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January 9th, 1956 Sports Illustrated

Bob Cousy: Basketball's Creative Genius

All Imagination and agility, the great Celtic star is leading the youngest of the major games out of its periodic wildernesses

Herbert Warren Wind

 

With the score tied 57-57 and about 10 seconds to go in the Holy Cross- Loyola of Chicago game in 1949, Bob Cousy of Holy Cross was fed the ball and drove hard for the basket, hoping to get a half step ahead of his man and get off a fairly close-in shot, preferably a lay-up, with his right hand. He never got that half step ahead. The man guarding him, Ralph Klaerich, had held Cousy scoreless from the floor during the entire second half and was right with him again this time. If anything, Klaerich was a fraction of a step in front of Cousy, overplaying him to his right side as he had been doing with remarkable success, ready to block any shot Cousy might try to make as he finished his dribble.

 

This time, however, Cousy finished his dribble somewhat differently than Klaerich—or, for that matter, Cousy—was expecting. Realizing that the only way he could get free for a shot was somehow to get to Klaerich's right (his left), Cousy, hearkening to some distant drum, reached behind his back with his right hand and slapped the ball to the floor, found the ball with his left hand as it came up on the bounce to his left side, and then, without a break in his stride or dribble, drove to the left (yards away from the flabbergasted Klaerich), leaped into the air and sank a florid left-hander that won the game. "There was some talk at the time that I had been practicing that behind-the-back dribble and had only been waiting for the proper occasion to use it," Cousy recently recalled. "The fact of the matter is that I had never even thought of such a maneuver until the moment the situation forced me into it. It was purely and simply one of those cases when necessity is the mother of invention. I was absolutely amazed myself at what I had done. It was only much later that I began to practice it so that I could make it a reliable part of my repertoire."

 

A person of abundant imagination, Cousy over the years has enlarged and refined his ball-handling techniques to the point where today no old timer remembers his equal and no contemporary player can touch him. To begin with, he is unanimously regarded as the game's most accomplished dribbler. The one man who might be compared with him, the old Globetrotter alumnus, Marques Haynes, honestly cannot be, since Cousy works against—and confounds—bona fide opposition in the National Basketball Association while Haynes operates on an exhibition tour with a well-drilled "opponent" helping him to display his remarkable wares. Much the same difference applies to any comparison of Cousy and Goose Tatum, whose humor and ball handling made the Globetrotters one of the most gratifying vaudeville acts since Singer's Midgets and Fink's Mules. Performed at the breakneck speed with which the pro game is played, Cousy's thesaurus now includes (along with his behind-the-back dribble, the pass-off-the-dribble, the reverse dribble and other plain and fancy locomotion) such exclusive Cousyisms as the behind-the-back transfer (in which he shifts the ball from his right hand to his left and then lays up a left-hander, all this while afloat in the air), the twice-around pass (in which he swings the ball around his back once and then passes it off to a teammate as he takes it around a second time, all this, of course, while in the air) and several variations on these themes which he resorts to when the situation calls for them. This virtuosity has won for Cousy such sobriquets as "The Mobile Magician" and "The Houdini of the Hardwood" as well as the highest salary of any player in the NBA. He receives about $20,000 a year from the Boston Celtics, and in a world where few basketball players as yet get a slurp of the subsidiary gravy, he has been able to augment his income considerably by running clinics and by endorsing a chewing gum, a breakfast food, a toothpaste, a seamless basketball and a Canadian sneaker. Far from resenting Cousy's fiscal eminence, his teammates and rivals are extremely happy about it for there is absolute agreement that, since the retirement of George Mikan, Cousy, as pro basketball's greatest attraction, has almost single handedly been carrying the league to a prosperity it could never otherwise enjoy.

 

It is always a little misleading to talk about the astonishing things Bob Cousy can do with a basketball because it tends to distort a true appreciation of his genius for the game. Though you are apt to forget it some nights when a poorly played contest seems to consist almost entirely of tall men shooting from outside and taller men battling lugubriously under the basket, basketball, good basketball, is a game of movement. As in hockey, Rugby, soccer, polo, lacrosse, and other kindred games where two opposing teams try to gain possession of the ball and advance it toward the enemy's goal for a scoring shot, the really gifted players are not necessarily the high-scoring specialists but the men with an instinctive sense of how to build a play—the man without the ball who knows how to cut free from the opponent covering him, and, even more important, the man with the ball who can "feel" how an offensive maneuver can develop, who can instantly spot a man who breaks free, and who can zip the ball over to him at the right split second. Without this latter breed—the play-makers—basketball, or any other goal-to-goal game, can degenerate into a rather ragged race up and down the playing field.

 

Cousy's greatness lies in the fact that he is fundamentally a play-maker and that his legerdemain, far from being empty show-boating, is functional, solid basketball. Equipped with a fine sense of pattern, superb reflexes, he also has peripheral vision which enables him to see not only the men in front of him but a full 180 angle of the action. Thus, like nobody else in the game—unless it be Dick McGuire of the Knicks on one of his outlandish hot nights—Cousy can open up a seemingly clogged court by appearing to focus in one direction, simultaneously spotting a seemingly unreachable teammate in another area, and quickly turning him into a scoring threat with a whiplash pass. There is implicit deception in Cousy's straight basketball, which is the secret of any great player's success, and it is only in those exceptional circumstances when extra measures pay off soundly that he resorts to his really fancy stuff.

Well aware that his feats of manipulation draw the crowds and help to keep the league healthy, Cousy will flash a few of his special effects near the end of a game in which the outcome is already surely decided, if he previously has not had a chance to use them. Aside from this, he is all function. There has been only one occasion, for example, when he has deliberately trotted out a little of the old razzle-dazzle to show up an opposing player.

 

This occurred a few years back in one of those high-pitched battles between the Celtics and the Knicks. Sweetwater Clifton of the Knicks, who can handle the ball with his enormous hands as if it were the size of a grapefruit, had been, as Cousy saw it, indulging himself far too prodigally in exhibiting his artistry and appeared much more concerned with making the Celtics look foolish than in playing basketball. This aroused Cousy's French. The next time he got the ball, he dribbled straight up to Clifton. Looking Sweets right in the eye, he wound up as if he were going to boom a big overhand pass directly at him. As he brought the ball over his shoulder, however, Cousy let it roll down his back, where he caught it with his left hand, and, completing that big windmill thrust with his empty right hand, stuck it out towards Sweets in the gesture of "shake hands." It brought down the house.

 

"It was an old Globetrotter trick I'd seen them use and had practiced for my own benefit a couple of times," Cousy explained not long ago. "I shouldn't have done it but I was awfully sore at the time. Naturally the newspapers played it up that there was a feud between me and Clifton. The next time we played New York I looked Clifton up and told him I was sorry about the incident, for I was. Clifton isn't a wise guy. He's a helluva nice guy. I should have taken that into account at the time."

 

Even when he was a collegian, Robert Joseph Cousy's ability was so conspicuous that Adolph Rupp, the unquiet coach of Kentucky, acclaimed him "the greatest offensive player in the country." This is a tribute indeed when you consider that Rupp views it as only a little short of treason to find anything or anybody worthy of his praise except Happy Chandler, bourbon whisky, his own basketball teams and other strictly Bluegrass products.

 

THE GREATEST IN HISTORY

 

Today, 27 years old, a discernibly improved player in this his sixth season as a pro, Cousy is regarded by most experts as nothing less than the greatest all-round player in the 64-year history of basketball. "I've seen many great ones since I began fooling around with a ball in 1912," Joe Lapchick, a stalwart on the famous old New York Celtics and presently the coach of the Knickerbockers, reflected recently. "I've seen Johnny Beckman, Nat Holman, that wonderful player Hank Luisetti, Bob Davies, George Mikan, the best of the big men—to name just a few. Bob Cousy, though, is the best I've ever seen. He does so many things. It's so hard to say that Cousy can think in the air or that Cousy does this or that. Cousy does everything. He's regularly one of the league's top five scorers. When a guy's a scorer, you usually don't expect him to be a leader in the other departments. One talent generally suffers from another. Bob, however, has been a top leader in assists for the last five seasons. He's become a very capable defensive player, a tremendous pass stealer."

 

Lapchick paused to find words to sum up his panegyric. "I was just thinking of the games we've played against Cousy," he resumed with a bittersweet look in his eyes. "He always shows you something new, something you've never seen before. Any mistake against him and you pay the full price. One step and he's past the defense. He's quick, he's smart, he's tireless, he has spirit and he is probably the best finisher in sports today."

 

One Celtic-Knick scrap that Lap-chick may have been musing on was their meeting on December 10, 1953. The Knicks were leading 93-90 with 30 seconds to go. Since they had possession of the ball, Boston having just scored, and no 24-second rule to contend with in those days, the game to all intents and purposes was as good as over. The Knicks knew exactly how they would handle the play coming up to keep Cousy from getting his hands on the ball again. Carl Braun, taking the ball out of bounds, would wait until Dick McGuire cut toward him, carrying Cousy, his man, along with him. Braun would then toss the ball to Harry Gallatin, well behind the spot where Cousy would then be. Braun took the ball, McGuire came tearing along with Cousy, Braun threw the ball to Gallatin—and Cousy intercepted it with a pantherlike whirl. He drove in unimpeded for a basket that cut the Knicks' lead to one point. A moment later, up front on an all-court press, he intercepted a bounce pass. Boston (Cousy) immediately called time out. When play was resumed, Cousy hooked a pass to his teammate, Ed Macauley. Macauley was fouled before he could get a shot off. He made the foul. The final buzzer sounded: 93 all. In the overtime, in what many critics adjudge the finest exhibition of dribbling they have ever seen, Cousy controlled the ball for just about four of the five minutes of play, killing the clock once Boston was ahead and drawing foul after foul when as many as three Knicks at a time tried desperately to get the ball away from him. Final score: Boston 113—New York 108.

 

Like any athlete, Cousy has his big nights and his bad nights, though it should be added that most players would gladly settle for a straight diet of his bad ones. As to his greatest game, there is, to be sure, a sizable difference of opinion, the fan's choice depending in the last analysis on which games he has personally seen. A good many, for example, incline to think the high point was his performance in the 1954 East-West All-Star Game where Cousy turned the overtime into a one-man show while scoring 10 of the East's 14 points. (The basketball writers, who had voted Jim Pollard the game's most valuable player at the end of the regulation four quarters, had no other course but to open the polls again and vote the award to Cousy.) Most of Cousy's New England following, however, who idolize him with a clamorous devotion which recalls the great love affair between Les Canadiens' rooters and Maurice Richard (SI, Dec. 6,1954), are certain that no basketball player ever turned in a more magnificent job than Cousy did in a first-round playoff against the Syracuse Nationals two winters ago this coming March. Briefly, the tide of battle went something like this: at the end of the regulation four 12-minute periods, the teams were tied 77-77. At the end of the first five-minute overtime, they were still tied, 86 all. At the end of the second overtime, still tied up, 90 all. Syracuse dominated the third overtime and, with time rapidly running out, was out in front by five points. With 13 seconds to go, Cousy got loose for a pretty one-hander; he was fouled on the play and added the foul shot. With five seconds to go, he got the ball at mid-court and let go a long one-handed push-shot. Swish! 99-99. In the fourth overtime Syracuse once again raced off to a five-point lead. Once again Cousy tied it up. Syracuse began to fade then, and with Cousy adding four more foul shots, Boston pulled away to ultimately win 111-105. Cousy's scoring total for the marathon was 50 points—10 field goals and 30 free-throws in 32 attempts, still an NBA playoff record. Up to that evening Boston, seven years in the pro league, had been a rather shaky basketball town. Since that game, Boston has been a rabid basketball town—Cousy's performance was as conclusive as that.

 

LILLIPUTIAN IN A FOREST

 

In the Brobdingnagian world in which he operates, where a man 6 foot 5 has to look up to a good many of his teammates, Cousy, who stands 6 foot 1, is one of the few surviving Lilliputians. On the floor, as he darts in and out of the forest of young oaks populating the court, spectators unconsciously begin to think of him as a much smaller man, a mere whippet of say 5 foot 8, or 5 foot 9. It is a shock to them, when they meet him off the court, to find that by conventional or non basketball standards their hero is a big fellow who towers over most hockey players and who must slide the front seat of an auto way back to gain sufficient leg room. (In this connection—how environment changes a fellow's height—Cousy's running-mate, Bill Sharman, offers a very amusing case. During the winter, those who watch him tend to peg him in their minds as "Little Bill" Sharman. Comes spring, Sharman switches to baseball—last year he batted .292 with St. Paul in the American Association—and instantly undergoes a metamorphosis. For the next six months he is "Big Bill" Sharman, at 6 foot 2, one of the largest third basemen in organized ball.)

 

Cousy's weight is as deceptive as his height. Taking in his unobtrusive chest, his sloping shoulders and his long, lean neck, most people guess him at 160 or 165 pounds. He weighs 185. Most of it is in his heavy, powerful thighs and legs, which, as Cousy sees it, are the key to a natural endurance that makes it possible for him to drive up and down a court long after other players in the pink of condition have retreated to the bench for a breather. But, of course, his most valuable physical asset is his hands, with their very large palms and extraordinarily long fingers, both far out of proportion to the rest of his body. Besides permitting Bob to manipulate a basketball more facilely than most giants can, his hands, when added to his average-length arm for a 6-footer—he takes a 35 shirt sleeve—give him a reach some two inches longer than most men his size and enable him, among other things, to perform that old back magic. One look at Cousy's hands and enthusiasts of other professions, from pianists to golfers, while not arguing that he was wrong to choose a career in basketball, invariably try to persuade him that he could have achieved as much in theirs. Baseball men are particularly saddened when they learn that Cousy played their game until he was 14 and then gave it up to concentrate on basketball. They see in him, when they add his speed, his eye and his catlike reflexes to these enormous mitts, a great shortstop who got away.

 

When Cousy occasionally succumbs to blandishments that his hands and timing give him the ideal equipment for this or that other sport, the results often exceed the expectation. Two years ago he took up tennis as an off-season conditioner and now plays it so well that he can provide suitable rallying if not playing opposition for Jack Kramer. When he decided to learn how to fish last May, he needed only two hours of practice before he was shooting 30 yards of D-weight line the full 90 feet with the ease of a master caster.

 

While enjoying his ever-enlarging sphere of proficiencies, Cousy has no regrets whatsoever that the hospitality of circumstances in St. Albans, Long Island, where he grew up, led him to a life of basketball. He loves the game and thinks of it as a great game, well worth anyone's dedication. "To me," he once confided to a friend, "practice was never work. It was and is time spent at the thing I love the best. It gives me a chance to improvise, to create. Maybe I shouldn't put it on such a high plane," Cousy interrupted himself with a grin. "Anyhow, it does give you a chance to dream up new things and to polish them, and that is one of the reasons why the game has always had such a tremendous appeal for me."

 

Cousy pours so much of himself into basketball that when he is playing a game his absorption in the business at hand temporarily suffuses the rest of his personality. In the dressing room before a game, his normally expressive dark brown eyes begin to lose their animation and a sort of glaze settles over and begins to tighten his mobile face. He becomes quiet and solemn, and, in fact, somewhat drowsy. Part of this is natural—he has an indecent capacity to relax at hard moments. Part of it is calculated. He wants to play each game up to the hilt and he knows that he is expected to cut loose with some sensational stuff, and a spot of pregame torpor helps him to collect his energy and to shape his concentration. Once on the floor, he changes considerably. A tremendous, burning will to win comes over him. His eyes become narrowed with dour-ness and his Gallic features take on a Velazquezian gauntness. Except for those moments when he is arguing a point with the referee, Cousy's set poker face never alters for a moment, whether the Celtics are winning or losing, whether he is "hot" or "off," regardless of the score and the period. Coupled with the assurance and the audacity of his style of play, this facial immobility is often misread by anti-Celtic fans as hauteur, and they watch his moves with the grudging admiration that Ben Hogan with his ice-cold, unshatterable poise used to extract from the followers of Snead, Nelson and other golfers.

 

AN HONEST-TO-GOODNESS CALM

 

Once a game is over, no matter how high the victory or how galling a defeat, Cousy usually manages to relapse almost instantly into an honest-to-goodness calm, much to the mystification of his teammates, who generally require a much longer period to settle down. It takes Cousy a half hour, nonetheless, before he has the game completely digested. A liveliness then comes back to his eyes, the contours of his face become rounder, and there is a merriment in his remarks and a ready enjoyment of other people.

 

The more you see Cousy, the more you come to realize that he is a person of honest individuality, as easy to admire off the court as on. He has packed a lot of maturity under his belt for a man of 27. He has a mind of his own, a good one, and an uncommon understanding of the responsibility his position carries along with its privileges. Perhaps the best way to delineate the mosaic of his substantial personality is to describe a piece here, a piece there.

For example, there is Cousy, the citizen of Worcester, his adopted home town and the site of his college, Holy Cross, quietly calling up basketball friends like Carl Braun last summer and organizing a charity game, the proceeds to go to the widows of two Worcester firemen who had lost their lives in a fire. Both had left four children and no insurance. The game raised $4,000.

 

There is Cousy—you do not learn this from him—deciding to accompany his teammate Chuck Cooper back to New York on the sleeper, after a hotel in Raleigh, N.C., had refused accommodations for Cooper, a Negro from Duquesne. Cousy and Cooper shared an apartment in Boston for three months when Cousy was waiting to move his family into a new house.

 

There is Cousy, so keyed for really lazy relaxation or all-out action that sports in which the tempo is not continuous are curiously difficult for him to take. At college he fell asleep while watching the first three football games he attended and never went to a game again. Last summer he walked out of a fairly crucial Yankees-Red Sox battle in the sixth inning. "All they did was change pitchers," he explains. "Anyway that was longer than I generally last. Three innings is about my quota."

 

There is Cousy, aware that there will come a time when his basketball days will be over, realistically planning for the future. Four years ago he became one of the three co-owners of Camp Graylag, a summer camp near Concord, New Hampshire. After the camping season, he now conducts an annual clinic there attended by boys who come from all over the country. Tuition: $100 for the 10-day course. One of his associates in his noncamp ventures is Jack Richards, a Harvard graduate turned song writer. (The current hit song He is one of his numbers.) Cousy and Richards met two winters ago when Bob gave a clinic at a settlement house in a tough Cambridge district where Richards spent a lot of his time. "The next summer Jack sent 10 of those boys up to my 10-day clinic at his own expense," Cousy relates. "That impressed me. You don't find many fellows who actually act."

 

There is Cousy, the head of the Players' Association which he helped form in 1954 and which now has its headquarters in Worcester. It is a very necessary organization, for the NBA, still a young league, numbers among the owners of its teams quite a few promoters who have yet to graduate from the dance-hall era of early pro basketball and who continue to think in terms of the quick buck instead of the big league. While the players' salaries are now pitched at a proper level, the league president, Maurice Podoloff, has much of the time acted as though he were solely responsible to the club owners and not equally responsible for safeguarding the legitimate interests of the players. With the NBA now a prosperous circuit, most veteran basketball hands consider the Players' Association to be more than justified in its efforts to obtain a reasonable limit to the fatiguing preseason barnstorming tours, small payment fees (like other pro athletes receive) for players who publicize the league through personal and television appearances, concrete steps by the league to improve the quality and uniformity of the still capricious officiating, and other such improvements. As the game's young statesman as well as its outstanding player, Cousy was the logical choice to represent pro basketball at the White House luncheon last July when leaders from all sports met with President Eisenhower to discuss what sports can contribute in the nation's over-all campaign against juvenile delinquency.

 

A PREJUDICE TO COMBAT

 

Putting these several pieces together, it becomes clear that basketball is fortunate indeed in having a man like Cousy as its current personification, for in an odd way, but a definite one, the game, despite its popularity in many sections of the country, still has to combat in other sections a marked prejudice. In those latter quarters it is extremely fashionable to dislike basketball, whether or not you know what it is all about, and retail as your reasons that it is a game dominated not by attractive stars but by uncoordinated skyscraping goons, a game without patterns and riddled furthermore by senseless rules, a game that has had its fix scandals and is thick with tramp athletes, a game which principally attracts the poolroom set in between wrestling and fight nights—in short, a poor, sweaty, unsavory relation trying to edge itself into the proud tradition of major American sports.

 

There is an element of truth in all this, of course, but also as great an element of distortion as there would be in glibly characterizing hockey as a game without patterns and furthermore riddled by senseless rules, football as a game for behemoths only, in which the ball is hidden from the spectator as well as the opposing team, or golf as a game of rigged Calcuttas, baseball as the game of the Black Sox scandal, and so on and so forth. The most intelligent rebuttal to the charges of an antibasketball man (besides taking him to watch Cousy) would be to shanghai him to a high school game in some midwestern town where the whole population turns out to watch and forms a modern Currier and Ives scene. One evening in such a locale and your man will understand why basketball, the youngest of all major sports, today is participated in by uncountable millions throughout the world and annually attracts the largest number of spectators of any major American sport, some 95 million.

 

No sport ever had a more dramatic genesis or a finer father. He was Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian who grew up in a country town in northern Ontario. Orphaned at 8, Naismith early gave a memorable indication of his native inventiveness: too proud to ask his uncle to buy him a pair of skates like the other boys had, he hied himself to his uncle's machine shop and made himself a pair by setting two old files firmly into strips of hickory. In the autumn of 1883 he enrolled at McGill University to study for the ministry. Although contact sports were then frowned on as a wayward pursuit for a theology student, Naismith played center on the college Rugby team for seven years. "Much to my amusement," he later wrote, "I learned that some of my comrades gathered in one of the rooms one evening to pray for my soul." The rough-and-tumble life on the Rugby field, requiring selfcontrol as well as ardor and developing many valuable traits among any team of players, was one of the main influences that led Naismith to decide, after much reflection, that "there might be other ways of doing good besides preaching." He dropped the ministry in favor of spreading the gospel of health through sports and entered the YMCA's International Training School in Springfield, Mass. It was at Springfield in 1891 that James Naismith invented basketball.

 

MAKING A NEW GAME

 

How he did it is a marvelous chronicle for, under the stress of circumstances, Naismith deliberately set out to make up a new game. It all started with the realization by the faculty at Springfield that American boys, attuned to flexible, competitive sports like baseball and football, were bored and impatient with the gymnasium classes that conventionally filled in the hiatus between the close of the football season and the first game of scrub when the snow was gone. Late in 1891, after several other young instructors had tried unsuccessfully to devise some indoor recreation that would please the very discontented members of the young men's class, the head of the athletic department, Dr. Luther Gulick, asked Naismith to take a crack at it for a couple of weeks. Knowing that what was needed was a new game, Naismith first tried modifying Rugby, eliminating the tackling. The class thought it was awful. He next tried an indoor variation of soccer. Even the few men who could still walk in their sneakers after the melee were enthusiastically against it. He got the same reaction when he tried to modify lacrosse for the small 65-foot-by-45-foot gym. "The day before my two weeks ended I met the class," Naismith recalled years afterwards. "I will always remember that meeting. I had nothing new to try and no idea of what I was going to do...With weary footsteps I mounted the flight of narrow steps that led to my office directly over the locker room, I slumped down in my chair, my head in my hands and my elbows on the desk. I was a thoroughly disheartened and discouraged young instructor. Below me, I could hear the boys in the locker room having a good time; they were giving expression to the very spirit I had tried so hard to evoke."

 

As he sat there at his desk, Naismith decided to take a new tack. Previously he had been trying to adapt old games and that had failed. Now he began to ponder the nature of games in general from the philosophical side. Well, first, nearly all games used a ball. Some also used sticks but they demanded more proficiency and lots of space. As he mulled over the kind of game that was needed, he concluded that a soccer ball would probably be the best ball. It was sufficiently large so that it couldn't be hidden from sight by a player. Moreover, it was easier to handle than an oval football. All right, then, say you wanted your game to have some of the same patterns as American football without the tackling and other strenuous contact, how then would the players advance the ball? As he visualized the action in his mind, Naismith hit on the first of his original devices: the player in possession of the ball could not run with it after getting it but would be required to stop or pass the ball immediately. How about the goals then? If you took a lacrosse goal and—no, that wouldn't work out; a group of defending players could block off any scoring simply by massing in front of it. Why not place them off the ground above the heads of the players? Then it would be useless for players to mass in front of a goal to block scoring throws. Additionally, vaguely like a good shot in the backyard game of duck-on-the-rock, the shot that would put the ball into such an overhead goal would call much more for accuracy than for sheer power. That was certainly a step in the right direction.

 

The next morning as he was walking down the hall near the gym, about an hour and a half before the class was due to meet, Naismith met the building superintendent and asked him if he had two boxes 18 inches square. The superintendent said he hadn't but he had two old peach baskets in the storeroom. He brought them up and Naismith nailed a basket to the lower rail of the balcony at both ends of the gym. He went back to his office, quickly wrote out 13 rules for the game and had them typed. "The game was a success from the time the first ball was tossed up," Dr. Naismith later wrote."... When the first game had ended, I felt that I could now go to Dr. Gulick and tell him that I had accomplished the two seemingly impossible tasks he had set for me: namely, to interest the class in physical exercise and to invent a new game."

 

HOOPS ALL OVER THE WORLD

 

No sport in history caught on like Dr. Naismith's baby. Within a month of the historic first game, girls were playing basketball. ( Naismith, by the way, married a member of the first girls' team.) By 1892 the game was being played at the University of Iowa, a year later at Stanford. By the turn of the century, with YMCA men carrying the ball wherever they went, there were hundreds of hoops in South America, China, Japan—all over the world. As it grew, the game changed. Players with a gift for it came up with all kinds of new maneuvers. For example, the dribble, first conceived as a defensive aid to help a man stuck with the ball to keep free until he could get off a pass, swiftly was turned by talented dribblers into an element of the attack. And as the game changed, rules had to be added and changed—a rule here to make official some unarguable improvement the players had hit on, such as the rule that the team which did not touch the ball last before it went out of bounds throws it back into play; a rule there to curb certain unanticipated excesses which were hurting the game, like the one limiting the number of fouls a player could commit before being disqualified for the rest of the game. Today, 64 years old, basketball is still in the process of evolution, a game that has not yet found its best expression as has baseball or golf or tennis. It has changed tremendously just over the past 20 years, when the abolition of the center jump and the ten-second backcourt rule and the advent of the fast break so greatly speeded up the game.

 

But it hasn't all been progress in a neat straight line. Bad trends have been recognized and rules instituted to prevent them, and as often as not the new rules have fostered greater ills than the ones they proposed to cure. There have been periods, many of them, in fact, when the game got itself so fouled up that the elements which had made for its appeal had all but disappeared and what had arisen in their place wasn't basketball at all. A good deal of the trouble, to be sure, has resulted from the unavoidable proposition that in a game where the goals are set 10 feet above the ground, a big man will always have a valuable advantage, and you cannot legislate against height in basketball any more honestly than you can restrict the bulk of the linemen in football. You must deal with it within the spirit of the game.

 

Up to now, whenever basketball has found itself all snarled up in a jungle of unforeseen developments and unnatural rules, someone has always appeared to lead the game out of the wilderness. Sometimes it has been a wonderful team like the Original Celtics, sometimes a rules committee cleaving to the heart of the matter, and sometimes a single player. In recent years, when the game was coming very close to developing into a race-horse shooting match between men who had developed unstoppable shots and who could do very little else, Bob Cousy, above and beyond anyone else, has blazed the trail back to good basketball. Cousy has, in truth, gone much further: he has opened the road to better basketball. Perhaps no player or coach in the game's history has understood the true breath of basketball as well as he. He has shown, in what has amounted to an enlightened revolution, that basketball offers a hundred and one possibilities of maneuvers no one ever dreamed of before. Reversing your dribble or passing behind your back and so on—those stunts had been done for years, but if you combine those moves with a sense of basketball, then you are going some place. Increase your repertoire of moves, and the man playing you, by guarding against one, gives you the opening you need to move into another. It is not unlike learning to speak a new language. The larger your vocabulary, the better you will speak it, as long as you are building on a sound foundation.

 

Bob Cousy has been called a once-in-a-lifetime player. He may prove to be. But from now on the new stars that arise will play like Cousy. You can see his influence in the backyards throughout the country. Where all the kids used to be practicing special shots, you now find them trying to do something with the ball in the style of the master and submitting rather stoically, when the maneuver fails, to that inevitable come-uppance: "Who do you think you are anyway—Cousy?"

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Celtic Pride

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