Monday, March 4, 2013

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

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

Russell once called sports a mixture of art and war. They adopt political and spiritual dimensions. They stir the passions of participants and observers. They provide heroes and villains, rules and rituals, insurmountable obstacles and improbable triumphs. Sometimes, Russell recalled, a few men played with such beauty and passion that “the feeling would spread to the other guys, and we’d all levitate. Then the game would just take off, and there’d be a natural ebb and flow that reminded you how rhythmic and musical basketball is supposed to be.” These moments of transcendence suggest basketball’s larger appeal. More than baseball or football, basketball is the American game. Invented on American soil, it fuses individual freedom with communal enterprise. Its solo feints, flair, and bursts—managed through collective patterns—compare to another American art form: jazz.

The Boston Celtics offered basketball in its highest form, merging individual and team, white and black. They also lent the sport its archetype. “The Celtics are the aristocrats of basketball—arrogant perfectionists who play with almost insulting contempt,” wrote Jim Murray. “They come on court with the Emperor of Basketball, Bill Russell, and the score is psychologically 20-0 before the tip-off.” The players often referred to their “pride,” a quality built on mutual trust and quiet confidence. Their aura of invincibility became known as the “Celtic Mystique.”

This character stemmed from a cooperative dedication to winning, but it was rooted in one man. “Forget about the stories of magic leprechauns in the rafters of Boston Garden and how the cramped visitors’ dressing room and psychological games created some sort of Celtics’ mystique,” insisted Oscar Robertson. “No matter how good the players surrounding him were, no matter how competitive his coach was, Bill Russell was the Celtics’ mystique.”

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