|Irish Coffee: Bill Russell, basketball’s grandfather||02.19.13 at 12:31 pm ET|
I was 12 years old when my grandfather died, and I never really got to ask him about playing for Passaic (N.J.) High’s “Wonder Team,” owners of the longest win streak (159 games) in prep basketball history and entrants into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, or about playing for Rutgers, where he apparently also took part in a handful of exhibition games under an assumed name for $25 a night. This was the 1920s, before the NBA.
So, when Bill Simmons interviewed Bill Russell, basketball’s grandfather, on NBA TV Monday, it made me feel profoundly nostalgic, jealous and robbed of so many great tales of my own basketball ancestry. But mainly I just felt lucky that we all still have this great link to Celtics past. Heck, to American history. And we should cherish that.
Russell shared captivating story after captivating story. His admiration of his father Charles, who raised his playwright brother Charlie L. and him while working for decades in an Oakland foundry. His belief he would never have played in the NBA if he hadn’t been traded from the “overwhelmingly racist” city of St. Louis in 1956 to Boston for future Hall of Famers Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan. His quiet first meeting with a young Kansas freshman named Wilt Chamberlain. His pavement of the road to professional players’ unions and big contracts, like the $100,001 one he signed in 1965 — one more dollar than Chamberlain’s deal. His support of Muhammad Ali during the heavyweight champ’s conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. And so on and so on.
He was fascinating. Here are 11 great quotes from the interview, one for every title he won for the Celtics.
|Doc Rivers on Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Wednesday pregame notes||01.02.13 at 8:03 pm ET|
Doc Rivers announced before Wednesday’s game that Rajon Rondo had been cleared to play and would start with Avery Bradley in the Celtics backcourt as the team looks for a defensive spark to turn around its three-game losing streak.
Rondo suffered a bruised right hip against the Clippers on Thursday and missed Saturday’s game against the Warriors before returning on Sunday in the loss to the Kings. Rondo sat out Tuesday’s practice before working out two hours before Wednesday’s game against the Grizzlies and getting cleared to play.
Meanwhile, Bradley is making his season debut after surgery on both shoulders in the offseason. Rivers said before the game there would be no minutes limitations on Bradley in his first appearance of the season.
“I just think the quicker we get to our lineup, the better,” Rivers said. “We’re going to get to it anyway, so why wait?”
“If he’s hurting us, we take him out; if he’s playing well, we let him play,” said Rivers. “I think it’ll be vision, but listen, we gotta play with some kind of pace, offensively and defensively, obviously. So it’ll be pretty easy to see.”
Rivers said he hasn’t paid attention to reports that Bradley will be the key to a turnaround.
“I haven’t paid too much attention to all this stuff. Is he [Bill] Russell yet? Or [Bob] Cousy? I don’t know,” Rivers said. “If that’s what [media has] made him, and if he lives up to that, then I’m good with that. I hope everyone’s right.”
Can Bradley make the rest of the Celtics better defenders?
“If you take one great defensive player and you put him on a team, the team is going to be a better defensive team,” Rivers added. “And as important as bigs are, I’ve always thought, especially if it’s a guard that applies pressure, that kinda fuels energy. You see it and it’s hard for you not to do it. You got this guy doing it and then, what, are you not going to do anything? It clearly helps. Again, because this is his first game this year, the other players have a 30-game advantage on him as far as timing and stuff, as far as running their stuff. I’m not looking for the world today or tomorrow, even in a week. But it’s going to come.”
|Bill Russell isn’t chasing ghosts||09.14.12 at 4:06 pm ET|
The news that the great Bill Russell had recently undergone two heart procedures as reported by Peter Vecsey came as a bit of a shock, but Russell is recovering and he talked to NBA.com about that and more in a wide-ranging Q+A.
- “I had a valve in my heart that had to be replaced and the way you replace it is by open-heart surgery. Well, open-heart surgery sounds difficult but this was not an emergency. It was something I had to do. The same operation in an emergency is life threatening. This was not life threatening
They took the valve out and replaced it. It only took a couple of hours to do that. I talked to the doctors after and they said they were pleased with the procedure. They said I would be sore after a while and after that, they said I would feel better than I ever did at this point.”
Russell said that he wasn’t able to play golf or drive, depriving him of two of his favorite activities, but he added helpfully that with all that free time around the house he got to be a grouch.
He also offered his thoughts on LeBron James, the new-look Celtics and even Jeremy Lin for some reason, but there was one other part of the interview that caught my eye. When asked about the debate between the 1992 and 2012 Olympic teams he responded:
I have this theory that it’s impossible to play against ghosts — past, present or future. That kind of discussion is for non-participants. It’s like video games. Whenever someone would ask me how I would play against this guy or that guy, I always thought that it was like playing against ghosts. Past, present and future and I never get into that discussion. You can only play against your contemporaries.
Basketball — out of all of the sports — is the most evolving. Whoever the best player is, that’s how the game is played for a generation.
This is the best rebuttal to that particular pseudo debate that I’ve seen this summer. Not only is it self-explanatory, it also reveals a keen insight: The best player at any given time dictates the terms of the game. Whether it was Russell, Wilt, Bird, Magic or Jordan the sport belongs to them for a certain amount of time, however long or fleeting it may be. Comparing players from different eras may be an amusing diversion, but it ultimately accomplishes nothing and Russell — as we know — is all about accomplishments.
|Irish Coffee: How Kevin Garnett cements his Celtics legacy and ensures his number retires to the Garden rafters||08.01.12 at 2:12 pm ET|
It didn’t take long after being traded on July 31, 2007 for Kevin Garnett to carve his name into Celtics lore. He poured the foundation for his legacy when he helped deliver the franchise’s 17th NBA championship, but has he cemented it enough to ensure his number will join the 20 others retired to the Garden rafters?
Garnett’s impact goes far beyond statistics, so the C’s may have already reserved a square to stitch his number between Cedric Maxwell‘s No. 31 and Paul Pierce‘s No. 34, but his three-year extension should assure him of never seeing another Celtic don the No. 5 again. And that assertion can be put into numbers.
Already, Garnett’s 5,229 regular-season points and 1,393 postseason points in a Celtics uniform rank him 27th and 16th in franchise history, respectively. Once you consider his 2,771 rebounds and 919 assists in the regular season as well as his 748 rebounds and 198 assists in the playoffs, he joins lists that already only respectively include 17 and seven Celtics players. The question remains: How much higher can Garnett climb?
|Doc Rivers on Kevin Garnett comments: ‘Have at it’||05.23.12 at 12:51 pm ET|
PHILADELPHIA — Predictably, the Celtics were barraged by the Philadelphia media at their morning shootaround about comments from Kevin Garnett following Monday’s Game 5 win that put Boston on the brink of the Eastern Conference finals. Garnett, who lead the Celtics into Game 6 Wednesday night, called Philadelphia fans “fair-weather” and said they don’t match up anywhere close to Boston fans.
“I have no reaction to that,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I’ll let you guys stir that pot. Have at it, have fun with it. I don’t think either fan base likes each other anyway so I don’t think it added anything. I said [Tuesday], ‘What are they going to do? Hate us more?’ So, what’s the difference?”
“I don’t know anything about that,” Ray Allen added. “You have to ask [Garnett] that question. I don’t have any reaction because I don’t know anything about it.”
Wednesday morning, John Mitchell – a Philadelphia columnist – replied to Garnett’s comments by labeling Boston fans as “bigoted” in light of the incident after the Capitals eliminated the Bruins in Game 7 at the Garden on a goal by Joel Ward, a black player for Washington. Mitchell invoked the days of Bill Russell, the Celtics legend who had serious issues with Boston, even when he was playing and winning championships in the city.
After Kevin Garnett called 76ers fans “fair-weather” following a Celtics victory on Monday night, a Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer responded by questioning Boston fans’ behavior toward black players.
The piece, by writer John Mitchell, who is black, mentioned incidents of Boston fans attacking Joel Ward and Celtics great Bill Russell as evidence for the observations, saying it’s better to be a fair-weather fan than a bigoted one.
Wrote Mitchell: You think we’re the fair weather type, do you? Ok, to that I say that it’s better to be fair weather than to be anything remotely akin the cretins that unleashed their racist vitriol via Twitter upon Washington Capitals defenseman Joel Ward, a Black hockey player, last month after he eliminated Boston’s Bruins from the NHL playoffs with an overtime goal.
Added Mitchell: So my advice to you, KG, is that you’re better off winning this series, the next one and then the next. Because if you let those stalwart fans down, who knows what they’ll unleash on you. We do know what they are capable of.
|Greg Stiemsma: ‘I’d love to pick Bill Russell’s brain’||02.16.12 at 1:50 pm ET|
BOSTON — Celtics rookie Greg Stiemsma won three Wisconsin high school Division 4 state championships in four seasons. Celtics legend Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Needless to say, they’re worlds apart.
However, for one night at least, those worlds collided, as the two sat courtside to start Wednesday night’s Celtics loss to the Pistons — Stiemsma on the C’s bench and Russell next to team owner Stephen Pagliuca.
Of course, the the Development League project and the greatest winner in sports are forever linked after Celtics announcer and former Russell teammate Tommy Heinsohn compared Stiemsma to Russell earlier this season.
“His timing and how he goes about blocking shots does remind me of Russell,’’ said Heinsohn. “He makes guys commit, he’s quick to his leap, and he gets his hand up there right when the ball is leaving the shooter’s hand.’’
While Stiemsma has 22 blocks in 176 minutes this season for an average of 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes, Russell is considered the game’s greatest shot blocker, so even the Celtics rookie laughed off the comparison.
“I mean, I heard it. Like I said before, that’s pretty far out of my realm. I would never imagine that,” he said, adding, “It was an honor to get that reference. And then, for it to come full circle, for him to be in the arena, it’s all part of the experience, all part of this journey that’s brought me here, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”
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