professional basketball began, owners have been hiring the wrong kind of
coaches—then firing them for not winning. There are enough ex-coaches around to
form their own Old Cats League or something. Take Owner Ben Kerner of the St.
Louis Hawks: he is known around the league for the ability to fire a coach
before the coach can get the laces tied up on his sneakers. Cincinnati eased
Charley Wolf out because he didn't produce a winner right away. In San
Francisco, Bob Feerick decided he wasn't ready for coaching, and he got out of
it gracefully by becoming general manager. But, you know, what do the owners
expect—that maybe there will be nine winners in the season? And if not, what is
the remedy: Firing eight coaches? Sometimes that seems to be the idea around
coaches are usually too smart to come into the professional ranks. They take
one look at this snake pit, and they say, "Who me? Man, are you kidding
me?" Happily, this system doesn't go flat across the board in the NBA. The
owners who have a feeling for a coach will go out and buy him a good team and
give him the chance to build it into a powerhouse, and they leave him alone.
Know what I mean? I mean, look at the Boston Celtics and Auerbach. You know the
real key reason why they are so good as a team? Man, those guys have been
together for an average of nine years now. They're so close they're like
How about me?
Would I coach if they asked me? I happen to think I would make a pretty good
coach. But don't ask me.
Auerbach. Now, isn't he too much? With that cigar and the look like he would
snap you in half. I mean mean. But what a guy. I can remember the first time we
met—and maybe you don't know this, but he was my coach at one time. It was back
in 1953 and I was a high school freshman then. Maybe about...oh, 6 feet 10� or
so...and a real smart aleck. You know. I had been playing a lot of basketball
already against some pretty tough old boys, and I thought I was pretty hot
stuff. And Haskell Cohen, the public relations guy for the NBA—man, he was
really looking into the future—had spotted me down at Overbrook High in
Philadelphia. And he got me a summer job bell-hopping at Kutsher's resort up in
the Catskills. It was a sort of breeding ground for future professionals.
Haskell was looking beyond high school and college, I guess. So I turned up on
the borscht circuit carrying suitcases and waiting on tables and sort of
standing around all bones and eyeballs and teeth. Every summer resort up there
had its own basketball team made up of college kids who needed jobs for the
summer. They worked a little and played a little. And who was the coach at
Kutsher's? The man with the cigar.
Looking back on
it, I think maybe it was my attitude that first touched off Auerbach. You know,
I wasn't exactly the most modest kid in town, and I had a lot of moves for a
high school freshie playing with the big boys. And when Red would call practice
he would sort of talk to me in that voice that catches you right here, right
between the ribs. He especially didn't like the way I played defense.
think. Chamberlain," Red would growl, "that it might be sort of a good
idea to defense your man from in front of him instead of behind him? What the
hell are you doing back there?" But I went on defensing from behind the
guys, reaching around with my arms to get the ball, waiting to fall on them
when they wheeled around to shoot.
"We are going
to play Shawanga Lodge next," said Red, looking through me. "And you
are going to have to defense B. H. Born. I think it only fair to tell you.
Chamberlain, that B. H. Born has just made All-America from the University of
Kansas. And I think it only fair to tell you that B. H. Born is going to make
chopped chicken liver out of you." So we played Shawanga.
At the half-time
break I had scored 30-some points and Born had scored exactly two. And I came
ambling back into the dressing room and flopped myself down on the training
table and folded my arms behind my head. I was whistling, you know, doo de doo
de doo, and sort of looking sidewise at old Red while he looked back at me with
a steely stare. Finally he grinned a little trace of a grin at me. "Now
about the second half," he said. Then, "Now, Mister Chamberlain, may I
please have your attention for a moment?" Suddenly we understood each
other. Red and I. And I learned to play defense on both sides; I play it a lot
in front now. After that, Red would let me serve him drinks and cigars in his
room when he was up all night playing poker, and he later got me aside to talk
about future schooling.
you go to Harvard, kid?" he said. "And then I'll be able to pick you
off in the territorial draft for the Celtics." But other forces were
already at work, a bunch of things that would change my entire life. After that
summer, life began to get tougher.
From that summer
when I was a gangly kid I looked forward to playing professional basketball. I
mean, hot dam. all that glamour. World travel and like that. Big money and
cheering crowds and beautiful girls sort of jammed all around the dressing-room
door. Now. there is a boyhood dream gone to pieces.