“The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End” by Gary Pomerantz, Penguin Press, 360 pages, $28.
Long before the Kobe and Shaq and the Jordan and Pippen dynasties made the NBA into an international financial sports behemoth, there was a Bob Cousy and Bill Russell era. In fact, without those two players neither Magic and Bird nor LeBron and Steph would have been possible. “The Last Pass” by Gary Pomerantz returns the reader to a time when the NBA struggled for survival.
Before the Boston Celtics teams featuring Hall of Famers Cousy and Russell and coached by the irascible Red Auerbach compiled a string of six NBA championship seasons, many fans felt that professional basketball would be unsuccessful in achieving public support. In fact, in order to attract more fans, the early Celtics required their starting center to perform accordion solos during halftime.
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Cousy, with his flashy behind-the-back dribbles, no-look passes and spectacular mastery of the fast break, and Russell, with his prodigious rebounding and shot-blocking skills, made the Celtics virtually unbeatable for a decade.
This book belongs to Cousy, now 90, who gave Pomerantz 53 interviews during the past three years. He was remarkably candid as he reminisced about the people and events of his long life. Born to a French-speaking family who had immigrated to the United States, Cousy’s collegiate career at Holy Cross catapulted him into the national spotlight and then fame in the fledgling professional league. However, his Celtic teams were not successful until Russell, whose University of San Francisco teams had won two NCAA titles, arrived in Boston.
Russell, who would become a spokesman for the rights of black athletes during the social unrest of the 1960s, had a complicated relationship with Cousy, who was also a lifetime supporter of black causes.
The crux of the book addresses the regrets of an old man about doors which have already swung shut. Readers interested in either the history of the NBA or how individuals granted a long lifespan arrange their thoughts as they near the end should read this book.
Permit this reviewer a final picayune caveat for the author, who teaches journalism in the graduate program at Stanford University. Ted Williams did not make his final at bat against the Kansas City Athletics as the book states. As documented in John Updike’s famous essay, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” Williams’ home run at Fenway occurred against the Baltimore Orioles.
J. Kemper Campbell is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who was once given courtside tickets to a game at the old Boston Garden by the general manager of the Celtics. But that is a tale for another occasion.