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Newport native Cowens honored Tuesday at New England Sports Museum’s awards ceremony

By Don Owen
KyForward reporter

Newport native Dave Cowens, a member of the NBA Hall of Fame and one of the most iconic members of the Boston Celtics during the 1970s, was honored Tuesday night at the New England Sports Museum’s annual awards ceremony, “The Tradition,” in the TD Garden in Boston.

What few might not realize is the fact Cowens — who led the Celtics to a pair of NBA championships — nearly gave up basketball while enrolled at Newport Catholic High School.

Dave Cowens (right) defends NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974

During his freshman year at NewCath, Cowens quit the basketball team after a conflict with the junior varsity coach. He turned to swimming and track and field, and it looked as though that Cowens, a modest 6-foot-1 at the time, would never return to the basketball court.

If not for a five-inch growth spurt between his sophomore and junior years, Cowens’ name might have never been known beyond his hometown of Newport.

At the start of his junior year, Cowens had grown to 6-foot-6. He rejoined the NewCath basketball program, as the junior varsity team now had a new coach. At the end of his second junior varsity game, Cowens was told to dress for the varsity contest. He then played three quarters for the varsity squad, and a basketball legend was born.

During his senior year in 1965-66, NewCath won the 9th Region championship and posted a 29-3 record. Cowens averaged 13 points and 20 rebounds as a senior. He earned a basketball scholarship to Florida State University, where he emerged as a star player.

At Florida State, Cowens grabbed 1,340 rebounds in three seasons. He also averaged 19.0 points per game and shot 51.9 from the floor. The 6-foot-9 Cowens finished seventh in the nation in rebounding (17.2 rebounds per game) as a senior and led Florida State to a 23-3 record.

As an NBA all-star performer, Cowens scored 13,516 career points and averaged 17.6 points per game. The team-oriented Cowens also dished out 2,910 career assists and added 488 blocks. He shared NBA Rookie of the Year honors with Geoff Petrie in 1971, and he was named the NBA’s MVP in 1973.

Cowens, whose unconventional career and style is profiled by Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1991.

In addition to Cowens, other retired athletes honored Tuesday night were tennis superstar Martina Navratilova, New England Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest, Boston Bruins right-winger Rick Middleton, and Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek. Television broadcaster Chris Berman was honored Tuesday as well.

Contact Don Owen

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