Bob Cousy still mystified Celtics let ‘unstoppable’ Kyrie Irving get away
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Behind the Nets’ offensive explosion in Game 2
Bob Cousy has been on the planet 92 years, and remains as sharp as a man half his age, and yet he still cannot figure out these three mysteries of the Boston sports universe:
Ahead of Friday night’s Game 3 of the Brooklyn-Boston series at TD Garden, where Celtics fans will be, ahem, greeting their former point guard for the first time, you should know that Cousy is a huge fan of Irving’s. They sat together for a TV show once called “Passing the Torch” and talked about the playmaking craft.
“I was also a big of a show-off,” Cousy would say.
“Yeah, I heard that,” Irving responded. “I get that a lot, too.”
As Irving was ending the segment, he thanked “Mr. Cousy” for joining him.
“You’ve got to bring home a flag for me, man,” said the six-time NBA champ.
Irving did not bring home a flag, or banner, for the Celtics, who already own 17 of them. He talked about someday hanging his No. 11 jersey in the Garden rafters, and he did once promise fans that he would re-sign with the fabled green. Irving instead signed with the Brooklyn Nets for four years and $141 million, which left Cousy dumbfounded.
“I saw the same Kyrie with the Celtics that I saw with Brooklyn the other night,” he told The Post on Thursday. “He’s even more unstoppable now when defenses can’t focus on him with [James] Harden and [Kevin] Durant. Winning in professional sports is all about skilled players; coaches don’t win. A talent like Kyrie comes along once every 20-25 years. It is so rare that when you acquire it, you don’t let it go. I’m still shaking my head.”
You can talk all day about team chemistry, and the problems that come tethered to Irving’s high-maintenance presence. You can say that the Celtics did everything they could to make him happy, and that at day’s end the Jersey kid who grew up a Nets fan just wanted to go home.
But Cousy knows this much: Talent wins in the NBA, and the Celtics should never have let that kind of talent walk out the door.
“I think Kyrie is exceptional,” Cousy said. “I think he’s done things frankly that I’ve never seen another point guard do. … I’ve never seen a point guard that seems to have this many options, this many body moves to create opportunities for himself. Kyrie is literally unstoppable.”
Asked if he viewed Irving as one of the five most talented point guards he’s ever seen, Cousy said, “Oh God, yeah. Absolutely.”
High praise from the high priest of court vision and ball distribution, who listened with great interest after Game 2 when Irving said he hoped that Friday night, “There’s no belligerence or racism going on — subtle racism — people yelling s–t from the crowd.” Asked if he had been subjected to racial remarks in Boston, Irving said, “I’m not the only one that can attest to this.”
Cousy roomed with, and befriended, the first African-American player drafted into the NBA, Chuck Cooper, and left the Celtics behind in Raleigh, N.C., to take a train back to Boston with his friend when a hotel wouldn’t allow Cooper to stay with his white teammates. Rather than suffer the indignity of using separate restrooms marked “white” and “colored” at the train station, Cousy and Cooper urinated together outside.
“I was momentarily ashamed to be white,” Cousy said.
To this day, he regrets not being more outspoken about the racism his teammate Bill Russell regularly faced.
“Racism exists in Boston, no question Russ was right about that,” Cousy said. “It also exists in New York, Chicago, Baltimore, Detroit, wherever. It’s the human animal at fault.”
Irving did not publicly cite examples of racism he might have confronted in Boston, which, of course, doesn’t mean he didn’t experience it. Either way, Cousy believes Irving has put the Game 3 crowd on its heels.
“I think he just turned the tables,” said the 13-time All-Star. “In my judgment, Kyrie was smart enough to use the media to do this, and now the spotlight is on how the fans are going to react. The pressure is now on the fans. … I think it was brilliant strategy on his part.”
In the end, Cousy wishes it never came to this. He wishes the Celtics had found a way to keep the point guard, because you can’t lose an all-time talent for nothing. If Irving was looking for an endorsement from someone, anyone, in Boston on the eve of his return, he just got the best one available.
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