Bob Cousy '50 receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photo by Joyce Boghosian
Bob Cousy '50 playing in the 1947 NCAA Tournament. Photo courtesy of Holy Cross Athletics
Legendary Holy Cross and Boston Celtics point guard Bob Cousy ’50 was honored Thursday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for his contributions to American life both on and off the court.
“I discovered some God-given skills to play a child’s game and landed, without much of a moral code other than the law of the streets, at the College of the Holy Cross — then and now, one of the finest liberal arts schools in the country,” said Bob Cousy ’50 shortly after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “My Jesuit mentors advised, ‘Maximize your God-given skills in the areas of your choice, then reach out in your communities and help those who are less fortunate.’ And to the best of my ability, I’ve tried to do that.”
The medal was bestowed to Cousy by President Donald J. Trump in the White House’s Oval Office. The 91-year-old Cousy was surrounded by friends and family.
Cousy launched his career as a legendary point guard and playmaker at Holy Cross, helping the Crusaders clinch the NCAA championship in 1947. He landed a spot on the Boston Celtics’ roster in 1950, helping build the Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and 1960s. On the Celtics, Cousy won six championships in seven seasons, led the league in assists for eight years straight, and was named NBA Most Valuable Player in 1957. His number, 14, was retired by the Celtics in 1963 and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1971.
But Cousy isn’t just being honored for his time on the court. The 6’1″ player was a big — and early — proponent of diversity in the NBA and was a supporter of his black teammates during the civil rights movement, a time when not everyone shared his views.
“Throughout his long career, Bob was a voice against prejudice, racism and bigotry,” Trump said. “In 1954, Bob organized the NBA Players Association, a first-of-its-kind union for major American sports. He was elected the association’s first president, and fought for better working conditions and a more reasonable schedule for players.”
Established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor in the United States. The award is given to individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to the interests of the United States, to world peace, or to a variety of fields, from science to philanthropy, art to athletics.
Cousy joins other sports legends such as Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan and former teammate Bill Russell as recipients of the prestigious award.
Two other Holy Cross alumni have received the award, as well: James Burke ’47 in 2000 and Anthony Fauci ’62 in 2008.
“This acknowledgment allows me to complete my life circle,” Cousy said. “I can stop chasing the bouncing ball. The Presidential Medal of Freedom allows me to reach a level of acceptance in our society I never once dreamed of.”
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