SI: Was there a league rule barring black players?
RA: There was no rule. It was just taken for granted—at the pro and college level. For example, in 1940, when I graduated from George Washington, no team in Washington could play against a team that had a black player. And this was the nation's capital.
SI: Was signing Chuck Cooper, the league's first black player, in 1950, as big to the NBA as the signing of Jackie Robinson was to baseball?
RA: It was big, but not like Jackie Robinson. Cooper was a super guy. He was a gentleman, a great athlete. He had everything going for him. Before the draft that year I told Walter Brown, our owner, that the best player out there was Chuck Cooper. Walter said, "Let's take him." That was it. Then things changed around the league, little by little. It's just the evolution of life, and we happened to be involved—rightfully so.
SI: Now, though, the Celtics are sometimes charged with being racist, with preferring white players over black. There was that book, "The Selling of the Green...."
RA: I didn't read it. I won't read it. People have told me about parts of it. I don't even want to talk about what those guys said about us, it's so ridiculous. It's just an extreme way to sell a book, like a supermarket tabloid. We don't look at the skin. I don't care if we have 10 blacks or 10 whites. If that's what it takes to win, then that's what we're going to do.
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 fid 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.