That Time a 41-year old Bob Cousy Tried and Failed to Halt the '69 Knicks' Win Streak


By Dylan Horgan

"From the Royals' bench, a rookie coach named Bob Cousy yelled to his man, "Next time DeBusschere shoves you, take his head off."

"DeBusschere shot back, "Why don't you come out of retirement and try it?"

(pg. 119, When the Garden was Eden, Harvey Araton)

 

It was November 28th in 1969, and the Knicks had won their last 17 games in a row. They had tied the all-time record for longest win-streak, then held by the 1959 Boston Celtics. In what can only be evidence of fate, the Knicks had a chance to break that record in a game against the Cincinatti Royals, now coached by the star of the 59' Celtics, Bob Cousy. Both teams approached the game with a deadly focus. Legacies were on the line. And yet, Coach Cousy raised the stakes even higher, to Shakespearean levels of drama, when he reactivated himself as a player just in time for the game.

A coach doing something like this now would be lunacy, very much a fireable offense. However, this was the era of player-coaches, and Cousy was a legend. He was within his rights to make the move and nobody stopped him. Still, the ridiculousness of the situation wasn't lost on the game's many spectators and participants.

"He was in his forties, hadn't played in six years, and he put himself in - can you imagine that?" - Oscar Robertson, easily one of the 15 greatest players of all-time, then the Royals' star. (pg. 120, When the Garden was Eden, Araton)

The game played out as if it had emerged from the mind of a screenwriter. The frontrunner Knicks came out to a slow start, falling behind early due to poor shooting. The deficit was quickly diminished by the Knicks' plucky, high-energy bench, who brought the victory back within grasp. As the war raged on, eventually New York's core players found their rhythm. The two teams fought back and forth until the game's final minute approached. Oscar Robertson fouled out late, and must have been fuming that he couldn't play down the stretch of a historic game.

Luckily for the Knicks, Cousy knew it was time to get to work.

The coach had spent the entirety of the game in his sweats, doing his normal job and waiting for his moment. With 1:49 left in the 4th quarter, the Royals' up by 3, Cousy checked into the game for the first time. The team had done a decent job on their own up until then, but he didn't trust them to seal the deal. 

To his credit, Cooz supposedly made a nice pass on the first possession, resulting in the Royals getting two foul shots. The Knicks now down by 5, it seemed that all hope was lost, until Willis Reed was fouled with 0:16 on the clock. Unsurprisingly, he knocked down both free throws. Fate wouldn't let this game end so simply.

Here is where the magic really happened.

Now Cousy had the ball under the basket, ready to make the inbound pass. With no timeouts, Cousy desperately heaved the ball to his not-actually-open forward, whose fingertips never touched leather. The pass had been intercepted by Dave DeBusschere, who quickly layed the ball in.

It was a costly mistake, but the worst was yet to come.

Now up by one, the Royals could still secure a win solely by safely inbounding the ball. The Knicks would have to foul to get back possession before the clock ran out, and in this pre-three point shooting era victory would be more or less ensured.

Unfortunately for the Royals, Cousy now attempted a 3/4-court chuck to the same forward he'd targeted on the previous play. This time, Willis Reed knocked the ball loose before Clyde Frazier grabbed the rock and zoomed up the court. Hyped up on adrenaline, Frazier missed the initial pull-up jumper but corralled his own rebound, drawing a foul.

Two free throws later, the game was over.

The miraculous event occurred on an opposing team's court, so the Knicks had to return to their locker room before they could truly celebrate. They had clinched a historic 18-game win streak, a streak that would die at the conclusion of their very next game. Ironically, the record only lasted one season.

It was broken in 1971 by the Milwaukee Bucks, featuring a recently traded Oscar Robertson. An official reason was never given for why the Royals moved on from the Big O, but what's known is that the deal was masterminded by the one, the only:

Bob Cousy.


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