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Tribe of one

  • Apr 15, 2013
Rating:
+4
Bill Russell (most recently seen as one of quartet of retired NBA Hall of Famers in the hilarious ATT commercials during the 2013 NCAA March Madness coverage) is one of the all time great NBA players with the distinction of serving as the on court leader of the Boston Celtics during a historic run of championships.  The focus of this books isn't on the championships but on the friendship between the player and the coach who engineered this great stretch of success.

It was an unlikely and visually comical partnership.  Red Auerbach was short, dumpy, and Jewish, features all accentuated when he stood in pictures next to the tall, slim, distinctly handsome African-American Russell.  But in Russell's words (published after the coach had passed away) their friendship was deeper than words (indeed often wordless in a masculine bonding kind of way) based on a mutual respect and common objective.  Each man was direct, forceful, self aware, and self-confident.  As the first coach who treated Russell with this approach, Russell was at first reserved and suspicious, but learned he could trust Red to do what was best for the team; Russell responded in kind, as they two became the most successful coach/player duo in sports history.

The trust and success (and friendship) is based on what Russell refers to as their '"tribes.". Russell"s tribe was southern, rural, black.  Red's was Brooklyn, urban, Jewish.  Neither was familiar with the others tribe (although Russell's claim he had to ask Red "'What's a Jew?" seems almost impossible) and try to fake knowledge of or membership in the others tribe.  But each respected and came to learn how the other responded within their tribe, even though they never talked much about their past experiences.

Indeed, if Russell's account is to be believed, they bonded without talking much at all.  With some glimpses into his background, and a few anecdotes about Red's coaching style and colorful language, this slim volume could be shelved as autobiography or biography, but is really more of a manual of male friendship.  Russell (or his "written with" coauthor) is a sneaky funny writer who also knows he has a serious subject in mind and delivers it well.  My only wish is to learn more about the sometimes famously-enigmatic Russell and his relationship with his father, who was the central figure in his life.  Fortunately, Russell has apparently written a more traditional autobiography as well.

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April 16, 2013
Thanks for sharing!
 
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About the reviewer
Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #38
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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Wiki

First, let’s get the basketball credentials out of the way. Russell was the greatest team basketball player ever; his Boston Celtics won championships in 11 of his 13 years. Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach was the Celtics coach for the first 10 years of Russell’s career and later, as the general manager, assembled five more championship teams after Russell retired. Russell retraces the path of their lifelong friendship as it evolved from player-coach to professional equals to good friends. The relationship was always grounded in respect. Auerbach never tried to alter Russell’s then-revolutionary basketball style, nor did he ever interfere with or critique Russell’s involvement in the civil-rights movement. Auerbach’s Jewish heritage exposed him to some of the same prejudices Russell experienced in segregated Boston, though they never compared notes. Auerbach cultivated a public persona associated with words like gruff or curmudgeon that are partially accurate but woefully incomplete. He was extraordinarily intelligent, fearless, and sensitive to what would bring out the best in those around him. Russell understands these characteristics and has produced a moving tribute to his friend and, in a larger sense, to friendship. --Wes Lukowsky
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