NBA 75: The Celtics Bob Cousy played at a pace that concerned one doctor

The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is Celtics star Bob Cousy. This story — about concern over the pace at which Cousy, 26 at the time, played — appeared in the Feb. 1, 1956, issue of The Sporting News. He played in Boston for seven more years, playing in all but two games over his final four seasons.

BOSTON, Mass. — Bob Cousy was playing his customarily brilliant game for the Celtics at the Garden, but the sharps around the floor shook their heads and said, “He’s forcing himself. He’s worn down to his ankles.”

The history of basketball does not include a precedent which medical men can use to measure the number of foot-pounds of energy a player can give before he loses his muscular response. Three weeks ago, a physician, who is also a basketball fan, said casually, “How long does Bob Cousy expect to go on playing this new game of basketball?”

The answer here was that Cousy, being an athletic genius, couldn’t be judged the way other less gifted players are judged. His moves are graceful and lacking in muscular conflict. He moves easier, quicker and with less expenditure of energy than an ordinary player.

“Yes, yes,” said the physician, “but the human system might never have been meant for this race-horse basketball. If you study the history of the games, you will find that they developed slowly, over a period of many years or even centuries and they all developed a pace which includes a stopping place or breathing period. That is, every game but basketball.

Crisler Was in Shape for Football — But Not Basketball

“Most sports have periods of wild speed for short bursts or a steady pace for a long performance. A marathoner, for instance, doesn’t run the first mile in four minutes and then coast the rest of the way. A wrestler uses his peak energy for only a few seconds. A boxer fights three minutes and rests for one.

“Of course, these games developed slowly. Basketball didn’t. Basketball was invented, and it is now at the growing stage that other sports were in their first century of existence.

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“I don’t pretend to know how much replacement of energy and resiliency is involved in basketball, but I have never forgotten what happened to Hal Crisler, who had played a season with the Boston Yanks and decided to try to make the Celtics.

“Crisler was in top shape for football, but he didn’t last two weeks with the Celtics. Lack of condition, they said. Actually, it was condition for pro football, but poor condition for pro basketball. And that was the old game, or comparatively old game.

“This new game, especially for a scorer and play-maker like Cousy, must be close to unbearable for long periods of time.

Cage Game Like Crusade to Cousy

“Few professional sports organizations know how to ease the strain on athletes. I’ve seen veteran baseball players go through game after game in hot weather when it was obvious that they had lost a percentage of their response to stimuli, which is the coefficient of their athletic ability. But, that’s baseball. A game that is more sapping emotionally than physically. In a three-hour game, less than 15 minutes is the total top speed physical action. Much less than 15 minutes.

“But basketball, the way Cousy plays it, is almost a crusade. He is, of course, the most spectacular individual who ever played the game, not merely because of his superb skill, but because of the tremendous emotional pitch at which he operates. That pitch, in other men, would require a leveling-out period. Maybe Cousy doesn’t need more of a change. I don’t think he needs rest as much as he needs a change of activity. Rest is hardly the cure for him. Baseball teams bench a player and think they’re doing him a favor. They aren’t. They should send him fishing or golfing or painting the house or cutting the lawn. Athletes need change, a release from the urgency of batting a ball or throwing one into a hoop.

“Cousy is tired, of course, but he’s young enough and so skilled that he can play as well as the best in the NBA, even after he has lost peak efficiency. But, I would say that his career could be lengthened appreciably if he played less games, and if I was a club owner I’d want Cousy playing for as many years as possible.”

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