J.J. Redick has largely been praised for his work as an NBA analyst on TV, but one comment that caused meaningful controversy relates to his opinion on Boston Celtics legend Bob Cousy. “He was being guarded by plumbers and firemen,” Redick said on ESPN’s “First Take” when another panelist, Chris Russo, debated him on Cousy’s merits against current All-Star Chris Paul.
There’s a shred of truth to that statement. Cousy’s career began in 1950. Players frequently needed offseason jobs to supplement their income at that point in NBA history. Before he landed in Boston, Cousy was managing gas stations and working as a driving instructor, according to NBA.com. The statement, in itself, was factually fair. Players during Cousy’s era could not devote the time to skill development and athletic training that modern players could because they needed to use their downtime to make a living.
But another legend from Cousy’s era, Jerry West, took offense to the implication that older players did not face strong competition. He fired back at Redick in an interview with Sirius XM NBA Radio. West said he felt “disrespected” by what Redick said, and went on to question Redick’s credentials. “Tell me what his career looked like,” West said. “What did he do that determined games? He averaged 12 points a game in the league.”
In the end, there’s simply no way to accurately compare modern players to older ones. Cousy and Redick played fundamentally different sports. Cousy was significantly more productive. Redick had access to resources that Cousy never did. They didn’t even play with the same rules. When Cousy’s career began, the NBA wasn’t even using a shot clock. He was long retired by the time the 3-point line that made Redick’s career was instituted.
In that sense, both West and Redick can be right. Cousy played in a much smaller league whose players could not be as committed to basketball as modern players are. Redick was not nearly as valuable to his teams as Cousy was. But ultimately, there’s just no use in comparing players from such different eras.