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Bob Cousy had planned a brief Florida vacation with his wife and two daughters after the pro basketball playoffs, before he had to leave on a good-will tour of Europe and North Africa for the State Department. The Boston Celtics were to play the Minneapolis Lakers in a four-out-of-seven series for the World Championship, and Cousy had plane reservations for last Sunday night.
In the first two playoff games, in Boston, the Celtics were frequently in trouble but closed strongly to win. Before leaving for Minneapolis, where the next two games would be played on Tuesday and Thursday nights, Cousy told his wife: "Move those reservations up to Friday. We're going to win four straight and I'll be back the morning after the fourth game."
As a result of this foresight (or calculated risk) the Cousys were out on the sands of Delray Beach two days early. The Celtics became the first team in history to sweep basketball's World Series, fit climax to a season in which they set more than a dozen other records and clearly earned the accolade their coach, Red Auerbach, had claimed for them months ago as "the greatest team ever assembled."
Because the Celtics are so well balanced and because their style of play is built around the offensive skills of every player on the court at any given time, it is difficult for the performance of one man to stand out. Even the brilliance of the incomparable Cousy generally blends into a composite picture of team excellence. This is in contrast, for example, to the St. Louis Hawks, who play to and depend so greatly on Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan, or the Lakers, who lean heavily on the scoring ability of Elgin Baylor. For the Celtics, Cousy and Bill Sharman cannot be allowed any leeway outside; Tom Heinsohn and Jim Loscutoff must be covered in the corners; Bill Russell, in the post and underneath the boards, is a threat for 48 minutes of every game. As the rival defense shifts its concentration to one area, another cries out for instant attention.
And yet, despite this balance of excellence, one Celtic managed to stand out in the competition with both the opposition and his own teammates in this series as the key player. He is Frank Ramsey, who repeatedly came off the bench to spark Celtic rallies or recoveries—a special talent he has developed to take advantage of the fact that he is the sixth man on this superlative squad. Immediately after coming into a game, Ramsey does either of two things to provide a quick lift for the Celtics. Within seconds, he is way in the clear for an easy layup or he is at the free-throw line for two shots.
"I've been playing with Frank for four years now," says Cousy, "and it's a mystery to me how he does it. He comes out on the court and you look up and there he is alone under the basket with the ball."
"One time this season," says Russell, "Frank came into the game and he got to the free-throw line so quickly that he was too 'cold' to take his shot. He had to warm up before shooting."
STYLE FOOLS OPPOSITION
Ramsey, a rangy, easy-mannered, crew-cut 6 feet 3, apparently accomplishes his two special feats because of an unusually deceptive court style. He pads along the floor, barely raising his knees from a horizontal plane, skimming the surface like a gull over water, seemingly bemused and sleepy-eyed. Then, without changing expression or otherwise betraying the extra effort going into each stride, he shifts into high gear, quickly pulls ahead of the man guarding him and is in the clear for a long pass (generally from Cousy) and a layup.
Much the same technique helps him draw free throws with the regularity of an Eddie Stanky drawing bases on balls. To the man he is guarding, Ramsey may appear aimless or absent-minded, yet he manages, mostly, to be between that man and the basket. When the man drives and makes contact, Ramsey is on his way to the free-throw line.