"The lifelong learner spent his first six weeks engrossed in not just the details of NBA play and the skills of his personnel, but in grasping the immeasurable mystique of the leprechaun. ‘Trying to wrap my arms around why it’s special to be a Celtic,’ says Brad Stevens. He sat for an hour with Hall of Fame player, former coach and current broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn and talked on the phone with John Havlicek. He’s exchanged texts with Dave Cowens. Much more in the present, he met with Rondo in July at Rondo’s camp. ‘He’s a big, big thinker,’ says Stevens. ‘Very intelligent, and a numbers guy. Just great talking with him.’"
Celtics vs. Knicks, 1972
In 1977, coming off an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics the year before, and just a few years removed from winning the Most Valuable Player award, Dave Cowens took an unpaid leave of absence from the team at age 28.
When asked about his sabbatical, Cowens was incredulous to the attention it was getting: “I’m doing fine. I just don’t understand why everybody is making such a big thing out of this. I’m just a guy who quit his job.”
His teammates were understanding. After beating the Lakers in the first game without Cowens, fellow Celtics Hank Finkel, Don Nelson and Satch Sanders went over to Cowens’ bachelor apartment to “drink beer and reminisce”.
While many tried to pinpoint a reason for Cowens’ abrupt departure from the game, he had his own take: “I just lost my enthusiasm for the game. That’s all I can say. This wasn’t something sudden for me, I’d been thinking about it for three months. I even thought seriously about quitting before the season started, but I figured, aw, I’d try it and see how it was. And then I just didn’t have it. Nothing. When somebody drives right by you and you shrug your shoulders and say, ‘Aw, what the hell,’ when you go down and make a basket like a robot, when you win or lose a ball game and it doesn’t matter either way, when you can’t even get mad at the refs, then something’s wrong.”
During his time off, Cowens took on an internship at a racetrack in Foxboro, Massachussets but left shortly after realizing it wasn’t for him. Unmarried, he took an extended road trip that led him to Florida.
After that trip, he realized there was nothing else left to do and returned to the Celtics for the remainder of the season.
It seems Cowens always yearned for something beyond basketball. In his second season in the NBA, he attended an auto mechanics class during his downtime, until coach Red Auerbach told him to quit.
He once gave the keys to his 1964 Mercury Comet he had just bought to a hitchhiker, slept on a park bench after his team won the title, and spent a night in between playoff games as a cab driver in Boston out of sheer curiosity.
So of course, when Cowens finally retired from the NBA, he announced his retirement while on a bus in Indiana and crafted his own press release.
As unique as he was accomplished, Cowens’ number 18 was retired by the Boston Celtics in 1981.
Dave Cowens, one of the best players in Florida State basketball history, also won the NBA MVP in 1973 and helped lead the Celtics to two NBA titles in 1974 and 1976. His #13 jersey is retired by Florida State and his #18 jersey is retired by the Celtics.
Florida State (1967-1970)
Boston Celtics (1970-1980)
Milwaukee Bucks (1982-1983)