The Esquire Interview (Part II)
The first two names I offer him are Bill Russell and Michael Jordan.
If you were starting a team, I ask him, and could pick only one of them, which one would you take?
There is a long pause, and finally the old man says, "Jordan."
"You'd take Jordan over the guy who won the Celtics thirteen titles?
gotta be realistic," Red Auerbach says. "Listen, everybody knows what I
think of Russell. what Rusell did for me. I love Russell. He was the
premier shot blocker in the history of the game, and it was more than
that with the guy--he was also the premier intimidator. He wasn't just
the best rebounder I ever saw; he was the best anticipator. And when he
got that ball, he wasn't screwing around with it; he was starting the
fast break. He was more interested in winning than anybody I ever saw,
he was not a self-promoter, and--you go back and look it up--he was a
better scorer than people think. This isn't anything against Russell.
Out of all the centers who've ever played, I'd pick him first.
Jordan does things nobody could ever do, including selling tickets.
He's electrifying on offense, and he is A pretty damn good on defense,
too. The thing I love about Jordan, the thing I've always loved, is that
he works. He works, and he makes every single player on the floor with
him better, every time he's on the floor. And he's a leader."
and decide to go with three centers on my all-time team: In addition to
Russell, we take Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In other
words, not one of the centers playing the game now is coming off my
bench. No David Robinson, no Patrick Ewing, no Shaquille O'Neal, not
even the great Hakeem Olajuwon. This is supposed to be the greatest
collection of talent at the position ever. and none of them makes my
"I remember something Russell said once--I got a big kick
out of it," he says. "It was right after Jabbar came into the league.
Now, don't take this the wrong way, 'cause I was a Jabbar fan. But
somebody said to Russell, `How do you think you'd do against Jabbar?'
And Russell looks at the guy and says, `You've got the question wrong.
The question is, How would Jabbar have done against me?' That was a good
When asked about Wilt, never one of Auerbach's favorites, he simply says, "You can't leave him off."
briefly consider tapping the young, raggedy-haired, headband-wearing
Bill Walton the Walton who showed such brilliant all-around skills in
Portland before he started to get hurt, but Red convinces me to leave
"He didn't do it long enough," Auerbach says. "Longevity counts."
The old man knows that better than anyone.
Three centers and Jordan. Four guys out of the twelve.
go to guards, and I tell him that Bob Cousy is going to be one of my
guards. Just because when I was a kid, Cousy was Michael Jordan. Cousy
was the one who did things on a basketball court you had to see to
Michael Jordan dunked? Cousy went behind his back. Jump ball.
No problem there, of course. I am preaching to the choir.
you're gonna run with this team," Auerbach says, "Cousy has to be on
it. Cousy ran the fast break better than any player I've ever seen, and
that includes Magic Johnson. Magic could do more things, and you know
he's a no-brainer on this team. But if I had to pick between Cousy and
Magic to run a three-on-two fast break, I go with Cousy." Fine, coach,
but I'm taking both for my team.
Auerbach reflects for a moment
and says, "I'm not the Magic fan I used to be, by the way. The guy
became so self-serving at the end, it was ridiculous."