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Celtic great Cowens covers basketball and business in new book

Last modified: 3/30/2014 11:29:08 PM
With more than three decades of experience in the business world, Tom Raffio has encountered a long list of success strategies. The president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental spent about 10 years compiling his thoughts on those strategies in hopes of writing a book. Then Raffio met former Celtics great Dave Cowens, and suddenly all those years of planning took a slight turn, like a ball taking an unexpected bounce off the parquet at the old Boston Garden.

Cowens gave the keynote speech at an insurance conference Raffio attended in Mexico in 2011. Raffio was hoping to hear stories about Red Auerbach and the Celtics of the 1970s, but what he heard instead was a talk centered on the keys to success in both business and sports that “paralleled the chapter headings of the book that (long-time colleague) Barbara (McLaughlin) and I had been writing.”

That quote is from the book that Raffio, Cowens and McLaughlin eventually published in 2013, There are No Do-Overs: The Big Red Factors for Sustaining a Business Long Term. The book is centered around Raffio’s insights, but Cowens gives it a basketball spin. Those three will be at Gibson’s Bookstore tomorrow night signing copies of the book, and maybe a basketball or two.

“This is the first time we’ve done one of these, so we’ll meet some people and have some nice conversations with those that want to find out more about what we’re doing,” Cowens said. “I’m sure there will be some autograph stuff and I’m thinking if people want me to sign something like a ball or a picture or card, maybe I’ll have them make a contribution to Tom’s favorite local charity or something like that.”

Cowens, 65, played for the Celtics from 1970-80, won two championships (1974, 1976), earned an NBA MVP award (1973), made seven All-Star appearances (1972-78), served as a player/coach (1978-79) and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991. He’s reconnected with the team this season as a guest studio analyst and color commentator for Comcast Sports New England.

“I’ve enjoyed that,” Cowens said. “It is different for me, you have to develop an on-air personality to a degree and a little bit of a shtick, but I’ve enjoyed it.”

In some ways, this Celtics season is similar to the year Cowens served as Boston’s coach. The Celtics went through a lot of losing during that 1978-79 season (they were 29-53) under a first-year head coach, but they knew help was arriving from the college ranks in the form of Larry Bird, who the Celtics actually acquired in the 1978 draft. The current Celtics are 23-47 in Brad Stevens’s first year as a coach, but they’re hoping the promising class in this upcoming draft will help reverse those fortunes.

Cowens, however, believes this team has more similarities with the 1969-70 Celtics. That was the year after Bill Russell retired (like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce leaving) and the first year Tommy Heinsohn took over as the team’s coach. The Celtics went 34-48 that season, which kept them out of the playoffs but earned them the No. 4 pick in the draft, which they used to select Cowens out of Florida State.

“Tommy had never coached before, and Brad had never coached in the NBA before, and the Celtics ended up with the No. 4 pick and that’s right about where they are now,” Cowens said. “I really think it’s more like that period of time.”

The refrain Cowens uses in There are No Do-Overs is “do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.” And the Hall of Famer, who was known for his all-out hustle and will to win, does not believe losing games on purpose is the right thing for these current Celtics to do, even if the reason is to get a higher draft pick.

“I don’t think it pays to tank at all. It’s bad karma to a certain degree, and the players just won’t buy into it,” Cowens said. “They’re not going to go out there and play poorly or miss shots or anything like that. It just doesn’t happen.”

While Cowens welcomed the chance to get drafted by Boston, he wasn’t so sure when Raffio tried to draft him as a co-author at that insurance conference in Mexico. But once Cowens got to know Raffio, the decision became an easy one.

“I had always thought about writing something and this was an easy way to do it because I didn’t have to start it or finish it or do the whole thing, I just sort of had to add in in between the chapters a little bit and complement what he had already outlined,” Cowens said. “So it made it pretty easy lifting for me.”

It may have been easy lifting, but it definitely elevates the book. Since taking over Northeast Delta Dental in 1995, Raffio has created an extremely successful company and work environment – Business New Hampshire Magazine chose NEDD as the best place to work in the state from 1998-2002, and then retired the company from the competition and made Raffio a judge. So Raffio has plenty of knowledge about creating and sustaining healthy and productive business relationships, and he and McLaughlin deliver that information in a concise and readable fashion. But Cowens adds a layer of insight that illustrates those concepts from a unique viewpoint, adds a voice to help keep the pages turning, and draws in Celtics fans with some interesting anecdotes.

For example, the chapter focusing on teamwork begins with Cowens writing about the first day of his first training camp with the Celtics when he volunteered to rebound for JoJo White, who was then one of Boston’s veteran stars, any time White wanted to practice his jumper.

“This single act of being willing to do something for another person with no strings attached set a tone,” Cowens writes. “He didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, but I know he appreciated the fact that I offered to help him work on his game.”

Each of the chapters begins with an anecdote from Cowens, and each one ends with a summary labeled “The Big Red Factor,” “Big Red” being Cowens’s nickname. Raffio also decided to divide the book along basketball lines (the introduction is referred to as “Tip-off” and the chapters are divided into four quarters) once Cowens got involved, and to use quotes from sports figures like Red Auerbach, John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Branch Rickey and Vince Lombardi at key points.

“I think that helped spice it up a little bit,” Cowens said.

And Cowens is pleased with the final product.

“I think it turned out to be a combination of business planning and management and forward thinking, but I also think people can take out of it lessons on how to run a small family business, or organize your life, or how to deal with family issues, how to communicate and the best way to treat people,” Cowens said. “I think it covers a lot of bases in a short period of time.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at tosullivan@cmonitor.com or 369-3341 or on Twittter @timosullivan20.)


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