KING FOR A YEAR
SI senior writer Jack McCallum reports on the end of Bill Russell's coaching days in Sacramento after only nine months on the job:
Last week the Kings finally acknowledged that Russell, though a legendary player, is no longer capable of being a successful NBA coach. Gregg Lukenbill, the Sacramento managing general partner, kicked Russell upstairs to the vaguely defined position of vice-president of basketball operations; he also demoted president and general manager Joe Axelson, the man responsible for bringing Russell to Sacramento, to the even more vaguely defined job of vice-president for business operations.
Russell had signed a seven-year contract with the Kings; he was to coach for an unspecified length of time—the minimum was thought to be two years—and then succeed Axelson as the head man in the front office. Why did this plan go awry so quickly? Some observers think that Russell who had been away from coaching since resigning from the Seattle Super-Sonics in 1977, simply doesn't possess the X's-and-O's acumen necessary to succeed in today's NBA. They say the Kings' 17-41 record on March 7, the day Lukenbill pulled the plug, reflected this. "I don't buy the theory that the game had passed Bill by," Axelson said last week. "I guess eventually what happened was that the players stopped listening to him."
And how about the theory that Russell didn't work hard enough? "Well I'd say the effort was adequate," said Axelson. "Bill delegated a lot of authority, but he was always there."
The fact remains: The Sacramento system, in which Russell acted as an "executive" head coach who gave many of the everyday coaching duties to assistants Willis Reed (who left to coach the Nets on Feb. 29) and Jerry Reynolds (who was named the Kings coach through the 1989-90 season) only left the players confused. "It was obvious that there was no direction on that team," said an assistant coach of a Western Conference team.
Ned Gillette, of Stowe, Vt. (SI, Dec. 15, 1986), has done it: He has fulfilled his dream of sailing and rowing his 28-foot aluminum boat, Sea Tomato, from South America to Antarctica. On March 6, Gillette and three crewmen arrived at a landfill near King George Island, completing their 720-mile voyage a week ahead of schedule.
Gillette was prepared to make the trip a year ago but was frustrated by a heavy ice pack along his proposed route. After a month of waiting in vain at Cape Brecknock, Chile, 60 miles northwest of Cape Horn, that attempt had to be scrubbed. But the 42-year-old Gillette, who has circled Mt. Everest on skis and has scaled Mt. McKinley in a single day, didn't give up. He continued his daily rowing workouts, assembled a new crew and returned to Brecknock last month.
"The Tomato is a far more functional craft this year," Gillette wrote a friend the night before the Feb. 22 launching. "I'm as content as I've ever been. Over four years of preparation, and the departure is hours away. We're at a solid peak of readiness. I have no dread of the days ahead, though I know it will be a hard trial."