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"Rise of a Dynasty": 12 things I learned about the Boston Celtics

“Rise of a Dynasty" revealed things about the Russell-Cousy-Auerbach Celtics that I didn’t know.

By Ross Atkin / December 11, 2010

The dynasty-era Boston Celtics won 11 titles in 13 years, beginning in 1957.

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If you’ve lived in Boston (OK, the suburbs) for nearly 40 years as I have, you come to believe you’ve read or heard every story about the Boston Celtics' glory years at least a time or two.

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A new book, however, tests that conclusion.

Rise of a Dynasty: The ’57 Celtics, the First Banner, and the Dawning of a New America (New American Library) revealed things about the Russell-Cousy-Auerbach Celtics that I didn’t know, despite enjoying a more thorough familiarity on the subject than the average Beantowner.

My education is as deep as it is because, as a young sportswriter for The Christian Science Monitor in the early 1970s, I trained under Phil Elderkin, a veteran basketball scribe with endless firsthand accounts of the dynasty-era Celtics, who won 11 titles in 13 years, beginning in 1957. (The total is up to 17 now.)

Phil was close enough to the team’s original owner, Walter Brown, that when Brown retired and was clearing out his office, he gave Phil a team championship trophy that was collecting dust in a Boston Garden closet. (The trophy was sold at auction five years ago).

“Rise of a Dynasty” was penned by Bill Reynolds, a Providence (R.I.) Journal sports columnist who has covered the Celtics for many years. I enjoyed his company on press row during a number of games during the Larry Bird era.

Twelve things I learned from “Rise of a Dynasty”:

1. When the Boston Celtics acquired Bill Russell in 1956, he was largely a mystery on the East Coast. There was little in the way of college scouting and the NCAA tournament, which the Russell-led University of San Francisco won back to back, was not televised. No one on the Celtics, besides fellow rookie Tommy Heinsohn, had actually seen Russell play before he arrived in Boston.

2. Ben Kerner, the owner of the old St. Louis Hawks, an early rival of the Celtics, was ahead of his time in offering fans entertainment along with basketball. One year he had famous clown Emmitt Kelly perform after the team’s Sunday afternoon games. On other occasions, the Glenn Miller and Guy Lombardo bands were on the postgame program at Kiel Auditorium.

3 . In 1963, the Celtics became the first NBA team to ever start five black players: Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones (no relation to K..C.), Satch Sanders, and Willie Naulls. Heisohn, a white player, normally would have been in the lineup but he was injured.

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