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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Showdown with Bucks means it's Semi Ojeleye time for Celtics

Showdown with Bucks means it's Semi Ojeleye time for Celtics

MILWAUKEE -- Semi Ojeleye is a smart dude.

He knows that whenever the Boston Celtics play the Milwaukee Bucks, he’s going to get a decent run that night with most of his time spent defending Giannis Antetokounmpo.

But as much as he’ll be the primary point defender on Antetokounmpo, he is quick to deflect any praise defensively directed towards him, to the team.

“I don’t think it’s me. I think it’s our team,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “You could say that or everybody on our team when they guard him.”

Nice try Semi, but we ain’t buying it.

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And neither are his teammates like Marcus Smart who will spend some time defending Antetokounmpo tonight as well.

“Semi man, he’s strong as a damn ox,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “You’re not moving him easily. And Giannis, he does a really good job of using his length to beat people. But Semi, with his strength and ability to stay in front of guys bigger than him, his athleticism… hopefully that can contain him and with everybody else helping around him, we’ll see.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments about Ojeleye.

“There’s only so many guys that have the strength to have a chance in slowing down Giannis,” Stevens said. “And that’s all you’re trying to do, make it as difficult as possible and make him earn everything. He still gets to where he wants to go, you still have to show with multiple defenders. But Semi’s body allows for minutes at that matchup.”

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And while there are a number of factors that contributed to these two teams splitting the first two games they played this season, there’s no question Ojeleye’s defense on Antetokounmpo was a factor.

In Boston’s 117-113 win over the Bucks on Nov. 1, Ojeleye defended Antetokounmpo for a team-high 24 possessions, limiting him to nine points on 3-for-6 shooting. For the game, Antetokounmpo had 33 points on 13-for-22 shooting to go with 11 rebounds.

Milwaukee evened the season series up with a 120-107 win on Dec. 21.

Ojeleye defended him for just 15 possessions (the team leader defending Antetokounmpo was Jaylen Brown, who guarded him for 16 possessions) and gave up 10 points on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting by Antetokounmpo.  For the game, he finished with 30 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

“I just try to make it tough on him,” Ojeleye said. “He’s a great player. I just try to lock in and make it tough as possible. With a guy like that, try to take away dunks and layups. From there, just hope he misses.”

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Should Anthony Davis joining LeBron James' HBO show raise tampering concerns?

Should Anthony Davis joining LeBron James' HBO show raise tampering concerns?

If LeBron James selecting Anthony Davis in the 2019 NBA All-Star draft made you uncomfortable, just wait until March 1.

HBO on Thursday announced the guests for Episode 4 of "The Shop," a show in which James and co-host Maverick Carter have "unfiltered conversations" with sports and entertainment stars at a barber shop.

Guess who will be joining James on the March 1 show? Davis, of course.

Some context here: James' Lakers openly and aggressively tried to acquire Davis before the NBA trade deadline. They're expected to compete with the Boston Celtics and other suitors in trade talks for New Orleans Pelicans star this summer, and even if they whiff again, Davis reportedly prefers L.A. as a long-term destination once his contract expires after the 2019-20 season.

Oh, and James and Davis also share the same agent in Rich Paul of Klutch Sports.

None of this necessarily precludes LeBron from inviting Davis onto his TV show. The two could talk for hours about off-court issues or life as NBA superstars and not raise a 'brow.

James may have to tread carefully, however. When he said in December it would be "amazing" if Davis came to L.A., several NBA general managers reportedly complained the league was overlooking a clear tampering violation.

The NBA didn't punish James or the Lakers at the time, but what if James and Davis even casually mention AD's future plans on national TV?

Under a strict reading of the NBA's anti-tampering rules, James could cross the line with a wayward remark to Davis. Any player who "directly or indirectly entices, induces, persuades or attempts to entice, induce or persuade" another player to negotiate with his own team would be guilty of tampering, the rules state.

But if you're wondering what the precedent is for players being punished ... there is none. No individual player has been fined for tampering, as the league gives its players a wide berth to discuss potentially teaming up. After all, it's the teams that make the moves, not the players, so what's the harm in a little side chatter?

Whether the NBA changes its stance if James tampers on national TV remains to be seen. But Celtics fans may be watching that March 1 episode through their fingers.

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