4.11.2017

Easy Ed at 62

 

He`s 62 now, retired and some 44 years removed from when his mother admonished with a presence in her voice he never forgot: ``You can go to any college you want as long as it is Catholic and in St. Louis.``



That said, he discarded Notre Dame and Boston College scholarship offers and a letter in his hand from Kentucky`s legendary coach, Adolph Rupp. Ed Macauley enrolled at St. Louis University and became a legend himself. He was Easy Ed by the time he was a sophomore, an All-American as a junior and on the cover of Collier`s magazine as a senior.

It wasn`t supposed to happen this way. But in his time, Macauley was a comet that burned so long and streaked so fast.

Years after his basketball career was finished, cab drivers in New York would ask him: ``Say, ain`t you Easy Ed Macauley?``

He`d smile an Irish smile and nod. The cabbies would say: ``Sure. The  Billikens. The Celtics.``

To this day, Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., can recall word-for-word Macauley`s advice to him when he was 15 and attended Macauley`s summer basketball camp.

In his time, Macauley heard the crowd`s roar. He was the Most Valuable Player in the 1948 National Invitation Tournament that St. Louis U. won at Madison Square Garden. He was the MVP in the first National Basketball Association All-Star Game in 1951.

In 10 pro seasons, he participated in seven NBA All-Star Games, made the All-NBA team on three occasions and led the league in field-goal percentage in 1954 with his Celtics teammate, Bob Cousy, getting him the ball. In 1958, Macauley and the St. Louis Hawks beat the Celtics and won the
National Basketball Association Championship.

He was last to have the ball when the series ended and, in jubilation, threw the ball so high it may yet be climbing. In 1960, Macauley was the youngest (at age 32) to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

Recently, he was selected by the Hall as one of the 100 best to have played the game.

Despite this, Macauley says he was not entirely convinced he`d made it in a big way until a friend told him his name was part of a crossword puzzle. Basketball was not an early obsession then for Macauley, who entertained thoughts of following his father into law. Ed didn`t play as a freshman at St. Louis U. High because of an after-school conflict with a typing class he took.

But freshmen who stand 6-6 often find their way to the gym as sophomores. Macauley wasn`t skilled, and if the B team`s starting center hadn`t quit at the semester, Macauley wonders whether he`d be an answer in crossword puzzles today.

The Billikens were a blend of striking contrasts. Several players fought in World War II, forcing them to grow up in a hurry. Several were still callow youths. There was a certain ethos, a substance to the team, brought by those whose time in the theater of war allowed them to place a basketball game in perspective.

``We weren`t exactly sophisticated, though,`` Macauley said.

In his senior season, 1948-49, the Bills and Rupp`s ``Fabulous Five`` featuring 6-7 Alex ``The Nose`` Groza, Ralph Beard and Wallace ``Wah Wah`` Jones met in the Sugar Bowl Tournament. They were the nation`s top two college teams. St. Louis U. prevailed, 42-40. The next day at the Sugar Bowl football game, the basketball teams were seated near each another. One of Groza`s teammates said to him: ``What time is it?``

Groza didn`t have a watch. Lou Lehman said: ``It`s 3:15, sir.`` ``Sir!`` thundered Macauley the other day. ``Lehman had killed Kentucky the night before. But that`s the kind of team we were.`` Postwar St. Louis fell in love with its Billikens, who lost only seven games in Macauley`s junior and senior seasons. A crowd of 15,000 greeted the team at Union Station on a Sunday morning, March 20, 1948, when the train pulled in from New York.

The previous month, 5,000 were on hand at Union Station when the Bills returned from a victory at Notre Dame that ended a 38-game winning streak at home for the Irish. Macauley scored 21 points.

``We waxed them,`` Macauley said. ``I apologize to the Blessed Virgin, but it was one of the most satisfying victories I ever had.
``We didn`t like Notre Dame.``

In 1956, Jackie and Ed Macauley`s first son, Pat, was stricken by spinal meningitis. He suffered severe brain damage. Ed was in his sixth and, as it would turn out, last season with the Celtics.

Ben Kerner, owner of the St. Louis Hawks, sought to trade his No. 1 draft choice (Bill Russell) to Boston for Macauley and Cliff Hagan. Celtics owner Walter Brown balked, but Macauley told Brown he could do him a favor by sending him to his hometown because of his son`s disability.
``We had a 1-year-old son whose brain could not function, and I didn`t know if I could play in Boston the next year,`` Macauley said. The deal became one of basketball`s blockbusters. With Russell, the
Celtics won nine of the next 10 NBA titles, losing only to the Hawks in 1958. On May 6, 1956, Brown wrote Macauley. In part, it read:

``What this means for the Boston Celtics, God only knows. You have heard me say many times that as long as I have Ed Macauley, I have a ballclub. Well, now I don`t have Ed Macauley.

``This is the hardest letter I ever tried to write, Ed. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you did for the Boston Celtics. It is pretty hard to say goodbye to the finest boy you ever met, so I will just say `so long.```

Says Macauley, winking: ``I`m still a Celtic.``

Pat lived to be 14. On the day of his death, Ed was in his car weeping when he felt himself embraced by a peace he said he had never known before.

``It was as though Patrick was saying to me, `Dad, don`t feel sorry for me. I`m OK now,``` Macauley said.

Immeasurable blessing and dignity is what Macauley feels now when he reflects on what he calls ``an unbelievable life I`ve been given.`` His thank you is to give back. Two years ago he was ordained a deacon in the Catholic Church. Upon completion of one more course, he will be empowered to preach homilies.

He and two friends have opened a food pantry to assist the needy. He participates in a counseling project for teenagers. ``I don`t know that God decided I would become a basketball player,``  Macauley said. ``I thank him or however it was decided I`d be in St. Louis and not Tibet.

``What God does is give you intelligence and opportunity. What do you do with it? I went to the gym every day. Something inside of me kept saying:

`Be better tomorrow than you are today.` ``

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