Foggie: "You know this, though. Those teams were putting up the flags every year and nobody came. Only time they'd sell out was in the playoffs. Any other time, you could walk right in. Then Russell leaves and the fair-haired boy, Dave Cowens, comes in, and now Larry Bird, and you can't get a seat."
What has to be done? How is the image changed? Would the Red Sox help if they traded for Gooden and Strawberry and Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson all at once? Would the Celtics help if they sent their whole team, say, to Detroit in exchange for the Pistons? How are minds and attitudes changed? How many have to be changed? How many black minds? How many white? "The most racist city in America." How do you attack that? Where do you start?
"Whenever things have happened to our players, I've told them that it's individual," Auerbach says. "I say that each incident is individual. If a guy can't buy a house, then the problem is with the individual who is selling the house. It isn't with everyone else. It's individual."
How are these individuals convinced? And just who are these individuals?
"I was shopping with my family," M.L. Carr says. "There was some traffic, and I ran across the street. My wife and kids stayed on the curb. A car came by, some young guys, and they yelled at my wife, 'Out of the road, you black bitch.' I went crazy. I jumped in my car and went after 'em. I cut 'em off, jumped out of the car. They recognized me. They said, 'Hey, M.L., we didn't know it was you.' I told 'em I should beat their butts. Instead, I tried to use it as a teaching experience. I told them how I felt."
"I had the most racist thing of all happen just a few weeks ago," Veris says. "I came into Logan Airport, put down my bags and waited for a cab. The guy drove away from me and up to someone else. I knew just what he was doing. I went right up to the guy. I called him a bigot and everything else. What are you going to do?"
The most celebrated incident of the past year involved Brown, the Celtics' top draft choice. Planning to get married, starting life in a new place, he was in the process last fall of purchasing a house in Wellesley, an affluent suburb. He and his white fiancée, Jill Edmondson, were still living in a hotel, waiting for the deal to be completed. They had their mail delivered to the Wellesley Hills post office. While sitting in his car, reading his mail, his fiancée beside him, Brown was surrounded by local police with guns drawn, taken from the car and forced to lie on the pavement while he was searched.
Why? A bank across the street had been held up a few days earlier by a black male. One of the employees, looking through the window, spotted Brown and decided he could have been the robber. The bank manager called the police. The police responded in a hurry. The incident made the news wires. That's Boston.
"It really was just one man," Brown says. "It was the way the dispatcher phrased it that made it sound as if I were the robber. It was scary to be lying on the ground, guns pointed at you."
The fact that this wasn't exactly Boston—that it was Scarsdale in relation to New York, Beverly Hills in relation to Los Angeles—didn't matter to the rest of the country. Local black groups urged Brown to pursue legal action. White groups hurried to apologize. Brown simply defused the matter. Individuals doing individual things. He went ahead and bought a house in Wellesley. He went ahead and married his fiancée and became the NBA slam-dunk champ and had a strong rookie season.