by Thomas J. Whalen
Northeastern University Press, $26.95
This is an article from the Nov. 24, 2003 issue
The author, an assistant professor of social science at Boston
University, has written a book about the Boston Celtics that has
888 footnotes. Those little numbers at the end of seemingly every
other sentence can make it feel like a doctoral thesis, but don't
worry--once you get used to this academic tic, you can settle in
and enjoy this well-researched account of the most dominant team
in the history of professional sports.
Dynasty's End tells the story of Bill Russell's Celtics, who won
11 championships from 1957 through '69, and it focuses
particularly on the Celts' last hurrah, the '68-69 season. Whalen
has read just about everything available on the subject--in his
bibliography he cites 101 books, not only on the Celtics but also
about key opponents such as the New York Knicks, the Los Angeles
Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers. His effort pays off in
compelling portraits of both the players and the era that brim
with colorful detail.
For instance, the author's profile of John Havlicek describes how
the renowned sixth man tried out for the Cleveland Browns in 1962
before giving up football and joining the Celtics later that
year. The section on Russell's nemesis, Wilt Chamberlain,
recounts how a teenaged Wilt was coached by Red Auerbach in a
Catskills summer league--and how Auerbach told Chamberlain to go
to Harvard, thinking Boston would then obtain his territorial
rights. In discussing the '69 NBA Finals against the Lakers,
Whalen highlights the best lines by Jim Murray of the Los Angeles
Times about Jerry West, including, "His nose got broken more
often than the pole vault record."
Whalen also points out one of the forgotten ironies of the
Celtics' glory years--that relatively few people witnessed their
accomplishments. While Boston was winning eight straight titles
from 1959 through '66, the team drew an average of 6,783 fans a
game, less than half the Garden's capacity.
The author interviewed only six people for this book, and he did
not talk to Bill Russell. Instead, he relies on quotes from
newspaper interviews and Russell's three autobiographies to craft
his description of the book's hero. That is too bad because
Russell is so essential to the story--he was the Celtics'
player-coach in 1968-69, and when he retired after that season,
the team's championship run was finished. But if Whalen's book
has little that is new, it is still a worthwhile effort. If you
want a complete portrait of one of the great success stories in
team sports, you don't have to read 101 books. Thanks to Whalen,
you only have to read one.