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.
MORE CELTICS COVERAGE
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.”
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.