Dave Cowens - the underappreciated Celtics superstar

If you wanted to see talent, excitement, fierceness and energy in one NBA player, you needed to watch Dave Cowens in action. After Bill Russell retired in 1969, Henry Finkel took over the center position. High Henry became a fan favorite in later years, but he possessed none of the four qualities previously attributed to Big Red. Dave was drafted in the first round of the 1970 NBA draft and turned around the fortunes of the Celtics almost immediately. But as great as he was, Dave never seemed to get the accolades. He was, however, honored last night at the New England Sports Museum's awards ceremony. Here is the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy on the subject:

You could win a few bar bets asking for the names of the four Celtics who have won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award. Bill Russell? Bob Cousy? Larry Bird? Yes, yes, and yes. Easy. But the fourth player to win an MVP as a Celtic was not John Havlicek, Sam Jones, Paul Pierce, or Kevin Garnett. It was Dave Cowens in 1972-73, when he was playing in a league populated by the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Cowens was Rookie of the Year, two-time Champion, eight-time All-Star and 1973 MVP. He averaged 38.6 MPG, 17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG and 0.9 BPG. And he hustled all the time. Never stopped. He and Marcus Smart are both on my all-time Celtics Floor-Burn Team and would have made great teammates. Rival players feared Dave. They never knew what he would do. Mike Newlin of the Houston Rockets was one player that found out (per Jason Concepcion of Grantland):

At some point during the game, Houston guard Mike Newlin slid into the path of Dave Cowens as the Celtics legend was driving strong toward the hoop. Cowens brushed by Newlin, who then acted as if he’d been blasted by a shotgun, flying backward and drawing the charge. Cowens pleaded his case to the referee, but, then as today, the ref wasn’t having it.

When Cowens finally turned from the ref, what did he see? The cowardly figure of one Mike Newlin, dribbling down the court while presumably holding an Oscar statue in his other hand. So Cowens did what real, honest-to-goodness M-E-N did back in the bloody days of yore. He Jadeveon Clowney–ed the villain, turned to the referee, and bellowed, “NOW THAT’S A FUCKING FOUL!” Flagrant foul, Cowens ejected.

In his prime, could Dave Cowens play in the NBA today, specifically on the Boston Celtics? An emphatic yes. At 6'8" and 230 pounds of speed, quickness and mobility, he would thrive. His long-distance shooting would need a little bit of work, but his fierce rebounding and tenacious defense would fit right in with the current Celtics' system. Oh, by the way, Coach Tom Heinsohn also got ejected with Dave when Tommy protested Big Red's ejection on the Newlin incident. Red Auerbach praised Dave later in the locker room. What else would you expect?

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Top photo via Michael Maher/The Lowell Sun
Bottom Photo via Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images
Ratings image via NBA2K18