Wednesday, March 6, 2013

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

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

Russell’s team, too, crumbled the old racial codes. In December 1964, Tom Heinsohn injured his foot. John Havlicek had led Boston in scoring the previous year, but with Frank Ramsey retired, Auerbach wanted Havlicek to remain the Sixth Man. So Willie Naulls started alongside Russell, Sanders, K.C. Jones, and Sam Jones. No NBA team had started five blacks before. After smashing the taboo, the Celtics rattled off sixteen consecutive wins.

The streak fell one short of the NBA record. They had earlier won eleven straight, and by late January they stood 41-8, seven and a half games ahead of Cincinnati. Sports Illustrated had titled its preseason preview “The Pack Closes on Boston,” but Boston again sprinted away from the pack. “The Jones Boys” had matured into the league’s best backcourt. Russell called K.C. Jones “our most valuable player” because his defense tormented such stars as Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. Sam Jones emerged as a bona fide superstar. Lightning-fast with a catalog of lethal bank and jump shots, he asserted himself as a go-to scorer, becoming the first Celtic to surpass two thousand points in one season. He finished fourth in MVP balloting.

After a one-year hiatus, Russell reclaimed first place in that MVP vote. The Celtics finished a record-breaking 62-18, and Russell’s significance again transcended statistics. “When Bill feels like it, there’s little that can stop us,” said Sam Jones. “The players know before the game when Russ is really ready. They can feel it and it perks all of us up.” No team in basketball history defended like these Celtics, who drew their cue from their center and captain.

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