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Celtics at the heart of the NBA All-Star Game

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 6, 2011

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For the first time since China poured in the votes by the thousands to send Yao Ming to the NBA All-Star Game in 2003, a rookie will be a part of the constellation in Los Angeles Feb. 20.

Blake Griffin’s numbers (22.9 points and 12.7 rebounds per game) and his résumé of highlight-reel dunks made it hard for coaches to pass him up, tapping him as just the 44th player in the history of the All-Star Game to make it in his first year.

Not Derrick Rose. Not Kevin Durant (who made up for it the following year by dominating the rookie-sophomore game and then playing in the All-Star Game on top of it). Not LeBron James. Not Kobe Bryant.

Michael Jordan earned a spot via fan vote in 1984. So did Magic Johnson in 1980. Larry Bird got the nod from the coaches the same season as Johnson. On his way to Rookie of the Year honors in 1957, Celtics legend Tom Heinsohn was tapped to go to the game.

But Bob Cousy — along with Philadelphia’s Paul Arizin and Fort Wayne’s Larry Foust — was one of the first three rookies to make the All-Star Game in 1951, and he did so when the game was a fledgling idea that almost no one wanted a part of.

“It was an inaugural, as you know,’’ recalled Cousy. “There were six teams in the league. They were all losing money, and none of the owners wanted to deal with the All-Star Game, because every time they played they lost money.’’

Walter Brown, the original owner of the Celtics, was willing to go out on a limb.

“He stepped up and volunteered and said basically all he was looking for was to break even,’’ said Cousy.

At that point, the NBA’s future was uncertain — a circumstance the league faces today with a possible lockout this summer — and everyone from the stars to the owners were trying to sell the public on the beauty of the sport.

“When things are not going well in sports or in this case in the league, we were all trying to introduce what we thought was the best sport in the world to the public and not getting a lot of response,’’ Cousy said.

“We were all in this together in the sense that this was pre-union, we were involved in a sport we thought was the best in the world, but nobody — especially in Boston — shared that sentiment. I don’t know if it got national recognition at that time, but certainly in Boston it helped tremendously.’’

The game was at Boston Garden. It didn’t sell out, but with 11,000-12,000 fans, it came close. The Garden also hosted the second All-Star Game and two more after that.

Cousy would play in 13 All-Star Games, including the 1962 game in St. Louis, when the Celtics became the first team to send four players. He had teammates Heinsohn, Bill Russell, and Sam Jones as his company. Only seven other teams have sent as many players. Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett each got nods from the coaches this year.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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