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Basketball Legend Bob Cousy ’50 Reflects on Race in New Book, On-Campus Conversation

Cousy's relationship with teammate Bill Russell has grabbed national attention
November 4th, 2018 by 

Basketball legend Bob Cousy ’50 hasn’t hit the court in decades, but that didn’t stop him from making national headlines. The media attention centered around Cousy’s complex relationship with his Celtics teammate Bill Russell, which was the subject of the recently released book “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End.”

Covered by dozens of outlets, including CNN, ESPN, NESN and NPR, the story of Cousy and Russell’s relationship was brought to life by Cousy himself at Holy Cross on Oct. 26 during an event promoting the book, where Cousy, now 90 years old, and author Gary Pomerantz sat down for a conversation before a standing-room-only crowd.

Cousy launched his career as a legendary point guard at Holy Cross, helping the Crusaders clinch the NCAA championship in 1947 before landing a spot on the Boston Celtics’ roster. There, he, along with Russell, built the Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s, winning six championships in seven seasons.

As the team and its players rocketed to stardom, the civil rights movement was taking center stage in the United States. In “The Last Pass,” Cousy reflects on the racism Russell endured during those years, and how Cousy could have — and should have — done more.

It wasn’t until an ESPN interview in 2001 that Cousy realized he felt a great sense of guilt about how he handled the situation with Russell.

“We could’ve done more to ease his pain and make him feel more comfortable. I should’ve been much more sensitive to Russell’s anguish in those days,” Cousy said before breaking down in the middle of the interview.

On stage at Holy Cross, Pomerantz explained that seeing Cousy’s reaction in that moment and sharing countless conversations with the basketball legend that circled back to his relationship with Russell solidified his interest in writing “The Last Pass.”

Cousy shared that the last few years of introspection have led him to ask: “Why didn’t I do more? Why didn’t I reach out more?”

“I was the man,” said Cousy, the Celtics’ captain and an icon of the country’s winningest team at the time. “I was in a position where maybe it could have made a difference.”

Although he graduated from Holy Cross almost 70 years ago, Cousy pointed to the impact the social justice lessons he learned from the Jesuits had on him and the formation of his moral compass — which he admits should have been better utilized in the case of Russell.

“I should have shared his pain more,” Cousy added.

The event, which was also attended by fellow basketball star Togo Palazzi ’54, was the first time Cousy has spoken on campus since the unveiling of his bronze statue in front of the Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex in 2008.

Watch the on-campus conversation between Cousy and Pomerantz on WatchStadium.com.

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