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David William Cowens (born October 25, 1948)[1] is an American retired professional basketball player and NBA head coach. At 6’9″,[2] he played the center position and occasionally played power forward. Cowens spent most of his playing career with the Boston Celtics. He was the 1971 NBA Rookie of the Year and the 1973 NBA Most Valuable Player. Cowens won NBA championships as a member of the Celtics in 1974 and 1976. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991.

Cowens has held numerous NBA head coaching positions. Most recently, Cowens served as an assistant coach and then as a special assistant to Detroit Pistons President of Basketball Operations Joe Dumars.[3]

College career

After starring in high school at Newport Catholic High in his hometown of Newport, Kentucky, Cowens played his collegiate basketball at Florida State University from 1967 to 1970. He scored 1,479 points in 78 games at Florida State, at 19.0 points per game, and ranks among Florida State’s top 10 all-time scoring leaders.

He is the all-time Florida State leading rebounder with 1,340 rebounds (17.2 rebounds per game). He holds the team record for best seasonal rebound average (17.5 in the 1968-1969 season). He once grabbed 31 rebounds (second best all-time) against LSU in the 1968-69 season.

He was named The Sporting News All-America second team in 1970. His number now hangs in the rafters of the Donald L. Tucker Center.

NBA career

Rookie year

Despite some critics who felt Cowens was too small to play center, Cowens was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Boston Celtics during the 1970 NBA draft, largely at the recommendation of former Celtics center Bill Russell.[1] “No one is going to tell that kid he can’t play center,” Russell said of Cowens.[4]

During his rookie year, Cowens averaged 17.0 points per game and 15.0 rebounds per game. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team and shared the NBA’s Rookie of the Year honors with Portland‘s Geoff Petrie. He also led the league in personal fouls that same year.

Middle years

In 1973, Cowens averaged 20.5 ppg, 16.2 rpg and 4.1 apg while helping the Celtics to a league-best 68-14 record. In that season also, Cowens scored 20 points, grabbed a career-high 32 rebounds and dished out 9 assists in a home win over the Houston Rockets. He carried the Celtics to the semifinals, where they met the New York Knicks. They won Game 1 of that best-of-7 series after Cowens recorded 15 points and 18 rebounds. However, they bowed out to the Knicks in Game 7.[5]

He was chosen the NBA MVP as well as MVP of the All-Star Game that same season. Cowens and fellow Celtic Bill Russell both have the distinction of being named MVP of the league but not being included on the All-NBA First Team.

The next season, Cowens averaged 19.0 PPG, 15.7 RPG, 4.4 APG and 1.3 BPG while guiding the Celtics to a record of 56-26. Cowens was instrumental in bringing the Celtics into the playoffs, where they defeated the Buffalo Braves in six games and the New York Knicks in five. In the finals, the Celtics faced the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks. The teams split the first six games, with each team winning at least once on their home court. This led to a decisive Game 7, where the Celtics faced the Bucks in Milwaukee. The Celtics prevailed thanks to a strong performance by Dave Cowens, who recorded 28 points and 14 rebounds as the Celtics took their 12th NBA championship. John Havlicek was named the NBA Finals MVP.

As a testament to his all-around ability, Cowens is one of only five players (Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the others) to lead his team in all five major statistical categories for a season: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. He accomplished the feat in the 1977-78 season, averaging 18.6 points, 14.0 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 0.9 blocks and 1.3 steals as Boston finished 32-50.[6]

In his final Boston season, 1979-80, Cowens helped the Celtics improve to 61-21, after finishing 29-53 the season before. Cowens had served as player-coach for the remainder of the 1978-79 season (27-41) after Satch Sanders (2-12) was fired after a poor start.[7]

Alongside rookie Larry Bird in 1979-1980, Cowens averaged 14.2 points, 8.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists under coach Bill Fitch. Along with Bird, Tiny Archibald, Cedric Maxwell, Pete Maravich, Chris Ford, M.L. Carr and Rick Robey, Cowens and the Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets 4-0 in the Eastern Conference playoffs, before losing to the Philadelphia 76ers with Julius Erving 4-1 in the Eastern Conference finals. Cowens averaged 40 minutes, 13.2 points and 8.8 rebounds in the 76ers series.[8][9]

Retirement I and II

Cowens retired as a player in 1980, as Boston drafted Kevin McHale and traded for Robert Parish to replace him at center. Boston then won the 1981 NBA Championship.[10] “I have sprained my ankle at least 30 times over the duration of my career, broken both legs and fractured a foot,” Cowens said upon retiring. “Two years ago, a team of foot and bone specialists said they were amazed that I could play up to that point without sustaining serious injuries.”[4]

However, in 1982-83, Cowens felt the itch to play again and talked to the Celtics about trading him, as they still held his rights.

“I think that would be best,” he said of a trade. “The Celtics are set up front (with Bird, McHale and Parish). They could trade me, work something out. No disrespect to Bill Fitch. I’d advise any younger players to play for him, but I’d probably be better off somewhere else.”[4]After first negotiating with the Phoenix Suns, the Celtics traded Cowens to the Milwaukee Bucks, coached by former Celtic teammate Don Nelson. The Celtics received Quinn Buckner from Milwaukee as compensation.[4] Cowens averaged 8.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 25 minutes per game with the Bucks, playing alongside Bob Lanier, Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and Junior Bridgeman.

The Bucks finished 51-31 and defeated Cowens’ old team, the Boston Celtics, 4-0 in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Bucks lost 4-1 to the eventual NBA Champion Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern conference finals. But, Cowens had been injured in the final game of the regular season, and was unable to play in the playoffs for Milwaukee.[11][4]

Cowens had played 40 total games for the Bucks during the 1982-83 season, before retiring for good.[12]

During his NBA career, Cowens averaged a double-double of 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds. with 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals in 766 career NBA games. Cowens was selected to eight All-Star Games, was named to the All-NBA Second Team three times, and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team in 1976 and All-NBA Defensive Second Team in 1973 and 1980. He was a member of the Celtics’ 1974 and 1976 NBA Championship teams.[12]

Cowens’ playing credo was all-out intensity at both ends of the court, a style that never wavered during his 11-year NBA career. “He was quick, fast, strong and skilled, and played hard,” Knicks Hall of Fame center Willis Reed said of Cowens.[4]

“No one ever did more for the Celtics than Dave did,” said John Havlicek of his Celtic teammate.[4]

Coaching career

Cowens in 2005

He began his coaching career by serving as a player-coach for the Boston Celtics during the 1978-79 season, but he quit coaching after the season and returned as a full-time player before retiring in 1980.[13]

Cowens coached the Bay State Bombardiers of the Continental Basketball Association in 1984-85.

Cowens returned to NBA coaching ranks, as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs in 1994-96 and was considered for the coaching job of the Boston Celtics during the 1995 off-season.[14]

Cowens was head coach of the Charlotte Hornets from 1996 to 1999.

He was head coach with the Golden State Warriors from 1999 to 2001, a tenure of 105 games.

In 2005-06 Cowens was head coach of the Chicago Sky of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

Cowens was an assistant coach of the Detroit Pistons from 2006 to 2009.

Player profile

Cowens became the fourth center to average 5 assists in a single season, joining Wilt Chamberlain, former Celtic center, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His career average is 3.8 assists per game.[citation needed] As of the end of the 2018-19 season, Cowens ranked 27th overall for most point-rebound-assist triple-doubles by a center in NBA history.[citation needed]

As evidence to his all-around ability, Cowens is one of only five players (Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the others) to lead his team in all five major statistical categories for a season: points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. He did that in 1977-78 season.[citation needed]


In 1990, Cowens, a former Democrat, ran as a Republican for Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth. However, because he did not register by June 5, 1989, he was unable to appear on the primary ballot.[15][16] Cowens considered running a sticker campaign for the Republican nomination, however he decided to drop out of the race.[16]


  • In 1973, Cowens was inducted into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame.[17]
  • Cowens was inducted into the Florida State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1977.[18]
  • Cowens’ #13 is an Honored number at Florida State University.[19]
  • On February 8, 1981, the Boston Celtics retired Cowens’ #18. Celtics’ #18 had previously been worn by Jim Loscutoff, who had asked that the number not be retired for him, so future Celtics could wear it.[13][20]

The Celtics retired Cowens’ #18 in 1981.

Head coaching record


LegendRegular seasonGGames coachedWGames wonLGames lostW-L %Win-loss %PlayoffsPGPlayoff gamesPWPlayoff winsPLPlayoff lossesPW-L %Playoff win-loss %TeamYearGWLW–L%FinishPGPWPLPW–L%ResultBoston1978-79682741.3975th in Atlantic—Missed playoffsCharlotte1996-97825428.6594th in Central303.000Lost in First RoundCharlotte1997-98825131.6223rd in Central945.444Lost in Conf. SemifinalsCharlotte1998-9915411.267(resigned)—–Golden State2000-01821765.2077th in Pacific—-Missed playoffsGolden State2001-0223815.348(fired)—–Career352161191.4571248.333

NBA career statistics

Legend  GPGames played  GS Games started MPG Minutes per game FG% Field goal percentage 3P% 3-point field goal percentage FT% Free throw percentage RPG Rebounds per game APG Assists per game SPG Steals per game BPG Blocks per game PPG Points per game Bold Career highDenotes seasons in which Cowens won an NBA championship*Led the league

Regular season