Sunday, March 10, 2013

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

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

Weeks later, Russell exiled John Brisker to the Eastern League. When Russell arrived, recalled Brisker, “we were elated. It could have been very good all the way around—from business, to basketball, to a personal level of consciousness.” He even threw Russell a welcome party. Brisker owned a tough-guy reputation, thanks to his hardscrabble upbringing in Detroit’s ghettoes, his menacing demeanor, and frequent fisticuffs in the ABA. He also possessed shooting range and athleticism. Just before the demotion, he dropped forty-seven points on the Kansas City Kings.

Yet Russell had alienated Brisker since training camp. Joby Wright, a 6’8” mountain from Indiana University, was hacking Brisker. They jawed at each other. “This is where we separate the men from the boys,” said Russell. “Let ‘em play.” He was provoking Brisker by pitting him against a hardworking banger scrapping for a roster spot. Brisker could not back down. The play got rougher, the pushes got harder, the tempers got hotter. Then Brisker threw a punch. Wright thudded onto the floor. His teeth scattered across the court. Everyone hushed. Brisker wanted to cry, but he resisted losing face. Goaded into attacking his teammate, his rage spilled out in a wild scream, delivered right in Russell’s face. From then on, Brisker sat in Russell’s doghouse.

Officially, Russell sent Brisker to a weekend minor league to work on defense. Really, it was a public humiliation. “The Eastern League is as much an atmosphere for defense as a brothel is for Bible reading,” cracked one writer. In three weeks, Brisker averaged fifty-four points. His rift with Russell continued. He thought that Russell considered him a threat, because players congregated at his house. When he returned to Seattle, Russell benched him. They had angry conversations, locker-room staredowns. The next season, Brisker played in only twenty-one games. After he had foot surgery without the Sonics’ consent, the team declared a breach of contract, and Brisker never again played professional basketball.

Fans assumed that Russell held a grudge against Brisker, whom they liked for his shooting. Russell denied any personal beef. He maintained only that other players contributed more. When crowds chanted “We Want Brisker,” he scowled into the stands. By disgracing a tough and headstrong player, Russell fortified his own authority.

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