Friday, March 1, 2013

the last book I ever read (King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, excerpt seven)

from King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution by Aram Goudsouzian:

The next morning, before their final showdown against Iowa, Russell slept until 11:00. He walked downstairs to pick up a good-luck telegram from Rose Swisher. Then he and his teammates lounged around the hotel, joking and laughing. Excited USF fans chatted with them as they boarded the bus, and on the ride to McGaw Memorial Hall they belted out songs to a rock-and-roll beat, changing the lyrics to tease their trainer. Even in the locker room, they jabbered and giggled until game time. A relaxed attitude had served them well throughout the steak, but Woolpert’s stomach tied into ever-tighter knots. He feared overconfidence.

Those fears seemed realized in the opening minutes, when Iowa grabbed a 15-4 lead. The Hawkeyes scored on fast breaks and back-door cuts as their lone black player, the versatile forward Carl “Sugar” Cain, amassed ten quick points on fake-right, go-left dribble drives. Thousands of fans from neighboring Iowa whipped into a frenzy. USF clearly missed K.C. Jones, and the new unpaid assistant coach fumed. “You guys have the fat head,” he lectured during a time-out. “You’re choking, really swallowing the olive. You lose this one and the winning string you’re gloating about won’t mean a thing.” The Dons broke the huddle with a clap. They had overcome deficits before, but the streak and the championship lent extra pressure. “Nervous? No, I wasn’t nervous,” Russell later said. “I was just flat scared.”

Yet one final time, Russell and the Dons submitted a bravura performance. They clamped down defensively. Eugene Brown shifted to forward and shut down Carl Cain. Warren Baxter took his guard spot, putting four blacks on the floor in the NCAA Final. Six minutes before halftime, USF regained the lead. The Dons forced turnovers throughout the second half. During one possession, Russell blocked a shot, blocked another, and scared a Hawkeye into a wild miss. Iowa shot only 33 percent, and Russell finished with twenty-six point and twenty-seven rebounds. Time and again, he received the ball on the right wing and swept across the court for a left-handed hook. He also scored three baskets with his patented “steer” shot, guiding in errant shots above the rim. When the final buzzer sounded on the 83-71 victory, USF owned a fifty-five-game winning streak and two consecutive NCAA titles. “This,” marveled the San Francisco Chronicle, “must be the finest undergraduate team since Naismith first hung the peach basket.”

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