1981-82 Boston Celtics
He is a black guy and he is a sportswriter in another city and he is a friend. He called during the past week, asking about the arrival of Danny Ainge with the Boston Celtics .
"Ainge will be all right," I told him. "He'll help. He's rusty now, just getting back to the game and learning about this league, but watch him at the end of the season. He'll be playing a bit."
The sportswriter listened to all this, wrote it down or did whatever he was going to do with it. He then asked who would be going when the new man was added to the roster. I told him the thinking was that either Tracy Jackson or Terry Duerod or maybe Charles Bradley probably would be moved.
"Figures," the sportswriter said.
"How's that?" I asked.
"One more white guy replacing one more black guy. That's the Celtics."
There wasn't anything new to what he said about the roster of this team - I have a basketball-playing relative who says all the time he hates the National Basketball Assn. but loves the Celtics "because they have the white guys" - but I was disappointed. I thought this friend of mine knew better.
Because the Celtics just ain't that way.
Talk to me about the Red Sox and their history of black-white relations, their sad showing in the past recruitment of Latin-American ballplayers, and I will nod in agreement. Talk to me even about the Patriots, because they have had some less-than-glorious racial situations. Don't talk to me about the Celtics.
"Who had the first black player in the NBA?" I asked.
"Who had the first black head coach of any team in any major US professional sport?" I asked.
"Who put five black players on the court at the same time before any other team in the NBA did?" I asked.
I am sick of the counting that is going on when this team plays basketball these days. I am sick of guys gleefully nudging me and saying,"Well, if McHale and Bird are the forwards and Ainge and Ford are the guards and if Rick Robey replaces Robert Parish at center . . ." I don't want to hear it from white guys. I don't want to hear it from black guys.
It simply doesn't matter.
The Celtics aren't Ronald Reagan's team now and they aren't the Klan's team and they aren't some white man's All-Star team put together for higher television ratings. They aren't any different now than they were when the counting was done in reverse, when the white guys were worrying and the NAACP was applauding. They're a basketball team, another in a succession of well- built basketball teams, filled with individual pieces that do one, collective good thing. The colors of the pieces don't matter. Never have. Function matters. Period.
The one lesson this team always has taught - the one characteristic that has covered all of the Celtics' championship years - is that unselfishness is the key ingredient. It doesn't matter who does what just as long as the what gets done. The who could be anyone, tall or short, rookie or veteran, big- money or small, black or white. The result is what counts.
Talk to me about the fact that these Celtics draw bigger crowds than the Bill Russell Celtics ever did and that part of the reason is that these Celtics have - what? - six white and six black players in a predominantly black league. I'll sadly buy that. Tell me that the reason this team is on television more and on more magazine covers and making more commercials is because there are a number of white guys. I'll buy part of that. Tell me that the team has been built this way on purpose, as some sort of racial design? I'll say this team was built to win basketball games. Period.
I listened to Celtics' coach Bill Fitch on Wednesday night, trying to explain the move that finally was made to put Ainge on the roster. Tracy Jackson had been sold to the Chicago Bulls and Fitch was almost tongue-tied trying to describe how many hours of thought had gone into the move. He talked about considerations of who would help more in a particular role, who had helped already in winning a championship, about potential and a half-dozen other things. He never mentioned, "Well, we figured we could get rid of another black guy."
I listened to general manager Red Auerbach, who has made all of the moves for this team through all of the good years. He sounded as if he had sent his mother to Dubuque on a waiver deal.
"What a good kid," he said about Tracy Jackson. "We really wanted to keep him. I even tried to make a deal with Chicago that we could return whatever we gave for him at the end of the year and get him back. They said Heyyyyy,' and what what could we do? The money was insignificant. We put him in a place where he was wanted, where we think he'll do well."
I listened in the locker room to Larry Bird as the possibilities of a final move were discussed. Forward M.L. Carr is on the disabled list and when he returns, that means someone else will have to go. One of the possibilities that has been mentioned in the papers is that Carr simply will be traded.
"That better not happen," Bird said, almost bitterly. "I read those things and I say that M.L. is the heart of this club. He's the guy who makes us go, the biggest guy in this locker room. No, sir. Not M.L."
The only counting that counts with the Boston Celtics is when you sit in the Garden and look at the rows of flags hanging down. That is the number that always has been important with this team.