Saturday, March 2, 2013
the last book I ever read (King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, excerpt eight)
from King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution by Aram Goudsouzian:
Ben Kerner owned the Hawks. Since his break with Auerbach, he had moved his franchise from Tri-Cities to Milwaukee to St. Louis, where it earned its first profit. He craved economic stability. Macauley was a hometown hero, and Russell was a risk. If he drafted Russell, Kerner would bid against the Globetrotters and wait through the Olympics. Also, St. Louis had no black players. The most southern city in the NBA had ordinances that enforced racial segregation. “In 1956, St. Louis was an antiblack city,” recalled referee Norm Drucker. When black visitors played there, “all you hear was ‘nigger . . . monkey . . . coon.’” Kerner feared that Russell might destroy his last chance for an NBA franchise.
Kerner approved the trade—if Auerbach threw in Cliff Hagan, the star Kentucky forward then serving in the army. That ultimatum raised the stakes. “For an untested defensive specialist,” Auerbach summarized, “I was offering Ben a high-scoring seven-time All-Star who would also be a natural for him at the gate. And Ben wanted the package sweetened with nothing less than the six-foot-five solid-rock Kentucky All-American, a sure-bet corner man for any NBA club.” Auerbach nevertheless agreed. One final hurdle remained: the NBA barred the trading of first-round draft picks. The board of governors overrode the ban, since the swap fortified both teams.
On April 30, 1956, the NBA held its draft. With its territorial pick, Boston selected Tommy Heinsohn, the Holy Cross star once humbled by Russell. The territorial draft allowed teams to draft players from colleges in a fifty-mile radius, providing local gate attractions. By drafting Heinsohn, the Celtics relinquished their seventh pick. No other team exercised its territorial option. After Rochester took Sihugo Green, Boston chose Russell. In the second round, the Celtics took K.C. Jones. From the hindsight of history, the Celtics dynasty started on that day.