Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend

By BILL RUSSELL with ALAN STEINBERG

Male relationships can be hard to decipher sometimes, particularly older fellas from a bygone era. In the late ’50s and throughout the ’60s, Bill Russell led the Celtics to 11 titles in his 13 seasons with the team and broke racial barriers by being part of the first African-American starting five in NBA history as well as the first African-American coach in the league. But it’s to his relationship with the Celtics’ previous coach, the legendary Red Auerbach, that Russell devotes his third book, Red and Me. It’s the story of a small, crusty, unafraid, ribald Jewish guy from Brooklyn somehow connecting with a proud, testy, unapologetic, close-to-the-vest black guy raised in segregated Louisiana and the projects of Oakland. How did they do it? The unspoken code of respect: “Although Red and I never talked about that, we had both experienced it the same way,” Russell writes about one experience the pair shared, but this kind of commentary is ubiquitous. They didn’t need to say everything — or sometimes anything — to each other to know they had each other’s back. “That’s what friends do for each other,” Russell writes elsewhere. “No need to carry it farther than that: That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.” One of the most fascinating aspects of the book is how the pair deal with anti-Semitism and racial hatred, both in Boston and during road trips through the Deep South, where Russell once led his fellow African-American teammates back to the airport when a restaurant wouldn’t serve them. Auerbach, of course, had his friend’s back at the time. Not that they had to talk about it.

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