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.