In this Part of our series on Bill Russell's book, Second Wind Memoirs of an Opinionated Man, Bill shares some of the wilder side of the Celtics along with some humor.
Though Walter (Brown) was beloved, he still got his share of ribbing. Everybody did; it was the backbone of the Celtic tradition. Walter was vulnerable because he was the slowest driver in history. Every summer he drove up to Cousy's basketball camp in New Hampshire, about one hundred and twenty five miles from Boston, and for him it was a three day trip. I don't think he ever went more than thirty five miles an hour in his life. We used to play exhibition games in Providence, about fifty miles from Boston, and after the game, Walter would come into the locker room, say, "Nice game, fellas," and leave to drive back to Boston. Then we'd have a postgame meeting, talk to the press, shower, and every single one of us would pass him on the way back. We'd go flying past him, and if you looked sharp you could see him cringing behind the wheel. The closest I ever saw him come to terror was just after he let Red take a spin in his new Cadillac. "That's a nice car, Walter," Red said, "but the motor starts skipping when you go over a hundred and five." Certain Celtics were known to bribe cops to stop him for speeding, just to hear about the look on his face. The players' driving habits were just the opposite of Walter's, of course. We were the scourge of every police force in New England. Frank Ramsey was probably the wildest. One night in the early years, when we were playing an exhibition game in New Hampshire, I asked Frank if he knew the way to the next town. "Yeah," he said, "follow me." He took off, with me following close behind, shot through an intersection and went flying down a little country road out of sight. I tried to catch him - eighty, ninety, a hundred miles an hour - muttering under my breath. But the cops stopped me. "I know it doesn't make any difference, officer," I said to the one writing out the ticket, "but I was only speeding because I was following an outlaw Boston Celtic named Frank Ramsey to a basketball game. He was going too fast for me." The cops looked shocked, and then to my delight said they'd help me catch him. They jumped back into their car, turned on their revolving light and siren, and we roared off after Ramsey just like they do in the movies. I wanted to catch Frank so bad I could taste it, but we never got close; Ramsey was long gone. Actually, speeding was mild stuff for the Celtics. We may have been old fashioned gladiators in the pioneer days of pro basketball, but we had a gaudy, high pressure, show business life. Pressure builds up, but you can't let it get to you in the game, so you let it out almost everywhere else. Since almost all of us were married, it would be rude to go into detail, but if a bomb had blown up our road hotel on any given night, it's safe to say there'd have been a large number of extra bodies in the wreckage. Whenever the NBA expanded there'd be a rush among the players to scout out women in the new cities. Our life was a lot like that in a war zone. We were young and crazy, and whatever maturity we had was used up on the court. On the Celtics it was generally a mistake to be discreet about anything, because sooner or later you'd be found out, and when you were, that tender spot was exactly where your teammates would aim their jokes from then on. It was safest to be wide open. Our humor was toughening. Pro basketball is a high intensity business, and you can't afford to be worrying about your insecurities when you're playing, so anything the slightest bit offbeat about one of us was bound to be pecked at until the player could laugh at himself. Only people who can laugh at themselves are really confident, and we always laughed at ourselves. Once we were playing Wilt's team in the semi-finals of the NBA playoffs, and the series came down to the seventh game. As usual, there was so much tension in our dressing room before the game that nobody could talk. I'd already thrown up once, and was thinking about doing it again. While I was sitting there in misery, I looked over and saw one of our players trying to light a cigarette. He went through three or four matches to get that last pregame smoke going, but his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn't manage it. I watched him sitting there shaking like a man with the DT's, and suddenly I started laughing. My laugh is so loud that I've seen people on planes move to the other end just to get away from me. If a giraffe could laugh, it would sound like me. So when my laugh burst out into the fear stricken silence of that dressing room, half the players jumped a foot and the rest were so scared that they threw towels and shoes at me. I didn't care, I was laughing, out of control. The guy with the cigarette saw that I was looking at him. "What's the matter?" he asked looking peeved. "You better play your ass off tonight, boy!" I shouted. "If you don't, you're in a heap of trouble!" "What do you mean?" "Well, if we lose tonight, by this time next week you'll be back home with your wife!" Now everybody in the locker room was watching this player. We all knew that he had a permanent girlfriend on the side during the season, but he had to go home to his wife during the off season, and everybody knew he preferred his girlfriend. He tried to look disgusted at me while still attempting to light his cigarette, but he couldn't hold it. His big belly laugh rumbled up and popped out, and he blew the whole unlit cigarette across the room and started hee-hawing as much as I was. The other Celtics all broke out laughing, too - one by one, and then in a rush. We laughed for five solid minutes, and you could almost see the compressed tension oozing out of us like heat waves rising off the desert. Satch Sanders was on the floor with his feet up in the air, and the other guys were crying. When that fateful knock came on the dressing room door, we were so loose we were limp. We went out onto that court still chuckling and proceeded to win another series on the way to another championship.