“Red and Me” by Bill Russell

Red and Me – My Coach, My Lifelong Friend by Bill Russell (Harper Collins, 2009)

Bill Russell has always been on my top-5 list of favorite athletes. My fervent devotion continued even after he coldly blew off my 1965 autograph request after an exhibition game in Dover, NH. (“Not now, kid,” he dismissed me with a swipe of the hand, shattering my 11-year old naivete.) Years later when I read Second Wind, his memoirs, I discovered that he did that to everyone, not just me. (BTW, Second Wind offers some of the most poignant and powerful perspectives on race in America that I have ever read.)

Red and Me reflects on Russell’s half-century friendship with Celtic coach/wizard Red Auerbach who died in 2006 at age 89. It offers fascinating insight into one of the most competitive athletic combinations (11 NBA championships, 8 of them consecutive….. take that you Laker and Knick fans!) through the fresh lens of what might seem to be an unlikely friendship.

Russell writes, “Red and I were two very different people. Yet we met on common ground, in a field where we were both highly competent. We did not have to outdo each other. We understood that we had to work together because our success depended on one another…… Ultimately our real success was our ability – without ever having to express it openly – to collaborate in every way we could think of, to help the team succeed.” (p. 43)

If you like basketball or have ever had a best friend, this book is for you. You don’t have to be a Celtic fan to like it, but, then again, it probably helps.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld