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Dave Cowens: Sky High
by Ross Forman

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He was a Hall of Fame center for the Boston Celtics in the 1970s, and even the NBA MVP in 1973. He was a two-time NBA World Champion ( in 1974 and 1976 ) and a seven-time NBA All-Star, highlighted by an All-Star Game MVP award in '73.

Oh, yeah. In 1996, Dave Cowens was named one of the NBA's Top 50 players of all time.

Now, he's the general manager and head coach for the Chicago Sky, an expansion team in the WNBA that kicks off its season May 20 in Charlotte and runs through mid-August.

'I'm excited to be in Chicago. I'm excited to be a general manager and also am excited to coach,' Cowens said. 'I like working with the young players, although as I get older, they get younger.'

The Sky features WNBA veterans Elaine Powell, Brooke Wyckoff, Kiesha Brown and Deanna Jackson, among others. 'It's hard, as an expansion team, to know how your players are going to come together, how they are going to play,' Cowens said. 'I've never coached in the WNBA and all I know about these players now is what I see on film.

'There are times when players, because of the roles they play, really are not maximized. I'm hoping that I have players who are talented; yet, that talent has somewhat been laying dormant because of the roles they've been playing on their past teams. I'm anxious to get into the gym and find out what I have.'

Cowens is not worried about his lack of WNBA experience. 'The thing is, teaching, not so much coaching.'

The Sky will play 17 home games, with the home opener slated for May 23 against Sacramento. ( Season tickets range from $190-$665, and are available by calling 1-877-329-9622. )

'I want to assemble a group of players around talent, because talent is what wins, not so much coaching. That means giving them structure and perimeters to work in, and then letting them play,' he said. 'I'm a firm believer in letting the players exercise their youthfulness and their athleticism, their decision-making.

'I try to keep things pretty simple, so they're not thinking so much, but rather, just playing. In practice, I will help them with situations, so they will be better decision-makers, which is how professional players grow. In practice, you set a tone for how you want to do things, offensively and defensively, and then you work on those things tirelessly, and try to keep things relatively simple so they're not thinking so much and they're just playing.'

Cowens was the athletic director at Regis College, a liberal arts women's college, in 1981-'82. He also has coached for the NBA's Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Charlotte Hornets and Golden State Warriors.

'The thing I'm looking forward to the most is being on the floor for the games,' he said.

Cowens said the team also will be marketed by the league, not just internally. He did not know of any specific marketing plans for the lesbian community.

When asked about Sheryl Swoopes' announcement last season that she was a lesbian, he said, 'Personally, I don't think that had any impact. To me, [ sexuality ] is an individual's choice; it's who she is. And she's just chosen to talk about it, for whatever reason, yet it doesn't really impact us, though sure, it does impact her. At least that's how I see [ the announcement ] ,' Cowens said. 'She's a very good player, one who's been at the top level. If you rank players, she's an A-level player, for sure, and has been for a very long time. She's a very steady player, definitely a top 10 player of all-time.'

Cowens played 766 NBA games, all but the final 40 for Boston; he played his last season ( 1982-'83 ) with Milwaukee. The six-foot-nine, left-handed Cowens averaged 17.6 points during his 11-year career, and had 10,444 rebounds, 2,910 assists, 599 steals and 488 blocks.

'I thought I was pretty fundamentally sound. I thought I was able to do just about everything you had to do in the game of basketball. I wasn't limited in the things I could do skill-wise,' Cowens said 'I'd say my best skills were rebounding and defending. But, I also could score, pass, run, dribble, shoot free throws, etc. I never thought I was a liability. The thing that really drove me to improve was [ that ] I wanted to play all of the time. I never wanted a coach to take me out because he didn't think I could do something, in any situation.

'I was fortunate to be on some very good teams. We had a chance to win every day. I'm glad I played when I played, in that era, even though the money wasn't as great as it is now. But the money we made still was better than the guys who played before me. When I played, I think it was a real defining point in the game of basketball. I was right there, pushing the game into the 1980s, when the game really exploded.'

Cowens played during the era of Wilt Chamberlain, Julius Erving and Pete Maravich, among others. He later coached during the run of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

'If you asked [ legendary college basketball coach ] John Wooden what he misses about the game, he'd say, 'The smell of the gym.' That's the one thing that he misses the most. I miss that. And the action, too,' Cowens said.

Not anymore.

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