Celtics

Brad Stevens treasures visit, annual letters from Bob Cousy

Brad Stevens treasures visit, annual letters from Bob Cousy

BOSTON — The letter arrives late spring each year with the now-familiar handwriting and the Worcester postmark. As Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens decompresses from a season recently completed, the contents inside bring him immeasurable joy. 

For each of the past five years, Celtics legend Bob Cousy has sent Stevens a handwritten note at the end of each season, applauding what Stevens and his teams have accomplished. For all the success he’s enjoyed in his short tenure as Celtics coach and all the praise that’s been heaped upon him, Stevens still marvels when those letters from Cousy arrive.

"Just ridiculous when you get a letter from Bob Cousy, and then you see it’s from Worcester. It’s kinda like it’s not real,” Stevens told NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday after 90-year-old Cousy made the 40-mile trek to speak to the 2018-19 Celtics.

"And then you read the letters, and you hear more about his reading, and his writing, and how much time he spends doing that. How much personal letters mean to him. And you pinch yourself.”

Stevens is quick to point out that Cousy is more than the Houdini of the Hardwood, with his league-changing point guard skills, and a six-time NBA champion. He is also a former coach, having spent 10 years on the sideline, first collegiately at Boston College then in the NBA with the Cincinnati Royals.

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Cousy might have posted a lackluster 141-209 record as an NBA coach but maybe that makes him appreciate more what Stevens has done early in his career, particularly while the Celtics built their current roster.

“After each season, I have dropped him a note just congratulating him because, in my judgment, the basic criteria for a successful coach on any level of team sports is to simply get the most out of the materials you have to work with,” Cousy said this week during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics Talk podcast.

"Each year, I just congratulate him on what the team has accomplished that year and said, ‘Brad, I don’t know if they are going to give you the Coach of the Year award, but I want you to know that you’ve got Bob Cousy’s coach of the year award.”

Stevens, who sent letters to all Celtics alumni after being hired in 2013, and Cousy bonded over their snail-mail exchanges. Two years ago, Stevens made a summer trek to Worcester to sit down with Cousy and talk more about their shared passions.

That Stevens would venture to his neck of the woods resonated with Cousy, who still playfully teases those that view outside 495 as another civilization.

“[Celtics vice president of media relations and alumni relations] Jeff Twiss brought Brad out to Woo-ster, Mass.,” said Cousy, mimicking the oft-butchered pronunciation of his beloved city before playfully adding, “As you know, we still have Indian uprisings in Framingham, so you can only get through once or twice per week, but Jeff and Brad did.”

The visit still resonates with Stevens.

"We always talk about a love of learning. And how many books does he read a week? He’s an amazing thinker, he’s sharp,” Stevens said of Cousy, who sometimes spends five hours per day reading books of all variety, especially biographies and espionage thrillers. 

“[Cousy] was the highest of high achievers, just that warrior mindset he’s taken with him off the court and into life. It’s pretty impressive.”

Cousy’s visit coincided with the release of a book, “The Last Pass,” by author Gary Pomerantz that chronicles Cousy’s complex relationship with former teammate Bill Russell. In it, Cousy expresses his regret at not being a better friend to Russell as he dealt with racial tensions.

“For a basketball history buff, that is a must read in my eyes,” said Stevens. "And [Pomerantz] and Cousy came today, and Bob spoke to the team a little bit in our video room. It's the first time a lot of these guys have gotten a chance -- maybe all of these guys -- have gotten a chance to sit down with him. What he shared was great. And just appreciative of him to take that time. 

"I've said this many times before: it's one thing to have all those banners hanging above you, but when those guys come in and they’re at a game or at a practice or whatever, you just kind of say, ‘Man.' In a lot of ways, we have a lot of responsibility to the uniform we're putting on.”

As the Celtics embark on a season with great expectations, point guard Terry Rozier said Cousy’s message reminded the team of the responsibility it has to those that came before them.

"It was just great to hear him talk, share his stories about how things were so much different back then, and just basically how this organization has so much behind it,” said Rozier. "We’re not just playing for the names on the back, we’re playing for the name on the front. We’ve got a lot to represent. So just to hear him talk and hear that again was great.”

Later Rozier added, "You just read a little bit of his book. He’s an All-Star, champion, [six] championships, and he’s still talking about how he could have did more. So when you just hear a guy talk like that, just his unselfishness and his love for the game is just crazy. It’s something that could take you a long way. And obviously they weren’t getting the money that we’re getting back then. It’s just crazy. They set the tone for this to happen now, for the Boston Celtics to be how it is now.”

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Paul Pierce praises this player as 'biggest unsung hero' of 2008 Celtics

Paul Pierce praises this player as 'biggest unsung hero' of 2008 Celtics

The 2008 Boston Celtics will forever have a special place in the hearts of fans throughout this region, and winning the NBA Finals that season might not have been possible without one key veteran in particular.

James Posey played a pivotal role at both ends of the floor on that championship-winning Celtics team. His perimeter defense ranked among the best in the league. Posey did a tremendous job guarding Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, which was instrumental in the C's winning the 2008 NBA Finals in six games. Bryant was held by Posey and others to 40.6 percent shooting in the series, including a 26.8 percent mark from 3-point range.

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It's hard to overstate Posey's value to the 2008 Celtics, and Paul Pierce went as far to say on a recent episode of the The Players’ Tribune’s “Knuckleheads” podcast with Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles that Posey was the "biggest unsung hero" of that C's squad.

“That was the year Posey was a beast,” Pierce said. “He was hitting big shots. And he would go and lock up and take pressure off of me. Posey was like one of the big glue guys you want to have. Like, guys like that are guys that help you win championships, for real.”

Posey's best performance of the playoffs came in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics overcame a 24-point deficit to beat the Lakers at Staples Center and take a 3-1 series lead. Posey, in addition to his excellent defense, scored 18 points on 4-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. A couple of those shots came in the second half, including a clutch 3-pointer that gave the C's a 92-87 lead with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Posey didn't stick around in Boston for long. He earned a well-deserved contract with the New Orleans Pelicans the following summer as a free agent, and there's no doubt the C's missed Posey's presence in the 2010 NBA Finals rematch with the Lakers. 

The 2008 Celtics will go down as one of the best in franchise history, and while Posey wasn't one of the team's "Big 3", his definitely ranks among that squad's most valuable players.

Blakely: Not bad for an encore ... Tatum drops 36 in win

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Jazz, which begins Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Why Jaylen Brown's reaction to Jayson Tatum's strong play should thrill Celtics fans

Why Jaylen Brown's reaction to Jayson Tatum's strong play should thrill Celtics fans

The Boston Celtics' 2018-19 season got derailed in part because there were too many mouths to feed.

You could argue the same scenario is possible on the 2019-20 Celtics: With Jayson Tatum blossoming into a superstar alongside established All-Stars Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward, a young talent like Jaylen Brown may get overlooked.

But that scenario doesn't seem possible -- because Brown refuses to let it happen.

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Here's the 23-year-old wing after Tatum went off for 36 points in Tuesday's 118-106 win over the Portland Trail Blazers:

"You’ve got to want for your brother what you want for yourself," Brown told reporters. " ... He’s playing unreal. He’s playing the best ball of his career. So let’s keep going. Let’s see how we can keep feeding it to him. If he keeps making shots like that, I don’t see why not, right?"

Brown and Tatum share a close bond as No. 3 overall picks in the 2016 and 2017 NBA Drafts, respectively, both thriving during the 2018 playoffs in the absences of Hayward and Kyrie Irving.

While Brown is enjoying his own career season -- he tallied 24 points Tuesday and is averaging 20.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game -- Tatum has skyrocketed past him as an elite NBA talent who earned his first All-Star nod this season.

Yet Brown bristled at the notion that Tatum's recent success has "motivated" him to elevate his own game.

"I don’t look at it as he motivates me," Brown said, via Mass Live's Tom Westerholm. "I’m supporting him, and I think we’re on the same team so it’s not a contrast one against the other.

"I know a lot of times people try to dichotomize Jaylen. We’re on the same team. As he’s doing well, I’m doing well. If I’m doing well, he’s doing well, because we’re on the same team."

That response should be music to Celtics fans' ears after chemistry issues hastened a second-round playoff exit for last season's talented squad.

This season's Celtics are certainly benefiting from Tatum and Brown's success: Boston is 23-4 when Tatum scores 24 or more points and 15-1 when Brown drops 24 or more.

"He’s one of the biggest reasons we’ve been winning," Tatum acknowledged of Brown after the game.

Tatum and Brown's ability to thrive together is a big reason why the Celtics own the NBA's fourth-best record.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Jazz, which begins Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.