Former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell (left) signs copies of his new book, “Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend,” for waiting fans at Costco Wholesale in Waltham, Mass., on Saturday, May 9, 2009. (Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. photo)
WALTHAM — Boston Celtics great Bill Russell stopped by Costco Wholesale last Saturday afternoon to greet fans and sign copies of his new book, “Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend.”
The book chronicles the relationship between Russell and legendary Celtics coach Arnold Jacob “Red” Auerbach, and how the two of them worked together to orchestrate one of the greatest runs in professional sports history.
Russell, 75, played his entire career for the Celtics. Auerbach coached him from 1957 to 1966 before retiring to head the team’s front office and naming Russell to replace him as player-coach from 1966 to 1969. Under their leadership, the Celtics won 11 NBA titles in a 13-year span.
“Red and Me” also details the friendship the two men established during a racially explosive time and despite their obvious cultural differences — Auerbach was a short, fiery Brooklyn-born descendent of Russian Jews, while Russell was a towering native of strictly segregated West Monroe, La.
“We’re from two different tribes,” said Russell.
According to Russell, he has been working on the book since he retired. His daughter, Karen, said the process actually started a lot earlier than that.
“We’ve been hearing Red stories forever,” she said. “When Red passed, it crystallized his desire to share those stories.”
Auerbach died Oct. 28, 2006, of a heart attack. At the time, Russell had little to say about the loss in public. Two and a half years later, Russell said he is ready to speak about his friendship with Auerbach, and hopes his book will show how close he and Auerbach were, as well as highlight the way they interacted and worked together to dominate the NBA in the 1960s.
Karen Russell said that Auerbach treated her father with a level of respect that was unheard of at the time. In fact, after stepping down as coach of the Celtics to become the team’s general manager before the 1966-1967 season, Auerbach tapped Russell to be his successor, making him the first black coach in league history.
“He never received that kind of respect from his prior coaches,” she said. “To be treated as a peer was revolutionary.”
“Red and Me” was released last Tuesday, and Russell started his promotional tour last Friday, signing books for Celtics season ticket holders in the morning and then for fans at Barnes & Noble in the Prudential Center — including one for Mayor Thomas M. Menino, according to Stuart Layne, Russell’s friend and president of Seven2 Sports Marketing.
At the Waltham event, which drew a crowd of approximately 200 people, Russell signed books, posed for pictures and spoke with fans about what this year’s Celtics need to do to win their second-round playoff series against the Orlando Magic.
“They need K.G.!” Russell said, then added: “They need to just go out and play.”
Peter Toporzycki, a 20-year-old Boston College student and fan of Russell, spoke highly of the Hall-of-Famer’s dedication to the game and the city of Boston, as well as the high level of class Russell displayed during an era where black players were not treated well.
Toporzycki had three books signed and took a picture with Russell.
“My heart stopped when I shook his hand,” Toporzycki said.