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.
What did you think of this review?