Ranking the 50 greatest NBA players of all time

The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
The Last Dance, Michael Jordan, LeBron James (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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1974- Closeup of Dave Cowens of the Boston Celtics in uniform, smiling /

45. Dave Cowens

  • Resume: 11 seasons, 2 NBA championships, 1 regular season MVP Award, 3-time All-NBA selection, 7-time NBA All-Star, NBA All-Star Game MVP, Rookie of the Year Award, 3-time NBA All-Defensive Team, Hall-of-Famer
  • Stats: 17.6 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.1 SPG, .460/—/.783 shooting splits, 17.0 career PER, 86.3 win shares

Bill Russell and Larry Bird are the all-time Celtics greats, but Dave Cowens represented everything Boston during his time in the NBA. He was a fiery redhead who played with a white-hot intensity on both ends of the floor, he connected with Boston fans, and his sleeping on a park bench in Boston Common after a night of celebrating the 1974 championship with fans is just one of dozens of stories that make him so endearing to Celtics supporters.

However, Cowens’ spot in the top 50 isn’t just because of his animated personality. Despite being a little undersized for a center at 6’9″, no one dared to tell him that. Cowens was a monster on the boards, using his surprisingly freaky athleticism to average 15 rebounds per game for the first eight seasons of his career.

The year he won his MVP award, Cowens helped lead the Celtics to 68 wins, and during the 1977-78 season, he became the first player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) — a feat only Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have accomplished since.

Like Sam Jones before him, Cowens is relatively unknown among the general NBA community, which is a travesty given his impressive numbers and his intense playing style. However, we remember him here for caring about the game in a way that made him better than his competition. He cared more than you. He wanted it more than you. And if you thought twice about diving for that loose ball, he’d already be on the floor. That’s the kind of guy you want on your team.