The Bob Cousy Interview
Michael D. McClellan
February 9th, 2004
In 1954 you began to organize the NBPA, which would
become the first team sports player’s union. What was
the biggest factor that led you to take this landmark
Twenty-one straight exhibition games [laughs]. Another reason was our desire to have adequate player representation. There were a lot of changes taking place during that time, and we wanted to have a seat at the table. We also wanted to form the player’s association without fear of reprisal, so I met with Walter and expressed our motives to him. I didn’t want Walter to look at this as a negative reflection on the way he ran his franchise, because he was far and away the best owner in the league. It was the league as a whole that we were concerned about. I was president of the NBPA until 1958, at which point Tommy [Heinsohn] took over as player rep. He hired Lawrence Fleisher as the union’s General Counsel, which was a major step.
After getting Walter’s blessing, I began by contacting an established player from each team. Letters were sent out to Andy Phillip of Fort Wayne, Dolph Schayes of Syracuse, Don Sunderlage of Milwaukee, Paul Arzin of Philadelphia, Carl Braun of New York, Bob Davies of Rochester, Paul Hoffman Baltimore, and Jim Pollard of Minneapolis. Everyone but Phillip responded positively, but Fort Wayne’s owner also owned a machine works plant and was staunch anti-union. So I understood. From there I went to Commissioner Podoloff with a list of concerns, which I presented to him at the 1955 NBA All-Star Game.
One of the items on your initial list of concerns was
the abolition of the “whispering fine”. What was the
It was a $15 fine that referees could impose on players during games. My biggest win was getting the meal money bumped from $5 to $7. Getting that concession made me a hero [laughs].
Many fans today know of the intense rivalry between the
Celtics and Lakers during the 1960s and 1980s. Many
younger fans are less aware of the bitter rivalry that
existed between Boston and the Syracuse Nationals during
the 50s and early 60s. Please tell me about this
rivalry, and about the riot that broke out during the
1961 Eastern Conference Finals.
There were riots in just about every game we played with Syracuse. That seemed to be the case with most of the teams based in the smaller towns – the fans were more rabid, and they wanted to literally kill the opposition. The state police were called in all the time because there were problems in every damned game that we played.
Everyone came on the floor during the game that you’re talking about. That’s one of the things that stands out most in my mind. It could have gotten serious if the police hadn’t been there.
These days I smile benignly at the fights that I see in NBA games. There aren’t any broken noses or black eyes, which happened quite often when I played. Back then there were fights from the start of those exhibitions right through to the championship. Today a couple of guys shove each other, they get tossed and fined.
Jim Loscutoff is widely regarded as the team’s first
great enforcer, and LOSCY hangs from the FleetCenter
rafters in his honor. Bob Brannum, however, played the
same role to perfection during the four seasons prior to
Mr. Loscutoff’s arrival. Please tell about Mr. Brannum,
and what it meant to have him on your team.
Bob Brannum was my body guard on the court. He was 6’-6” and built like a bulldog. Teams learned pretty quickly not to pick on the 5’-11” skinny kid from Holy Cross [laughs]. It was a great luxury to have Bob on the team, and to have him playing the role of protector. It definitely made my job a lot easier.