Race has always been an issue in sports as it has always been an issue in America. Recently we’ve seen race come front and center with the national anthem controversy in the NFL. But it has always been a part of American sports.
Many white players did not handle integration well. Bob Cousy, of the Boston Celtics, says he has some regrets about how he handled it as well. Cousy was the Celtics legendary point guard in the 60s. His ball handling skills were such that he was nicknamed Houdini of the Hardwood. Now Cousy is 90 years old and a lifetime removed from his former self. He now walks with a cane and fears that soon he may not be able to walk at all.
His health is not the only thing that is changing. In a new book, titled, “The Last Pass,” author Gary Pomerantz takes a look at Cousy’s career and his relationship with black players, namely Bill Russell, the Celtics Hall Of Fame center who played with Cousy.
Growing up Bob Cousy was not around black people very much. However, when he started playing for the Celtics, this changed. In 1953, he roomed with teammate Chuck Cooper. Cooper was the first black player drafted into the NBA. Cousy recalls becoming good friends with Cooper.
There were other black players on the Celtics before Russell arrived and Cousy remembers having good relationships with them. The 60s were an incredible decade for Boston basketball and Cousy recalls being more focused on that than what his black teammates were going through.
The coach at the time, many might remember, was Red Auerbach. He was famous for being one of the most winning coaches to coach in Boston as well as being mean. According to Cousy, Red handled the integration of the Celtics very well. He didn’t treat the white players better than the black players. He treated everyone badly.
One of Cousy’s regrets is not standing up more for Russell and helping him with what he was going through. Russell had his house broken into and his bed defecated on. He may have been a fan favorite of some when he was on the court, but outside of basketball, in Boston, things were not easy for him. Cousy, of course, did not face the same issues. Looking back at his time playing with Russell, Cousy wishes he was more supportive.
That’s not to say that Cousy wasn’t a good teammate. The whole group had each other’s back on the court and it went further than that too. Cousy recalls a trip down to Raleigh when Cooper wasn’t allowed to stay in the hotel with the rest of the team because he was black. He also wasn’t allowed to use the same water fountain in the train station. Cousy stuck by him and supported him throughout the trip.
But Cousy never took the step further to speak out against racism and publicly throw his hat in the ring behind his teammates. Now as a man in his 90s he’s reflecting on the wrongs he’s done in his life and wishing he could have done more.
Gary Pomerantz’s book, “The Last Pass” is supposed to be an amazing story about race and basketball. Perhaps the lessons learned by Bob Cousy and recorded in Pomerantz’s book can help our racial climate in modern sports.