On the sixth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me:
Six All-Star Nods
Five podcasts for listening
Four posts zman meant to write but never did
Three French Hens
Two in-state rivalries
And a dork with a split personal-ity
Note: I’m a little gun-shy of expending too much effort on a post after the last one received about 8 minutes of screen time.
That time I was heading to NY, Syracuse, for a family reunion when I met Yogi? You remember that? That’s the last time I saw Larry.
Larry has received a mention or two here over the years with the last reference followed by a request of sorts from our diminutive leader to “post that shit”. So here we are.
Back to the dad’s man cave in Oneida, NY, circa 1979 or ’80. I don’t remember the circumstances but a few of my parents' peeps were down there doing what they did best. Drinking, smoking, playing cards, and the like. Great environment for a 10-year old. And circumstances weren’t needed. It was probably Tuesday night. The news was on, and during the sports segment the name “Larry Costello” is mentioned With great exuberance, “Hey dad, did you hear that?! They just mentioned some guy on the news with the same last name as us! Golly Gee!” One of my dad’s cronies, probably Ryan responded, “That’s your dad’s cousin, Danny.” Huh? I have a relative that is on the telly? And that coaches COLLEGE basketball?! Why am I just finding out about this?
The old men feed me snippets of Larry’s career. When told that Larry coached a championship team in the NBA that included Kareem, I was like, “whoa! Seriously Dad? Is Donnie lying to me?” And with a chuckle, “no…he did…he’s not lying.” And then… “What?!!!! He PLAYED in the NBA too?!” Ryan or
Carmola, “Yup, sure did. Was an all-star a bunch of times. Oh yeah, won a championship with Wilt.” What the heck? I’m related to a former NBA player, all-star, coach, all-star coach, champion, and potential NBA Hall of Famer and you are just telling me?
“Do you know him dad?”
“Well sure I know him. He’s my cousin.”
I don’t remember exactly why he was on the news but it was either because he had just been named the coach of Utica College or because they were announcing that he was going to have his first basketball camp that summer. Either way, I was riled up Jack!
A quick look at Larry’s playing career
-University of Niagara All-American; teammate of Hubie Brown and Frank Layden
-Drafted in 2nd round by Philadelphia Warriors in '54
-Played 19 games in season 1 before having to fulfill US Army obligation for remainder of that year and what would have been his 2nd year in the NBA
-3rd year picked up by Syracuse Nationals (they bought his contract) who later became the 76ers, 10 years there
-Avg’d 12 points over the 12-year career & an 84% FT% (he could shoot some free throws)
-6 all-star nods
-2 time league leader in FT
-1 championship in his last year as a back-up; Wilt on the team – they beat the Celtics
-Named Top 50 Players of all-time… that aren’t in the Hall of Fame
A quick aside on the free throws...at one camp he discussed the importance of routine on the free throw line. He sat there putting one in after another while talking. Net-snapping purity. The rim was never in danger. And then one of his guys put a blindfold on him where continued to drain the next 18 out of 20. He only stopped b/c we were out of time.
Something I did not know prior to my “research” and perhaps the highlight of my findings, at Niagara University Larry played 69 minutes and 40 seconds in a 6-overtime game. That’s all but 20 seconds. His number had been 24 to that point. After that feat, the school switched it to, TR, guess what number?….. 69. No joke. The # is retired and hangs in the rafters. Correction, it hangs in some room next to Calvin Murphy's jersey and other memorabilia.
His numbers aren’t earth shattering by any stretch but he could man-up the shite out of a guy on D. And I can actually speak to this because I attended 3 of his camps. Coaches play in pick-up games with other coaches, players, and even the campers. I watched him play with guys that could run the rock - college players and younger coaches, and like I said, the older kids in camp. He was quick as a cat and relentless to boot. Annoyingly so If he had been masked you would have guessed he was half his age. He didn't play to "have fun". His mission was to stop you. To get the ball back for his team. There was absolutely no way you were going to get by him.
Bob Cousy: “People ask me who gave me the most trouble. It wasn’t Oscar (Robertson) or Jerry (West). It was Larry. He had this animal determination.” He added in another interview that Larry was also the guy he hated guarding the most.
Here's a pic of Cousy guarding Larry...couldn't find one of Larry playing D. Slacker.
He replaced his Chucks with some wingtips and began coaching. The Bucks hired him at 37 years old to lead their brand new expansion team in 1968. As expected, his first year was brutal. After that, not so much. Though he did have Oscar Robertson and Lew Alcindor to help. But still. No expansion team in history of modern league sports won a championship faster than those Bucks of 1971.
He coached a total of 8 years for Milwaukee, appearing in 6 playoffs and 2 Finals, winning the one. In the loss, they took Boston 7 games in which they lost a double overtime game 6, ending a five-year run in which the Bucks averaged 61 wins. He resigned in ’76 after the team got off to a 3-15 start. He gave coaching another shot two years later when the Bulls hired him (he coached high school in between).
That didn’t last long. After going 20-36 the team dumped him. In 10 seasons his WL was 430-300 with a playoff record of 37-23.
Here he is. And look, he's coaching.
He had no ego. He was very unassuming. He was just a competitive son of a gun that loved to coach. So what did he do after retiring from the glitz and glamour of the NBA? He coached the Milwaukee Does of course, in the Women’s Basketball league albeit briefly (Does Nuts?) followed by 6 seasons at Utica College not far from where Danimal grew up. Like I said, an ego he did not possess. With a 1,500 student population, UC brought him in to take them from D-III where he coached for one year before making the leap to D-1. In that first and painful year they won 4 against 22 losses. In his next season they played 20 of their 22 D1 opponents on the road. Oof. He did have one winning season, going 15-13 in his 4th year. Final record there 64-94. It was a tough gig, but he loved it. My dad and I went to a couple of games each of those first couple of years before we moved south to Virginia.
When my dad told me Larry would be attending that reunion in Cazenovia in 1996, I was pretty excited. He and his wife attended and they hung out for quite a while sipping water (he never drank) and engaging in chit chat, more familial stuff than playing or coaching days. Bummer. He had his ring on. One of my nephews who had become familiar with Larry, through me of course, was in awe.
Larry noticed the kid's curiosity and let him try it on. We’ve got a picture of that somewhere.
I’d ask my dad why he quit so young (as an NBA coach). He said he got sick of the personalities, the egos, the demise of defense, in not so many words. I encourage you to read some stuff on the guy. He was old school before old school. And in one last little vignette, way off topic, my dad tells me of a day he and a couple of his buddies were eating lunch somewhere after having just stolen some poor schmuck’s hubcaps off of his Chevy. So there they sit amused, recapping the events when Larry walks in, exasperated, “Some assholes just stole my fuckin hubcaps!”
At camps he paid me little attention. He’d ask about my dad and family and there was the one time he did introduce me to Billy Cunningham during a pizza night. That was cool. In the years since I’ve had the opportunities to introduce myself to guys that played with or would know him including Billy Cunningham again at a golf club in NC, Raftery, former Celtic great and HOF'r Sam Jones in church this last year and George Mikan (and this I’m not positive of but definitely a well-known former NBA’r who played in Larry’s time) at another golf club in NY. When I introduced myself to Mikan it must have been the early 2000’s. He asked about Larry and how he was doing. I told him he passed away the year or two prior. He was shocked and became borderline upset, expressing his sincere condolences. I was like, hey broh, it’s all good. But it was truly touching. I don’t really have a point here other than that all of these guys had mad respect for him, as did his family and the entirety of Upstate New York. See you on the other side, Lar.