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Bill Russell: Red and Me…(part two)

Welcome to the new blog site everyone!

Thanks for your patience. A bit later than I thought but, as promised, here is part two of Bill Russell’s new book on his lifelong friendship with Red Auerbach.

Red and Me – part two
By Bill Russell’s own admission, his working relationship with Auerbach required Red to do most all the changing to bring the best out in this highly sensitive person. Bill Russell would not easily embrace anyone as a friend, let alone a white man. Over a long period of time, Red would prove to be a ‘good man’ and to have only his players’ and the team’s best interests at heart. They both realized that they came from ‘different tribes’, but after a number of ‘tests’ there was a mutual realization of respect.


From the first, (Russell’s emphasis) Red’s method of coaching me was by observation, listening, and conversation. He perceived quickly that I was a very private person, a man of few words, and sensitive to how people talked to me. So when we sat down to talk, there was nobody else in the room. It was always on a personal, one-on-one basis, which I appreciated very much as a sign of respect.

Yet, Bill adds this…

“Even as co-workers, we didn’t suddenly become friends one day. It took thirteen years of working together, thoughtfully and deliberately, doing something we both wanted to accomplish.”



 “In our profession, we were both passionate, driven, and single minded. Away from it, we were standoffish by nature, not terrifically sociable. Neither of us bonded easily with others.”

More surprising…

“During our fifty years of relationship, we didn’t know much about each other’s private lives. We never discussed anything we didn’t want the other to know……………….He didn’t tell me how his parents raised him in New York, and there were plenty of things about how I grew up I never shared with him. Neither of us knew if the other was a Republican or a Democrat. I didn’t know if he went to synagogue, and he didn’t know if I went to church.”


Bill went on to say that Red was his first coach to recognize his passing skills. In fact, Bill said that his previous coaches really didn’t know how to coach him at all. Red was a great listener and constantly asked his players’ opinions. That was unheard of in those days.

Russell shares many practice time and game anecdotes. Each is used to illustrate a particular point. You get a good feel for the Celtic’s unique camaraderie and sense of family, as well as the plusses of playing for owner Walter Brown and negatives of the times.

He tells of the time he had to protect from Red from Wilt Chamberlain, many instances of racial prejudice, especially in the south, and of how Red never expected Bill or other black Celtic player to compromise his integrity.

Completely unvarnished heresy today, Red never scouted his opponents. His reasoning, not unlike the famous college coach, John Wooden was “F-em! Let them worry about what we’re doing!” (Direct quote)

That is not to say that Red didn’t know his opponents. He did. He was a tremendous observer of players’ tendencies – his own and the other team’s.

Talk about tailoring your coaching to your players, this next bit of information will astound most everyone who reads it. Perhaps it will also cast Allen Iverson in a somewhat different light….

Red lets Russell sit out practices.
Red played Russell the whole 48 minutes in his rookie year. Russell played every minute with of all his energy. Think of Kevin Garnett plus a little more. Maybe that is why Bill Russell told Kevin Garnett that he was his favorite player to watch today.
Admittedly, after a while, Russell would start to lose his edge. At practice one day, Red asked him why he looked so bad. Bill said he was tired. 

 Red told him not to scrimmage that day. From that day forward, at practices, after the team went through “run throughs”, Bill Russell would go sit in the stand with a cup of tea for the rest of his career. He ‘almost never’ did live practices again.

I couldn’t say for sure, but such stories might even have a bearing on Doc Rivers and why he gives his team time off when he can, instead of extra practices. Doc has been in tune with the Celtic treasure trove of potential knowledge since he arrived in Boston.

I wonder if Red influenced his coaching in any way, especially regarding giving players time off.

Red went so far as to give Russell entire blocks of days off when the rest of the team had to come in and practice. Red, quite openly, had ‘Russell Rules’ that the rest of the team was not entitled to.

In Russell’s 2nd year, Red instituted the 2 minute rest at the end of the first period for Russell, giving Bill 5 minutes of rest. He would then play ‘just’ 46 minutes a game.

Red, Bill, and Bill’s team mates all knew that Russell’s practice rests and lengthy time off would make life easier for all of them come game time. And it did.

I never knew that happened until I read this book. I wonder how players today would view that. The answer is in the results and the special person who it was granted. I can’t see any arguments, but I might be wrong.

One thing Bill shared early on, was that his father brought him up to believe that you give more than you are paid for. If they pay $2 an hour, give them $3 an hour, then you will always be valued and you will always be in control of your own life.

Bill Russell did just that and literally controlled the game of basketball, as well as his own life through that simple concept. Basketball fans, Celtic fans especially, are blessed by that. Bill Russell strove from early to always to be the very best player on the court, and he usually was.

Red Auerbach, the man who allowed Bill to be Bill and became Bill’s special coach and even more, his special friend, is gone for a few years already. We are left with just one half of that unique combination.

Let us bask in the years that are left with basketball’s most revolutionary player and Boston’s remaining icon to a time that defies credulity in many ways. Enjoy the man that is Bill Russell through his intimate thoughts shared here in this book.

Thomas Halzack

2 Responses

  1. halzack says:

    Hey JB,

    I know. I’m worse than a David Mamet script! lol

    Gosh darn it!


  2. JB says:

    “F-em! Let them worry about what we’re doing!”

    In a family newspaper, no less…. shameful…. you should have your mouth washed out with soap. LOL

    Good to see you back in print…