On the basketball court Russell is my sworn enemy. Which is the way it ought to be. But in private life he is the greatest and one of my closest friends. You say it shouldn't be that way? Don't be silly, man. I've told you about the close associations basketball players form—it's the nature of the game. Russell and I agreed a long time ago that we would pull no punches on the playing field. He gets a savage kick out of stuffing a ball back down my throat, and sometimes when I jump up under the basket who do I come down on top of? Old Bill Crunch! But off the court is something else again.
One time this season we played the Celtics in Philadelphia—and beat them pretty good. Then we all got on a plane for Boston to play them there.
"A little gin rummy, baby?" said Russell.
He knows I'm a sucker for card games—any card games. It's a thing that started a long time ago when I was trying to prove that a giant could do something with his mind as well as with his body. So we settled down to play.
"Before we start," said Bill, "I think there's something you ought to know. I've got this thing." And he began to fish through his wallet.
"What is it?" I said.
He showed it to me. It was a license to carry a gun.
"You win this game," he said, "and I'm going to shoot you dead."
He didn't shoot me, but he did beat me the next night on the basketball floor. See what I mean? Still, people get the two feuds mixed up. It's a vicious, real feud on the floor; it's a pretend feud when we're together after the game. And when Russell gets named to the NBA All-Star team—and I get left off—what am I supposed to do? Run screaming off into the night? When Russell gets more rebounds, some people come to me and ask what I think about that. Man, I think it's fine, that's what I think. Bill Russell is a helluva basketball player.
Anyway, it would be fine if everybody else in the NBA got along as well as Russell and me, if there was no sniping and winging away at each other in public. That would improve the image. And here's some more things that would help. The NBA ought to cut the season by at least 20 games. Snick! Right now. The result would be that the public would get better basketball immediately. The players could give 100% all the time instead of, say, 75%, like they're giving now. I would—man, I promise you—I would take a pay cut if they trim the schedule. But I recognize that I'm richer than a lot of the other guys on this circuit. You mention pay cut to them and you've got a fight on your hands. Actually, you wouldn't need pay cuts. Any loss to the owners would be made up by bigger attendance, because all the games would be better. You dig this?