Hall of Famer Dave Cowens Feels the 1970s Celtics Are Disrespected: ‘They Kind of Pass Us Over’

The Boston Celtics are one of the most storied franchises in NBA history. However, Hall of Fame center Dave Cowens believes his 1970s teams get the short end of the stick from a narrative perspective.

Boston had two of the game’s most iconic figures in the 1960s and 1980s. Bill Russell’s clashes with Wilt Chamberlain gave the NBA legs, while Larry Bird’s gripping rivalry with Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers team defined a decade and gave the Association wings.

The Celtics of the ’70s had plenty of star power and success, as well. But they often get neglected, a detail that continues to bother Cowens.

The Celtics won a pair of championships in the 1970s

The Boston Celtics faced an uphill battle after Bill Russell retired following the 1968-69 season. Russell had defined a decade of unprecedented success and emerged as a titanic sporting and social figure.

How would the franchise transition into the 1970s? Quite well, apparently, thanks mainly to John Havlicek and Dave Cowens.

Havlicek starred for the Celtics throughout the 1960s, but he became a full-fledged star in the 70s. His all-around skill set and endless motor made him a hallowed figure to Cowens and former head coach Tommy Heinsohn. From his age-29 season to the time he retired in 1977-78, Hondo averaged 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists.

Cowens came to Beantown at the dawn of the new decade after being drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in the 1970 NBA Draft. He immediately established himself as one of the best bigs in basketball, averaging 17.0 points and 15.0 rebounds in his rookie season before making the All-Star team in his sophomore campaign.

With Havlicek and Jo Jo White in the backcourt and Cowens holding down the paint, the Celtics made it back to the playoffs in 1972 after a two-season absence. By 1974, they could once again call themselves champions of the NBA. Boston hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy yet again in 1976.

In many ways, the ’70s Celtics provided an ideal transition from Russell to Bird. But Cowens doesn’t believe those squads get the respect they deserve.

Dave Cowens feels the ’70s Celtics get passed over

Boston Celtics center Dave Cowens shoots the ball during an NBA game in November 1973
Dave Cowens drives during an NBA game against the New York Knicks on November 8, 1973 | Ross Lewis/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics won the fourth-most games of any team in the 1970s. They were one of just two franchises to win multiple titles between 1970 and 1979. The C’s were part of what some consider the best game in NBA history.

Yet for all the success, Dave Cowens feels (h/t The Athletic) that decade is an overlooked era of Celtics basketball.

“I don’t know why it is. But the ’70s in the NBA, with the media, and even I watch the Celtics when they advertise the game, very seldom do you see them have any players from the ’70s: Havlicek, JoJo (White) and myself. They go right from Russell to Bird to Garnett. And they kind of pass us over. And I’m not quite sure why that is.”

–Dave Cowens, via The Athletic

Unfortunately, Cowens and the 1970s Celtics might be victims of circumstance. The reality is that the game was in an uncertain place for much of the decade.

A sport in transition

The NBA stood on slightly unstable ground in the 1970s.

Russell and Chamberlain were titans capable of carrying the league. When those two and the likes of Jerry West eventually retired, the NBA needed more dynamism.

That came via expansion, as the ABA-NBA merger of 1976 infused the Association with more talent and, in many ways, ultimately allowed the game to explode as it did in the 1980s. The NBA might consider thanking ABA players past in monetary form.

In any case, Boston’s second title in the 70s came right before the merger. Thus, those Celtics teams are sort of lost to history. However, Cowens and Co. helped bridge a vital gap in Beantown. They absolutely deserve more validation in retrospect.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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