Celtics Legend Bob Cousy to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom in August
Four years ago, a group of Bob Cousy’s friends began a campaign to get him the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. On August 22, that campaign will culminate when the Boston Celtics legend, whose birthday is on August 9, receives the nation’s highest civilian honor at the White House in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a completion of a life’s circle for me,” Bob told NBA.com’s Steve Aschburner, “and it’s not necessarily related to sports.”
Aside from his seven championships (six in the NBA, one in the NCAA), 13 All-Star appearances, 12 All-NBA selections and 1957 league MVP honor, the 91-year-old New York City native made his mark as much with his revolutionary style of ball-handling and passing at point guard as with his advocacy on behalf of his fellow players. He supported the Association’s racial integration—while playing alongside pioneering African-American teammates like Chuck Cooper, Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and Tom “Satch” Sanders—and was a key figure in the formation of the National Basketball Players Association in 1954.
“In those days, there were only six franchises, then we went to eight and 10. You had to plead with people to come in, you’d give away tickets,” Bob recalled. “Fast forward 50 or 60 years, and the last time I looked, they sold a franchise in LA for $2 billion. That’s with a ‘b.’ That’s how far a league has come that we set the table for in the 1950s. I’m proud that I played a role."
Bob will be the 33rd figure from the sports world to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is most often awarded for “meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” He and Bill, who received the award in 2011 from President Barack Obama, will also form the second set of teammates to be given the honor, joining New York Yankees legends George “Babe” Ruth and Lawrence “Yogi” Berra.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom marks Bob’s seventh invitation to the White House from five different presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. This latest invite came at the behest of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, with whom Bob shares a close mutual friend. Last December, Sen. Manchin broached Bob’s candidacy over lunch with President Donald Trump, prompting a call from the White House.
“I obviously accepted—we had a nice 15-minute dialogue—and I did say, ‘Mr. President, I am flattered by you calling personally. But I told Joe a year ago I’d refuse to accept this award posthumously,’” Bob said. “He laughed at that and said, ‘I’m going to do it again in April and you’re the first one I’m inviting.’ He said, ‘So can you stay alive 'til April?’ I told him I’d give it my best shot.”
The ceremony was delayed until August when President Trump opted to honor Tiger Woods in April, following the legendary golfer’s latest victory at The Masters. Though past recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom have typically received theirs as part of a group ceremony in November, Bob will be the only one honored in the Oval Office in August, keeping with President Trump’s preference for individualized proceedings.
Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.