Here is part 1 of the California All Stars trip where Bill Russell found his game. This first part has some fascinating stuff about the game of basketball at that time.
By modern standards the California All Star tour was anything but elegant. We traveled by regularly scheduled Greyhound bus. When we finished a game in one town the team would tramp down to the bus station to buy tickets to the next. We would sit in the staion for hours if necessary because we always left when the bus was ready. That's the way we traveled for thousands of miles - up through Oregon to Seattle, on up to British Columbia through towns like Victoria, Nanaimo, Blaine, New Westminster, Birnaby, Pentiction and Trail, and then back down through Spokane to Idaho. Mostly we played against high school teams, but also there were Western Washington College in Bellingham, Washington, and the University of British Columbia. Sometimes we would get farmed out to host families in a city so that we could stay tow or three days and get in some practice, but usually we'd go right back to the station. I remember being stunned by sights like the Cascade Mountains and my fist glimpse of a Canadian Mountie. Of course there was a lot of horseplay on the bus, and I got so little sleep that my eyes swelled up as big as tires. I loved every minute of it. The coach was a man named Brick Swegle, who had invented the tour. He took his wife along, and they ran the show in tandem. I remember them as a pair. They'd both stand up in front of the bus. He'd say one sentence and she the next, alternating like actors in a rehearsal. Then the two of them would sit down up front and start passing a bottle back and forth, probably hoping that a snort or two would help drown out the noise. But after a drinks the Swegles would start making their own noise in loud arguements. We would quiet down in the back so that we could hear what they were saying, and when they simmered down, our volume would swell back to normal. The ordinary bus passengers in the middle rows got quite a show. In Canada, rebounds were called caroms, and in many of the towns the game was played on a casaba court. The very philosophy of the game in those days would be unrecognizable to most people now. The idea was never to lave your feet except when jumping for a rebound. If you had the ball on offense, the idea was to dribble, fake and move past the man guarding you so that you had to clear a path to the basket for a moment. Then you would try to drive in for a lay up. If your path was blocked, you would shoot a set shot if you had time; if not, you would pass. The jump shot - which has become the staple of modern basketball - was relatively new then, and many coaches were dedicated to stamping it out, they thought it was a hot dog move that should be confined to the playgrounds where it originated. Once you went up, said the coaches, you were helpless, because if anything hampered your shot in the air, more than likely you would come down with the ball and have to turn it over to the other team. The standard line in coaching was: "If you have to jump to shoot, you didn't have a shot in the first place." Some coaches would bench a player automatically for taking a jump shot, and I witnessed a couple of strict disciplinarians who actually threw players off their teams for this offense. On defense it was considered even worse to leave your feet. Nine times out of ten, coaches would say, when you went up for a fake the guy with the ball would just run around you for a layup. The idea was for the defensive player to keep himself between his man and the basket at all times. Prevent layups, keep control, stay on your feet. By jumping you were simply telegraphing to your opponent that you could be faked into the air. Defenses had not begun to adjust to the jump shot. According to the classical style of basketball back then, the game was built around the layup and the set shot. At McClymonds we preferred free form playground basketball, including the jump shot. We never jumped on defense, but we loved to go up in the air on offense. It was more fun - and it worked. Our success caused great anguish among conservative coaches, who feared that the lazy and undisciplined aspects of "Negro basketball" would bring nothing but evil to the game. Like George Powles at McClymonds, Brick Swegle was not the average coach. He was a maverick. I never know what he did every year other than run the All Star tour, but my hunch is that he had a lot of fun at whatever it was. On the tour he allowed us to do just about anything we wanted on the court. He'd make substitutions, call time outs and encourage us, and together with his wife he'd handle the logistics of travel, but out on the floor we were pretty much on our own. So we played "Negro basketball," though there were only two black players on the team. It was a holiday for our white players who loved jump shots like everybody else but had been anchored to the floor by their coaches. We ran and jumped on that tour, and we wore out most teams. In some cities the opposing coaches told Mr Swegle that our tactics were not cricket. He'd always shrug his shoulders and say that his boys were having fun. We were also winning. In one game the opposing coach got cocky when he saw us open up with jump shot. "Let 'em have that shot!" he yelled at his players. He shared the established view that the jump shot could not work because it was performed off balance, whereas the set shot was sturdy, balanced and repeatable, like a free throw. Sooner or later, he figured, this awkward new shot would ruin us. His players were also under orders not to jump on defense, so we shot short jump shots all day, while our opponents just stood there. All through the game the coach defiantly told his players to let us have the jump shot, and we won 144-41.
Part 2 of Bill's trip tomorrow and how he went from a mediocre high school player at the start of the trip to the player who would become a legend.