“The Boston Celtics are an old team,” declared Sports Illustrated in March 1963. “Tired blood courses through their varicose veins.”
The Celtics, of course, went on to win their sixth title that spring and they added five more over the next six seasons. But SI’s underestimation of Boston’s strength had some basis in fact. Bob Cousy had announced that he would retire after the 1962-63 season. Observers viewed his departure as a major loss to the Celtics, but coach Red Auerbach wasn’t losing any sleep.
The previous spring, he had drafted John Havlicek out of Ohio State. Auerbach had never seen Havlicek play until camp that summer. “I remember I was stunned,” Auerbach later told reporters. “All I could think of was, ‘Ohh. Have I got something here? Are they going to think I’m smart.'”
But Havlicek was just one of several new faces. Later Auerbach added Don Nelson, Bailey Howell and several more key pieces to the puzzle. Plus, Cousy’s departure meant that the Jones duo, K.C. and Sam, became a larger factor. Most importantly, however, the Celtics still had Bill Russell, “the most dominating individual who ever played a team sport,” according to Los Angeles Lakers coach Fred Schaus.
With the incredible Russell as linchpin, the team adjusted to the personnel changes without a hitch. The coach and center had come to dominate the NBA, and Auerbach toasted each victory with a cigar. “At first I didn’t like Red Auerbach,” a rival NBA coach once said. “But in time I grew to hate him.”
All this controversy didn’t translate into a crowd at the gate. If anything, the Celtics were too efficient, too businesslike in the dispatching of their foes. Regular-season attendance dropped to 6,800 per game. “Once we started to win, we almost did it too easily,” agreed Cousy.