BASN NBA Matchup: Dave Cowens or Wes Unseld?

By Eric Williams
Updated: February 19, 2007

NBA LogoPHILADELPHIABeing the old school guy that I am, I figured I would delve into the anals of NBA history once again and go back in time to compare two “old school” Hall of Fame centers, who were both favorites of mine when they were active players.

Former Boston Celtics great, Dave Cowens, and former Washington Bullets standout, Wes Unseld, were both fine players in their own, distinctive careers, but which player was better? That is the question.

Pretty simple huh?

However, the answer to that query may not be as simple. Here is a look at both players’ respective careers and my selection on which player was better.

Dave Cowens

Born October 25, 1948 in Newport Kentucky, David William Cowens is a Hall of Fame center who was selected as the fourth overall pick by the Boston Celtics during the 1970 NBA draft, largely at the recommendation of former Celtics legend, Bill Russell, despite some critics who felt Cowens, at 6’9″ was too small to play the center position.

After playing collegiately at Florida State University from 1966 to 1970, where he scored 1,479 points in 78 games for a 19.0 points per game and became the school’s all-time leading rebounder with 1,340 rebounds (17.2 rebounds per game) Cowens was named to the Sporting News All-America second team in 1970.

During his rookie year, Cowens averaged 17.0 points per game and 15.0 rebounds per game, and shared the NBA’s Rookie of the Year honors with Portland’s Geoff Petrie.

In 1973, Cowens averaged 20.5 ppg and 16.2 rpg while helping the Celtics to a league best 68-14 record. He was chosen the NBA MVP as well as MVP of the All-Star Game that same season.

During his NBA career, Cowens averaged 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, was selected to seven All-Star Games, was named to the All-NBA Second Team three times, and was named to the All-NBA Defensive First Team in 1976 and All-NBA Defensive Second Team in 1973 and 1980. He was a member of the Celtics’ 1974 and 1976 NBA Championship teams.

Cowens’ playing style was all-out intensity at both ends of the court, a style that never wavered during his outstanding 11-year NBA career. Cowens played aggressively, often recklessly, and with great passion and always gave the Boston fans their money’s worth for 10 seasons as well as one for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Cowens was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990.

Wes Unseld

Born March 14, 1946 in Louisville, Kentucky, Westley Sissel “Wes” Unseld is also a Hall of Fame inductee who was drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Bullets in 1968. After playing center for the University of Louisville for four years (1965-68) where he scored 1,686 points in 82 games (20.6 points per game), grabbed 1,551 rebounds (18.9 rebounds per game) and led the conference in rebounding in 1966, 1967 and 1968.

Unseld took his amazing act on the the NBA where he helped lead the Bullets (who had finished in last place in the Eastern division the previous year) to a 57-25 record and a division title.

Unseld averaged 18.2 rebounds per game that year, and became only the second person ever to win both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season (Wilt Chamberlain being the first). Unseld was a five-time NBA all-star 1969, 1971-73, and 1975, when he led the NBA in rebounding. The following season, he led the NBA in field goal percentage with a .561 percentage.

Famed for his rebounding and bone-jarring picks, Unseld made up for his lack of size (6-foot-6) with brute strength and sheer determination. He took the Baltimore (and after a move, the Washington) Bullets to four NBA finals, and won the championship in 1978 over the Seattle Supersonics, in which Unseld was named Finals MVP.

Unseld played in a frontcourt alongside fellow great Elvin Hayes from 1972 through 1981 and ended his playing career at the end of the 1980-1981 season. Unseld averaged 14.0 rebounds per game for his career and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988.

My Pick

The more I thought about this selection, the harder making a choice became for me. On the one hand, I loved Cowens ‘back in the day’ and am the biggest Boston Celtics fan alive, but on the other, I was also a huge Bullets fan during their heyday of the 1970s and loved Unseld and Elvin “The Big E” Hayes.

Cowens was a slightly better offensive player, while Unseld was a slightly better rebounder. Looking back at each player’s career, the similarities are nearly shocking. Both players also had extremely big hearts, overcoming their lack of size to dominate bigger, taller centers, with the greatest of ease.

So, for the first time since I began doing these comparison type of columns, I am going to wave the white flag and call this one a draw. I honestly couldn’t slight one player by selecting the other as the “better” player when I genuinely feel that they are as evenly matched as two players could possibly be.

Both men were winners way before they ever set foot on a basketball court and began their Hall of Fame careers and I’m going to say that they are both winners to this very day – and equally matched players as well – at least in my mind.