Bill Russell and Senior Editor Jerry Tax have been friends since February of 1958, when Tax interviewed Russell for one of the earlier articles we published about him. The interview was a success in two ways: they got along very well together, and Russell has often said that the subsequent article was as accurate and discerning as any that has been written. Over the years they have seen a great deal of each other and exchanged many confidences. It was no surprise when Russell told Tax some time ago what was on his mind (see pages 18-19).
"When we talked about it, that day and later," says Tax, "Bill hoped he could simply make a brief, casual announcement of his retirement and that people would quickly forget about it. He didn't want any fuss or ceremony or press conference; he dreaded any confusion about why he was leaving basketball. The most important thing to him was handling the matter in such a way that his former teammates would be happy to see him when he visited Boston Garden and the Celtics' locker room in the future. As he says in his low-key manner, his years and associations with the Celtics are very dear to him.
"When I offered him space in the magazine to announce his decision, he was surprised that we considered the subject of sufficient interest to do a full story on it and he really found it hard to believe we were serious about putting him on the cover. Still, what really pleased him was the opportunity to avoid any misinformation about his motives. As he put it, 'I suppose if I want it said right, I ought to say it myself.'
"Bill hates to toss around figures about money, but the fact is that he's passing up a quarter of a million dollars for this coming season with the Celtics, and his contract has options that would bring him a lot more. Anyone questioning his motives should consider those figures. What he's doing is quitting at what he's sure is the right time—for him and for the Celtics. Few great athletes have known when to quit—or have been sensible enough to quit when they knew they no longer had their former competitive drive. Money held them; money alone would not keep Bill playing or coaching basketball.
"Bill has always had a superb sense of humor—that explosive cackle of his shakes pictures off the walls—and he's been especially happy and relaxed since he made up his mind about leaving. He tools around town—too fast—in his Lamborghini, plays golf and plans his future, secure in the knowledge that he's made the right decision. His place in the affections of those millions who have received so much pleasure from his performances is also secure. When we were planning our Sportsman of the Year article about him last December, I asked many of his former and current teammates how they thought Bill had contributed to or enhanced the famous Celtic tradition. Frank Ramsey's answer best describes Bill's place in sport. 'Before he came to Boston, there was no Celtic tradition,' said Frank. 'Hell, he is the Celtic tradition.' "
TAX AND RUSSELL TALK IT OVER