they had a center by committee season, and then I was drafted. At 6-9, some thought I was a power forward, but I wanted to be the center — captain of the defense. I got to play right away. I worked hard on all of the fundamentals of basketball because I didn’t want the coach to have an excuse or reason to take me out of the game. “Get Cowens out of there because he can’t make a free throw” or “Get Cowens out of there because he is going to throw the ball away or he can’t run a play.” When I practiced, I worked on all of the fundamentals.
Brandon Palmer, “Who is your favorite current NBA player and why?”
Cowens: I like a lot of players. I don’t particularly like the game as much as I used to like it. It all looks the same. Everyone runs a pick and roll and I am not a big fan of the 3-point play because I never got to shoot them. I shot 18 and made one, most were heaves at the end of quarters.
I like LeBron James because he plays hard. What he does with his size, so fluid. Forget about personality, just watch what he can do on the court, consistently. He brings it all of the time, and not just offensively. He’s not a gunner. He’s a good passer. He wants to pass. You have to like a guy like that.
There is too much made of this “leadership thing.” You just need to go out and play. The coach is the leader. A captain is just another player. What I respect is how hard does a player play.
I like Rondo. I love Tim Duncan. There are so many great players in the NBA.
Parent, “When you were younger, who did you root for, Russell or Chamberlain?”
Cowens: Coming from Cincinnati, my world was very small. I really didn’t follow it. The third pro basketball game that I saw, I was in it. I never went to games. It was too far away. I went to some Reds games because we could walk there and find a way to get in without paying.
Parent, “Who was the best player you ever played with?”
Cowens: John Havlicek. My 10th year with the team, Larry Bird came in. Havlicek was our captain. If you needed to win a ball game, the ball was in his hands. He was our guy. Just a great competitor. Just a great player and great person.
Toughest guy to play against was Jabbar. If he made a mistake and brought the ball down, I had a chance. He was a monster. The first four games I played against him my rookie year, he got 40 on me all four times. We didn’t lose all those games. No one had scored 40 points on me before. The refs let me get a little more physical with him, and he scored just 36.
Parent Bob Mayo, “What should these guys do if they plan to play at the next level?”
Cowens: You have to do what you do best. Be who you are. If there is a certain drill that fits what you do best, dominate that drill. I was a rebounding guy. That got me chosen on the playground; it got me a chance to play in high school and a college scholarship; and it helped me become a pro basketball player. Anything to do with rebounding, I was the guy. I didn’t always win it, but I was right there. Find out what you do best, what comes easiest, what is your core, and really get good at that. Then, work on other things. Don’t ever forget what you do best. Figure out what you really like and focus on it. If you know what you like to do, it will help you make good decisions at the next phase of your life.
As time wound down before the teams were to break into individual groups, Cowens offered a few quick pieces of advice:
When you get out of college, do not go home and live with your parents.
When you are outside, wear your sunscreen.
Girls, stay out of tanning booths.
The best teammates you have are the ones you live with. Your mom, dad, brothers and sisters. Be the best teammate you can be at home. Show sportsmanship at home. Love is a big word. Make it smaller. Let’s be courteous. Let’s be kind. Let’s be thoughtful. It’s all part of love, too. Tell your parents you love them. Don’t think about it, just do it. What can I do for you today? I know you love your parents, but you have to tell them. Be that MVP at home.
“What a great way to start our seasons,” Coach True later said.

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