by Thomas J. Whalen
Northeastern University Press, $26.95
The author, an assistant professor of social science at Boston University, has written a book about the Boston Celtics that has 888 footnotes. Those little numbers at the end of seemingly every other sentence can make it feel like a doctoral thesis, but don't worry—once you get used to this academic tic, you can settle in and enjoy this well-researched account of the most dominant team in the history of professional sports.
Dynasty's End tells the story of Bill Russell's Celtics, who won 11 championships from 1957 through '69, and it focuses particularly on the Celts' last hurrah, the '68-69 season. Whalen has read just about everything available on the subject—in his bibliography he cites 101 books, not only on the Celtics but also about key opponents such as the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers. His effort pays off in compelling portraits of both the players and the era that brim with colorful detail.
For instance, the author's profile of John Havlicek describes how the renowned sixth man tried out for the Cleveland Browns in 1962 before giving up football and joining the Celtics later that year. The section on Russell's nemesis, Wilt Chamberlain, recounts how a teenaged Wilt was coached by Red Auerbach in a Catskills summer league—and how Auerbach told Chamberlain to go to Harvard, thinking Boston would then obtain his territorial rights. In discussing the '69 NBA Finals against the Lakers, Whalen highlights the best lines by Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times about Jerry West, including, "His nose got broken more often than the pole vault record."
Whalen also points out one of the forgotten ironies of the Celtics' glory years—that relatively few people witnessed their accomplishments. While Boston was winning eight straight titles from 1959 through '66, the team drew an average of 6,783 fans a game, less than half the Garden's capacity.
The author interviewed only six people for this book, and he did not talk to Bill Russell. Instead, he relies on quotes from newspaper interviews and Russell's three autobiographies to craft his description of the book's hero. That is too bad because Russell is so essential to the story—he was the Celtics' player-coach in 1968-69, and when he retired after that season, the team's championship run was finished. But if Whalen's book has little that is new, it is still a worthwhile effort. If you want a complete portrait of one of the great success stories in team sports, you don't have to read 101 books. Thanks to Whalen, you only have to read one.