Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I've just finished reading a delightful new book, Red and Me, by Celtic great Bill Russell about his friendship with longtime Celtics coach, general manager, president and overall factotum Red Auerbach, who died about two years ago at 89. Russ (to use the nickname Red used as well as the one that famous Celtic broadcaster Johnny Most also favored) was always regarded as his own man and not in any way an easy man to know or become a friend of. He and Red revolutionized basketball by emphasizing defense--he points out in the book that until he came along, no one even kept statistics on some of the defensive plays he made common even when he didn't actually originate them.

This book should be read in tandem with John Feinstein's equally wonderful Let Me Tell You a Story, in which Feinstein manages to overcome early hostility to become a friend of Red's and to enjoy the endless fount of great stories Auerbach would relate, especially to his luncheon companions at China Doll in Washington DC's diminutive Chinatown (the restaurant was demolished last year).

It all seems so simple from Russell's account, and yet, their joint achievement (despite the presence of such notables as Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, and Easy Ed Macauley, the Celts never won a title prior to Russell's arrival) was phenomenal and remains so--eight straight titles under Red's coaching and then two more under Russell. Mainly, what the book demonstrates is how far ahead of other coaches and players, Auerbach--and Russell, for that matter--was. It's also hysterically funny in many spots.

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The surprise long-shot Derby winner brought up many forebears in that category but no one seems yet to have recalled Jimmy Cannon's favorite winner, Count Turf in the '51 outing. He was owned by Jack Amiel of the long-gone Turf Restaurant on Broadway, a gaudier version of Lindy's--complete with its own famed cheesecake--alas, Lindy's is also gone but the name still is attached to various pretenders. No one picked Count Turf to do anything and Cannon noted that if the horse had been a person instead of a horse, he might have been picked up outside the restaurant for vagrancy like many of the Broadway types who hung out there. The trainer hadn't had a winner in ages, and Conn McCreary, the jockey, was regarded as washed up.

Tonight I listened to the Orioles' "closer" give up 5 runs in the top of the 9th, so that even with two homers and four runs in the bottom, the O's came up short...Nats thrown out of Bay Area by otherwise unimpressive Jints...and saddest of all, el foldo by Das Capitals in the 7th game at Verizon Center. Now, the Big Red needs to upset the Princeton Tiger in the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals at Hofstra Saturday.

Two unusual musicals opened in Washington in the last few months. One is on Broadway now and has been successful, Next to Normal, with the unusual theme, for a musical anyway, of a woman with bipolar syndrome. The other just opened here at Signature--a musical rendition of Giant, famous as a 50s movie starring Rock Hudson, Liz Taylor, and, most notably, James Dean, based on Edna Ferber's Texas-sized novel.

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