- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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I acknowledge that a coach must maintain stature and respect, and certainly it is easier to manage this if you isolate yourself and don't get personally involved with your players. But I could never do it that way. I think it is a greater challenge and a deeper reward if you can mix with your players and still retain your stature.
If anything, this closeness of coach and player has become even more important since race entered the picture. It is my feeling that bigotry is founded on a lack of understanding and knowledge of the other race. If you know about something or someone, then you are not liable to be afraid. I think that I have very little fear, and, therefore, very little prejudice. But I've seen prejudice run wild at me during a riot and I lost my understanding very quickly in return—so I know.
That was extreme, of course. My main concern in basketball is that my players know each other and know me. I want them to understand exactly what I am like, how dedicated I am, what my motives are, what I am out to accomplish. If I can help my players know that, then I don't have to waste a lot of our time trying to baloney them into thinking I am some kind of genius. It comes to this: if they can understand me, they can trust me and they can like me.
My only criterion for any player is: can he help the team, can he get along with it? I do not care how many whites or blacks I have on the team, but how many grunts. You'll never have a good team if you are top-heavy with grunts. A grunt is a word we use in the construction business in California to describe a man who will do exactly what he is told and no more. He either waits for new orders or makes the one job last all day.
Grunts don't make suggestions. In fact, I never coached a good player who was a grunt. The good ones are forever involved, forever thinking, even if you don't always agree with their schemes—and I demand that the coach retain a veto power. Still, the interest that players show in a game or practice can never replace the all-day commitment that we had to the game in the old days. There was no aspect of the game we did not discuss. Bob Pettit and I, for instance, used to speculate on freak plays and wild impossibilities, and because of this almost managed to bring the championship to St. Louis in the last second of the final 1957 playoff game in Boston.
Our scheme went back to when I was playing at Rochester with Bobby Davies. A marvelous athlete with a fine baseball throwing arm, Davies could stand out of bounds at one end of the court and hit the backboard with a basketball at the other end 49 times out of 50. This was not an idle talent either, because it could theoretically be put to use if your team needed a quick basket and had the full length of the court to go for it. The clock does not start until the ball touches a player in bounds, so if you could throw the ball the length of the court and ricochet it off the backboard, your man could get the ball right in front of the basket with time to shoot. The opposition, looking for a direct pass, would surely be caught unprepared.
St. Louis was a young and improving club in 1957, and, while we were lucky to have reached the final playoffs, there we were, making the Celtics work against us, right down to the seventh game. We wouldn't quit. Jack McMahon and Slater Martin held Cousy and Bill Sharman to seven points in the first half and 21 for the whole game, and Boston couldn't get away from us. It was 103-103 after four quarters and 113-all at the end of the first overtime.
Easy Ed Macauley, my center, fouled out with 3:35 left in the next overtime. Everybody was fouling out by then, and all I had left on the bench was me and Irv Bemoras, who was 6'3". I had to go with height, so I put myself in. It was to be my last game. Boston held onto a slim lead and got a break near the end when I thought the Celtics should have been called for flagrant goaltending. I missed a good shot myself, but down 124-123 with one second left I managed to foul Jim Loscutoff. He made the free throw—125-123—and I mumbled to Pettit to get down the court and watch the backboard. Even though I hadn't practiced it, I threw a line drive that luckily was true. Unluckily, it came off the backboard like a rocket. Pettit caught the ball a few feet from the basket, but it was going so fast that he could not gain full control as he desperately pushed it toward the basket. As it was, that ball rolled around the rim for what seemed an eternity before finally flopping off to the side and beating us.
The next season, '57-58, we came back to win the championship from Boston—which was to be the only time the Celtics were to lose until we beat them again at Philadelphia in 1967. According to some recent accounts, our '58 championship was tainted because Bill Russell was injured. The way the story has been told lately, it has begun to sound as if Russell wasn't even in the country when we won. The truth is that he was not hurt until the third game, when we were already well on the way to our second win. And the Celtics won the next game without him. In fact, only in the fifth game, which we won, did Boston feel Russell's loss. Certainly, he was hurting in the last game and only played about half of it, but I don't think anything would have stopped Pettit from bringing us to victory that night. He scored 50 points—which is the only time that any player has ever scored that many in the deciding game of a championship series.
Pettit was a coach's joy all the time. He was hardworking and organized, and, even when I played with him at Milwaukee in his rookie season, it was obvious that he was destined for success. Pettit played things straight down the line. He would not, for instance, allow himself to get very emotional about who was coaching, which was particularly sage at St. Louis since Kerner kept bringing in new coaches all the time. But Kerner and Pettit were good for each other, and Ben knew it. That very first year at Milwaukee, he took three of our league games into Louisiana so he could show off Bob before his home folks, even though he knew this would cause problems. We had Chuck Cooper on our team. This was 1954 and Chuck was a Negro. I roomed a lot with Chuck that year, which kind of amuses me when I read nowadays that teams in other professional sports are suggesting that they are making such great strides by rooming whites and Negroes together for the first time. As far as I know, we have been doing that without much fuss in basketball since Chuck came into the NBA in 1950.