Posted: Saturday October 28, 2006 10:30PM; Updated: Saturday October 28, 2006 10:47PM
By Leigh Montville
SI: What has been the Celtics' secret of success?
RA: One thing is that our players always were happy. We treated them as people. That was the Celtic mystique, or pride, or whatever you call it. We have a history of taking care of our own. For example, Cousy and Tom Heinsohn are our TV announcers. Rick Weitzman is a scout. Dennis Johnson is a scout. M.L. Carr is our community relations guy. We hired Dave Cowens to teach the big men. All our coaches, except two, Bill Fitch and Jimmy Rodgers, have been Celtics. Hey, Larry Bird is in the front office now. As a result, we got a reputation: If you play in Boston, and keep your nose clean, the Celtics will take care of you. A lot of teams take the attitude that "I'm paying this guy all this money, and the day he plays his last game, the hell with him." I bet we have 10 times as many former players at our games as any other team.
SI: Do you stay in touch with all the former Celtics? There must be -- what? -- two or three hundred, at least.
RA: I'm in contact with a lot of them. I hear from Ed Macauley. Frank Ramsey calls every six weeks. It makes you feel good. What makes me feel old is that a lot of the guys I coached are grandfathers.
SI: How do you feel about the huge amounts of money players earn today?
RA: It's bizarre. Very few players are worth the money they're making. To me, for a player to be worth millions of dollars, he should be able to sell tickets. Very few people in the entire history of the NBA could sell tickets. There were Russell and Chamberlain. Then you had Cousy, with his flashy style. You had Ernie DiGregorio, a little kid against big guys. Bill Bradley sold a lot of tickets in New York. He turned the Knick franchise around more than anybody else. . . .
SI: More than Walt Frazier and Willis Reed?
RA: Oh, my god, yes. When Bradley was overseas, with the -- what-do-you-call-it? -- the Rhodes Scholarship, the Knicks were averaging, I'm guessing now, seven or eight thousand fans a game. The day he came in, they immediately went to 12, 15 thousand and even higher. Right from the first day, he sold an extra 3,000 tickets. Then, of course, you have Jordan, Bird, Magic -- they sell tickets. But a lot of great players couldn't sell tickets.
SI: Do you think pro basketball players are the best athletes in the world?
RA: I do. Many years ago I got a team of NBA players together that could've probably won the Super Bowl. [Former Celtic center and current Cleveland Cavalier general manager] Wayne Embry, at 250 pounds, could have played football in those days. I said to him one day, "Can you imagine what a tackle you could have been?" He said, "Tackle, hell, I'd be a tight end." Then you had guys like Dave DeBusschere and Baylor, weighing 235, 240 pounds -- with speed. They'd be linebackers. Havlicek could've played quarterback. Woody Hayes told me once that Havlicek would have been the best quarterback in Ohio State history if he had come out for football.
SI: Who is your favorite player of all time? Is there one guy?
RA: No, I liked a lot of them. There were just a few I didn't like. I loved Russell, not only for his ability, but for his mind. Russell is a brilliant man. The fact that he has an unusual personality that offends a lot of people has had no effect on me. We're still friends. He was at my house 10 days ago. Then you have guys like Havlicek, Cousy, Heinsohn, all those class guys. Who wouldn't love them?
SI: Did you say that Bird was the best all-around player you ever saw?
RA: No. It would be a heart-wrenching decision to have to pick between Bird and Russell. The question you have to ask is, Who are the other four guys on the court? To make a snap choice, an out-and-out pick, you can't do it.
SI: What about Jordan?
RA: He's great. I could make a case for Jordan, Magic, Bird, Russell, even Chamberlain and Abdul-Jabbar being the greatest player who ever lived. But you do have to ask, Who are the other four guys? If Michael Jordan doesn't have a center or a power forward on his team, he's not going to beat you. He can't do it by himself. If you have Russell, you have to have a ball handler in the backcourt. Even the greatest need someone else.
SI: Which of the rings do you wear?
RA: This one's '69. I think it's the prettiest, and it's the lightest. The others are too heavy. I keep 'em at home. I don't have 16 rings, anyway, you know. Some years we didn't give out rings. We gave out a tie tack with cuff links or a watch or something else. I must have seven rings, nine rings, I don't know.
SI: Have you ever been close to leaving the Celtics? In 1978 you appeared ready to become general manager of the Knicks.
RA: Oh, my wife didn't want me to go. I agreed in principal with the Knicks, everything was fine, but then my wife talked to me again. A few Celtic fans talked to me, too. I still would have gone if [former Celtic owner] John Y. Brown hadn't sold the team. The chemistry between the two of us was bad. He thought he knew a lot more than I did. He wouldn't listen. He made deals behind my back, like the one with the Knicks for Bob McAdoo that cost us three first-round picks. That kind of thing. I'm glad I stayed.
SI: Yet, you never moved to Boston from your home in Washington, D.C. Why?
RA: It wasn't feasible. My daughter has asthma. She couldn't live up here. She went to college at the University of Rhode Island, and only lasted about a month because of the climate. She was in the hospital most of the time.
SI: Considering the state of the league, would you like to be starting over in the basketball business?
RA: It's a lot easier today. At the same time it's a lot harder. Your travel is a snap. You have chartered jets. You have people handling your bags. You have secretaries, equipment managers. All you have to worry about is the team. Then again, it has become too complicated. You know, basketball is a simple game. Now they have all these assistants. The videotapes. The machines. It's really not necessary, but if one team does it and has any element of success, everyone copies it. The Bulls won the last two years, and if they had five assistants, everybody else would have to have five assistants.
SI: Finally, how do you think the Celtics will do this season?
RA: I don't know. If we have a lucky year, I think we'll be highly competitive. Luck is so important. Take the Bulls. They had no major injuries the last two years. The Lakers were going real good for a while, then they started having injuries. They lost Magic, James Worthy and so on. In the last few years we started having injuries that kept us from being as good as we could have been. Give us some luck and we'll be fine.