The house that Russell built: Bill Russell, the University of San Francisco, and the winning streak that changed college basketball.
During this period, they transformed from anonymous underachievers in a weak-sister conference into the titans of college basketball, effecting fundamental change and infiltrating the consciousness of the sporting world. A snapshot of big-time college basketball before the streak revealed white players focused upon deliberate, earthbound offensive patterns. After the streak, that picture illustrated a racially integrated unit whose players placed a premium on speed, aggressive defense, and the control of not just horizontal but vertical space.
USF delivered to the sport a truly national profile, a more dynamic style of play, and players who rewrote its cultural meaning. This sea change resulted from a host of historical and social factors: the nation's evolving stance on race relations in the 1950s, the Bay Area's relative racial liberalism, USF's Jesuit mission, a courageous coaching staff, and a band of black and white athletes who embraced their team's goals and its consequences. But if one man was the avatar of this transformation, it was Bill Russell. (1)
Russell's USF experiences shaped the future as well. As a star with the NBA's Boston Celtics, Russell grew into a figure of controversy. His outspokenness against racism and militant public persona challenged the myth that sport fosters racial democracy. At USF he seemed the opposite, projecting an enthusiastic, optimistic liberalism. But the Dons' integrationist pioneering exposed the team to both crude and subtle racism, planting the seeds of Russell's future ideology. (2)
William Felton Russell lacked coordination and confidence as a young teenager. His basketball skills developed slowly. At McClymonds High School in Oakland, he progressed from third-string junior varsity center to varsity benchwarmer to starting center. After graduating in January 1952, in the middle of basketball season, he joined a traveling squad of "split-year" graduates. That winter his game flourished. Though friendly and funny, Russell was also an introvert and an intellectual, and only during that tour did he learn how to study other players, how to craft new methods of aggressive and airborne defense, how to find beauty in the sport's little details. By another stroke of luck, USF scout Hal DeJulio had seen one of Russell's high school games, and when he invited him to a campus workout, Coach Phil Woolpert marveled at his timing, leaping ability, and sense of inner confidence. "But he was so ungainly," the coach added. (3)
In September 1952, the eighteen-year-old freshman trekked across the Bay Bridge on a basketball scholarship to USF. Though only fifteen miles from his West Oakland home, USF was an alien universe. Russell was from a bleak, working-class neighborhood and had attended school with overwhelmingly black majorities. Now he lived on a campus tucked atop a hill north of Fulton Street and just east of Golden Gate Park with a mostly white student population. While some Hispanics and Filipinos dotted the sea of white faces, Russell and fellow basketball recruit Hal Perry represented the entire black population of the freshman class. Like all incoming first-years, Russell wore an initiation sweater, performed tasks for upperclassmen, and donned a "dink" hat until the Freshman Smoker at the end of September. Tall and black, he stuck out; the student newspaper, featuring him in its first issue, labeled him "a potential Globetrotter." (4)
At USF, Russell received an education not only in Jesuit logic and principles, but also in basketball. During his first official practice, he could not perform a warm-up calisthenics of walking while squatting. Some teammates grumbled that Woolpert had wasted a scholarship on an awkward freak. But freshman team coach Ross Giudice nurtured his new center's development, patiently teaching him the fundamentals. Russell also drove his own progress in late-night gym sessions. He possessed a deep desire to excel and a strong self-confidence. (5)
If Giudice cultivated Russell's physical skills, K. C. Jones broadened his basketball intelligence. Jones, who had earned a basketball scholarship to USF one year before Russell, may have been the most popular student on campus. "He was so nice, and so quiet," remembered teammate Mike Preaseau. "But what a leader!" Both on and off the court, Jones related to people with a certain moral clarity. Out of shyness, however, he barely spoke to Russell for a month. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, they began to talk about basketball, their mutual intellectual passion. They analyzed it as "a game of geometry--of lines, points, and distances." Rebounding relied on controlling space. Defense was an action rather than a reaction, an attack upon an opponent's comfort zone. Russell had always considered his basketball development an individual journey, but the more he talked to Jones, the more he saw the game as a team enterprise, a series of collective contingencies and adjustments. (6)
Russell and Jones shared not only an analytical bent, but also an anomalous status. In the mid1950s, only about 10 percent of basketball programs at predominantly white schools recruited black players. "You could count the number of black players on West Coast teams on the fingers of one hand," remembered Coach Pete Newell. Yet, as universities recognized the financial potential in sports, they began to view black athletes as valuable resources. Ollie Matson and Burl Toler had starred for an undefeated USF football squad in 1951, but after that season the program was dropped for financial reasons. Like urban Catholic schools across the country, USF found a more lucrative public profile in basketball: the university could offer fewer scholarships and more games. In 1949, Newell had coached USF to the National Invitational Tournament championship. A team that included Ross Giudice and Hal DeJulio entered as 20-1 underdogs, only to charm the New York crowd with a series of dramatic upsets culminating in a title victory over Loyola. (7)
In 1950, Phil Woolpert took over for Newell. A former prison guard, social worker, and army veteran, Woolpert had been coaching the USF freshmen and the varsity at St. Ignatius High School, a prep school with strong ties to the university. This twitchy, sharp-witted chain-smoker with a long, angular face and a thin mustache bared his anxieties on the surface. "Phil would make coffee nervous," remarked former player Mike Farmer. Before games, Woolpert suffered from facial tics and a roiling stomach. With a gentle soul and an intellectual's sense of self-awareness, he fretted about the pressures of his job and worried about his own coaching abilities. In his first three years, the team went 31-42. Alumni openly bellyached. One called him "a lousy coach" to his face. Woolpert almost quit. (8)
But Woolpert was engineering the resurgence of USF basketball, unearthing gems others failed to mine--especially African Americans. Depending on volunteer scouts like DeJulio, he recruited throughout northern California. He embraced racial liberalism well before his contemporaries, learning from a politically forthright father and a childhood in an integrated Los Angeles neighborhood. He also operated in a relatively tolerant context. The Bay Area's racially liberal reputation diffused potential objections to recruiting black players. USF, a school of only about 1,100 full-time students--and without a symbolic status akin to a large state university--could incorporate black players without much public ado. The Jesuit mission, moreover, emphasized democratic values grounded in the Gospels, advocating principles of individual rights, social conscience, and racial tolerance. Still, prior to 1951 only one African American, Carl Lawson, had played for USF.
By recruiting Jones, Russell, and Perry--the core of his greatest teams--Woolpert deserves credit as a pioneering figure in the integration of college basketball. (9)
Yet, during the 1952-53 season, Woolpert's squad languished in mediocrity, finishing 11-12 overall and 6-2 in the newly formed California Basketball Association (CBA), forerunner of the West Coast Conference (WCC). With Russell averaging twenty points a game, the freshman team offered hope of a promising future, going 19-4. In one tournament with the Olympic Club, a team with various college and AAU All-Americans, Russell blocked numerous shots, scored twenty-five points, and won the "Most Promising Player" award. He displayed this same athletic promise in track and field, high-jumping 6 feet 4 inches as a freshman and 6 feet 7 inches the next year. "There's the man who could be the first to clear seven feet," marveled a rival coach. (10)
How would Russell's extraordinary gifts translate against elite basketball talent? Rampant speculation accompanied his varsity debut in Kezar Pavilion on December 1, 1953, against the University of California. Cal's All-America center Bob McKeen stood 6 feet 7 inches, weighed 225 pounds, and combined rugged pivot play with a deft shooting touch. Many figured that he would outsmart and outmuscle the skinny sophomore. An overflow crowd watched McKeen try a hook from the right wing. Russell swatted it into the third row. "Ooooooooooh," the crowd hummed. Russell scored twenty-three points and blocked twelve more shots. The San Francisco Chronicle conjectured that this "aerial with arms" would become one of the Bay Area's all-time basketball greats. The Dons won 51-33 and the team looked like a contender for the CBA championship. (11)
But USF's 1953-54 campaign never fulfilled the promise of that idyllic debut. The next night, in the locker room at Fresno State, Jones's appendix burst. Jones spent four days unconscious, barely sidestepping death. Weak and twenty-five pounds lighter, he missed the rest of the season. As USF finished 14-7, Woolpert was criticized for guiding a team of underachievers. (12)
Although Russell garnered individual accomplishments--making various regional all-star teams, averaging a team-high 19.8 points and 18.8 rebounds a game--the Dons failed to become real winners. The older players refused to accept the African Americans. "We ran into the racial issue," admitted Hal Perry. "They didn't see the need to have us in the school." According to Perry, Carl Lawson already had been driven off the team by prejudiced, resentful white players. Although Perry hated such treatment, he adjusted better than Russell, having grown up among mostly whites in the northern California timberlands of Ukiah--in stark contrast to Russell's predominantly black West Oakland neighborhood. Russell, ultra-sensitive to slights, bubbled with indignation, even punching an upperclassman who called him a cruel nickname. Looking back, he blamed both himself and his teammates; none had possessed the fortitude to challenge the team's culture. Riddled by personal jealousies, the Dons never became greater than the sum of their parts. (13)
Moreover, Russell butted heads with his coach. For all his self-driven improvement, he loafed through practices. "He was a lazy player," recalled Woolpert. "I kicked him out of the gym many, many times." They also clashed over playing style. While Russell envisioned new possibilities in his airborne, shot-blocking defensive style, Woolpert taught conventional defensive philosophies geared to slower, stouter centers. When Russell jumped to block shots, Woolpert admonished him. Both men possessed complex, fervent personalities. Both mapped new directions for college basketball. Both recognized the importance of their partnership, one bound by admiration and respect. Yet neither satisfied the other. (14)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
By the start of the 1954-55 season, Russell stood almost 6 feet 10 inches. He possessed a decent hook shot, moved around the post when denied entry passes, and no longer took unnecessary dribbles. He also could back down his defender, crouch low, and spring for a two-handed, back-to-the-basket dunk. "His shooting eye has improved, his timing is better, and his floor play savvy has shown up as well," marveled one reporter after the season opener, a steamrolling of Chico State. Russell scored thirty-nine points, a school record. When the Dons next beat Loyola 54-45, the opposing coach guessed that Russell blocked twenty shots. (15)
Despite these gains, most sportswriters and fans had no expectations of the University of San Francisco, and they knew nothing about Bill Russell. Although fan interest in the Bay Area was growing and the CBA had signed its first local television contract, West Coast basketball suffered from a marginal national profile. Dismissing the Pacific Coast, the region's main conference, Sports Illustrated predicted only UCLA in the Top Ten and listed only Ken Sears of Santa Clara and Bob McKeen of California among seventeen Players to Watch. (16)
Even the Dons could not imagine national glory. Before the third game of the season at UCLA, Jones recalled, "We went in there expecting to be beaten by twenty or twenty-five." The Bruins had crushed Santa Clara--favored for the CBA title--by forty points. But the Dons provided more of a challenge. Russell looked impressive throughout the tight defensive struggle. UCLA coach John Wooden said that Russell played better defense than any center he had ever seen. When UCLA defeated USF by only seven points, 47-40, the Dons knew they could compete against any team in the country. (17)
The team now possessed the chemistry it had lacked the previous year, thanks especially to an implicit ethic of racial cooperation. Two days before the opening home weekend against Oregon State and UCLA, a white guard named Bill Bush made an announcement in the locker room. "I'm first string," he said. "But I believe if you put Hal Perry in my spot we will be a better team." A 5-foot 7-inch buzzsaw, Perry was a quick dribbler and fine shooter with an expansive, engaging personality. In high school, his white peers had elected him president of both the senior class and the entire student body. He had starred in track, football, baseball, and basketball. He also studied philosophy, drilled himself on new vocabulary, quoted Shakespeare and the Bible, and played six instruments. Like Russell and Jones, he lent the Dons an element of black achievement and leadership. (18)
Bush's selfless suggestion fostered a new team harmony. USF was now a faster, more aggressive team. Jones and Perry pressured their opposing guards from at least half-court, and Russell loomed behind them to block and rebound shots. Russell keyed fast breaks with smart outlet passes, and in the half-court the team ran Woolpert's pattern offense. Jerry Mullen supplied extra scoring punch. After crushing Oregon State, USF avenged its loss to UCLA, triumphing 56-44. The Bruins did not score a field goal for the first ten minutes of the game. Russell sped around and leaped over Willie Naulls for twenty-eight points. (19)
The insertion of Perry into the starting lineup along with Russell and Jones had political as well as athletic consequences. By the 1950s, African Americans were placing their cultural stamp on basketball. Over 60 percent of black people lived in cities, and basketball fit the space and temperament of urban life. Especially on outdoor courts, the sport adopted a more experimental flair, with audacious jump shots and flamboyant dribble drives. "It was a learning process on the playground, picking up different things you didn't learn being coached in the YMCA," recalled Pop Gates, a black professional of the 1940s. These players delivered a distinctive black aesthetic, one based in improvisation, spectacular athleticism, and individual elan. (20)
Moreover, although San Francisco possessed a reputation for racial tolerance, Russell, Jones, and Perry represented a black invasion onto historically white territory. No major college program in the country started three blacks--and few had anything more than token integration. When a fourth African American, Warren Baxter, came off the bench, the on-court majority violated many whites' sense of propriety. According to Perry, the local Catholic high schools had already objected that Woolpert gave scholarships to blacks instead of their students. For all the racial enlightenment of a Jesuit school in San Francisco, black players endured more barriers and higher expectations. (21)
When the team started winning games with black players, it exposed the public's racist resentment. Woolpert received hate mail. Though some players do not recall hearing racist jibes, backup center Tom Nelson remembers virulent race-baiting from fans throughout northern California, even at Santa Clara, another Jesuit school just forty-five miles away. Nelson also faced teasing in his home town of San Mateo from high school friends who considered the team's racial mixing abominable. Even some USF students delivered nasty cracks. Alumni publicly complained. "They are scarcely representative of the school," said one. Sticking to his liberal principles, Woolpert played the best team regardless of skin color. Anyone who voiced such bigotry, he suggested, "is not representative of this school either." (22)
A trip to the Oklahoma City All-College Tourney cemented the Dons' racial significance and athletic excellence. Upon arrival, the team learned that the downtown hotels excluded blacks. At a players-only meeting, Perry suggested that they stay together in university dormitories vacated during the Christmas break. His white teammate Rudy Zannini seconded the idea. In their own way, the Dons let race unite rather than divide them. During practice, local fans threw coins at them, as if they were a circus act. Russell erected a defense of dignity and humor. He scooped up the coins. "Coach," he asked Woolpert, "can you hold these for me?" USF then destroyed Wichita State, Oklahoma City, and George Washington. Seeded eighth out of eight teams, the Dons won the tournament, and Russell was voted MVP. (23)
Though now ranked fifth in the country, this emerging powerhouse team operated on a shoe-string budget. With no on-campus gymnasium, the Dons practiced at St. Ignatius or the San Francisco Boys Club. Kezar Pavilion--a smallish, squalid structure with seats obscured by rusting steel beams--hosted most home games. The players sometimes took private cars to nearby games and scrimped however possible on longer trips. According to legend, the manager once hid in the bathroom while the train conductor collected tickets. (24)
By early January 1955, USF's winning streak had reached ten games, including wins against San Diego State, St. Mary's, San Jose State, Santa Clara, and the College of the Pacific. The Dons won games even when shooting poorly, because their defense never slumped. After a late January twin bill against Stanford and California, they ranked second in the country. The Stanford game drew 13,824 customers to the Cow Palace, the largest audience in the history of West Coast college basketball. (25)
"Just How Good Is Bill Russell?" asked one headline. Radio broadcaster Cat Wooden earlier had opined that "USF is simply a one-man team and that man--Bill Russell--is not tremendous." But Russell had since prompted comparisons to the West Coast's two All-American big men, Bob McKeen and Ken Sears. He lacked their shooting, dribbling, and passing skills, and he looked nothing like a conventional pivotman. He ran hunched over, and his body remained pathetically skinny--all arms and legs, elbows and knees. Yet no one had a bigger impact on his team or, ultimately, the sport. (26)
"Don't leave your feet should your opponent set himself for an outside shot," declared one contemporary basketball manual. "Your opponent may fake the shot and drive in for a basket. Furthermore, a guard who has leaped into the air will be in no position to turn to help on the defensive rebounding if the drive-in shot has been missed." But Russell jumped, reached, and swatted away shots. He turned the blocked shot into a primary weapon, succeeding through relentless athleticism. In the Stanford game, for example, Russell leaped at a Russ Lawler fake. Lawler drove left in three long strides, stopped, and hooked. In that time Russell had landed, sprinted back, and sprung so high that his chin reached rim height. The shot came right back at Lawler's face. Though still relatively unknown throughout the nation, Russell was earning a reputation among West Coast coaches as the greatest defensive player in basketball. (27)
USF swept through its conference schedule and finished the regular season 23-1. The Dons allowed only 52.1 points a game, the fewest in the country, and ranked first in the country. Averaging 21.4 points and 20.5 rebounds a game, Russell made first-team All-America for both the United Press and Associated Press squads. No other West Coast player made either team, except Ken Sears, who made third team for the United Press. Yet local writers named Sears Player of the Year for both the CBA and all of northern California. (28)
Russell burned with hurt. He blamed Woolpert. Santa Clara coach Bob Feerick had lobbied for Sears, while Woolpert had withheld public praise. He knew Russell's ego, clashed with him over playing style and practice habits, and feared elevating an individual at the team's expense. Russell saw a racial double standard. He already resented that Woolpert had appointed Jerry Mullen to captain when the players would have voted for K. C. Jones. Now he threatened to skip an awards banquet for Sears. "Bill, that'll demean you as a man," warned Woolpert. "That's beneath you." In the end, Russell swallowed his bile and gave Sears a laudatory speech. (29)
Russell's reaction revealed the developing complexities of his politics. His warm, gracious speech for Sears suggests how he understood himself as a public representative of his team, school, and African Americans as a whole. He nevertheless chafed at Woolpert, the most openly liberal coach in major college basketball. While Woolpert recruited and played African Americans despite alumni pressure, racist taunts, and hate mail, Russell saw racism beyond crude epithets and "White Only" signs. Out of some combination of sensitivity and intelligence, his bitterness festered not just when bigots launched pennies at him, not just at the cries of "nigger" or "baboon," but when race clouded the eyes of even well-meaning whites.
AN UNLIKELY CENTERPIECE
The Dons entered the NCAA tournament as the top-ranked team in the country, but throughout their title run they overcame internal hardships and external doubts. USF first hosted Border Conference champions West Texas State, which employed intimidation tactics. With the score 2-2, a West Texas defender undercut a leaping Russell, who spun in mid-air and landed on his back with his leg folded under him. The crowd hushed for an uncertain moment. Russell picked himself up, gently. Later, with the score 8-8, another defender crashed into the airborne center. This time the referee assessed a technical foul, the crowd booed, and USF got angry. Russell notched ten straight first-half field goals and the Dons won 89-66. (30)
In Corvallis, Oregon, for the Western Regional, the Dons played fourth-ranked Utah. They led 41-20 at halftime, but in the locker room, Russell started hacking coughs and spitting up blood. A local doctor determined that he could not play. Five minutes into the second half, Utah had cut the lead to eight points. Russell insisted that he felt fine and pleaded to return to the game. Still, Woolpert refused to endanger his health. Then a USF alumnus stormed over to the bench, demanding that Russell get a second opinion from a San Francisco doctor he had found in the stands. The new doctor cleared him to play. Now Jones and Perry could press the Utah guards, knowing their defensive lynchpin stood behind them. The Dons won 78-59. (31)
USF next faced Oregon State on its home court. Russell and the Beavers' 7-foot 3-inch Swede Halbrook dueled magnificently in a dramatic, wire-to-wire game. Oregon State played almost perfectly, biting at USF's heels the whole game. Down 56-49 with one minute left, they narrowed the score to 57-55. Then, while running to the sideline, Jones accidentally barreled into Oregon State's Jim O'Toole. The referee awarded a technical. With seconds left, the lead shrunk to one point, and Oregon State had the ball. Jones redeemed himself twice, first by tying up Halbrook in a scramble for a rebound and then by somehow guiding the ensuing jump ball toward Perry, who dove under a scrum as the final whistle sounded. The Dons won 57-56. (32)
The season climaxed with the NCAA Finals in Kansas City. In the semifinal, USF played Colorado, the rugged champions of the Big Seven. "Shake Russell and Roll!" chanted the Colorado fans, but it was Russell who shook Colorado and the Dons who rolled. Center Burdette Halderson, overwhelmed by Russell, fouled out with the score 30-21. USF never looked back. When Jones whipped a no-look pass to Russell, who stepped under the hoop and thundered down a two-fisted reverse slam dunk, the crowd at Municipal Auditorium roared. "Did you ever see that before?" asked a midwesterner on press row. "No," answered an awed East Coast reporter. The Dons won 62-50. (33)
The victory set up a dream final against defending champion LaSalle, led by Tom Gola. To the sporting cognoscenti, Gola embodied basketball perfection. The white, 6-foot 7-inch forward could pass, dribble, shoot, defend, and rebound with equal aplomb. He had won MVP in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments. Granted freshman eligibility by the NCAA, he made All-America for four straight years. He also listened to his coach, loved his mother, and acted nice to schoolchildren. Because Cola played in basketball-mad Philadelphia, near the nation's media center, reporters fawned over him with dreamy reverence. Now the papers trumpeted "A Gola-Russell Duel." (34)
Coach Woolpert had planned to assign Russell to guard Gola, but he decided in favor of Jones, freeing Russell to rebound and block shots. Though Jones gave up six inches, he hounded Gola, shadowing him chest-to-chest, nose-to-nose, up and down the court, jabbing and poking the ball. The LaSalle star never established a rhythm, finishing with sixteen points. Jones notched twenty-four points and Russell added twenty-three, mostly on perfectly timed aerial twists to guide in errant shots. The capacity crowd of 10,500 grew more amazed with each display of Russell's agility. The Dons coasted to a 77-63 win. When the buzzer sounded, Russell's teammates and fans swamped him, lifted him to their shoulders, and carried him off like a victorious gladiator. (35)
"I've never seen anything like this team," said longtime Pittsburgh coach Doc Carlson. "They make you grope for words." Coaches across the country echoed him. USF won the national championship, finished the season 28-1, and owned a twenty-six-game winning streak. An enthusiastic throng of fans greeted the team's plane in San Francisco, and they rode a triumphant ticker tape from campus to City Hall. (36)
Russell had set a five-game tourney mark with 118 points, won the tournament MVP award, and captured the Helms Athletic Foundation award for the nation's best player. "Russell does things on offense that could revolutionize the game," marveled Columbia coach Lou Rossini. "A lot of us coaches came away with a new concept of basketball and with mental notes on how to coach our own big men to play as nearly like Russell as they can." USF's success had stemmed not only from Russell's springy legs and elongated arms, but also from his flights of intellect: his analytical approach to the game, his passionate discourses with K. C. Jones, and his creative imaginings of his own possibilities. By weaving his individual virtuosity into the fabric of team excellence, he had become the unlikely centerpiece to the greatest team in college basketball. (37)
THE NEW BASKETBALL GOSPEL
The 1955 national championship may have surprised the team, but the Dons expected a successful title defense in 1956. Preseason polls ranked USF first in the country. The school scheduled high-profile tournaments in Chicago and New York. Although forwards Jerry Mullen and Stan Buchanan had graduated, Woolpert upgraded the position with Carl Boldt and Mike Farmer. The CBA awarded Jones an extra year of eligibility after his one-game season in 1953-54, so he and Perry constituted one of the best backcourts in the country. Russell, of course, headed the list of preseason All-Americans. (38)
Nothing about three opening games at Kezar Pavilion dispelled the early expectations. Decked in modish new warm-ups with gold capes, USF stretched its winning streak to twenty-nine games by dismantling Chico State, USC, and San Francisco State. Russell averaged nearly a point per minute played, as Woolpert pulled him out halfway through each rout. The center further delighted the hometown fans with effortless swats. "It was like a big boy playing keep-away with small boys," marveled Sports Illustrated after the USC game. (39)
Now the team began a long cross-country tour, starting in Chicago for the DePaul Invitational Tournament. The Dons beat Marquette, setting up a final with the host team. Over 11,000 DePaul fans left disappointed--or maybe awestruck--as USF crushed DePaul, 82-59. The Dons had even more speed, shooting ability, and depth than last year's team. "They could name the score against any college team in the country," said one coach. Russell led the way, blocking about fifteen shots and winning the tournament MVP. (40)
DePaul coach Ray Meyer compared Russell to his former player George Mikan. The tall, begoggled star of the Minneapolis Lakers had established the prevailing definition of the pivotman, relying on low-post bulk and close-range touch. Meyer conceded that Russell's defense allowed USF to pester every ball handler and challenge every shot. But Meyer remained wedded to the conventional perception of the center position, embodied by his former meal ticket. "I think Mikan was easier to hit on the post," he said. "He backed his defensive man under the basket and always had such good position." To traditionalists like Meyer, Russell remained an anomaly, not the herald of a stylistic transformation. (41)
The Dons next spread their basketball gospel in Wichita, Kansas. As USF won 75-65, 10,500 Wichita fans booed Russell and Perry when they shot free throws. The crowd's reaction had a racist tinge. After the game, Wichita coach Ralph Miller apologized to Woolpert for the fans' behavior. Thanks to the 1955 championship, the Dons' national reputation was growing, and their black stars promoted the team's positive association with racial integration. (42)
USF now had five black players. To Russell, Jones, Perry, and Baxter, the team added Eugene Brown, a 6-foot 3-inch sophomore with superb all-around skills. As a freshman Brown had excelled at forward, but now he substituted in at guard. Many teammates believed that he deserved to start at forward. But if Brown took a forward slot, the Dons would start four African Americans. So Brown backed up Jones and Perry, even during away games. Looking back, some USF players believed that for all the school's racial pioneering, starting Brown as forward pushed the taboo too far. (43)
The Dons nevertheless upset the racial patterns of college sport, especially as their road trip continued south into Louisiana for a December 23 game against Loyola University of New Orleans. After the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Deep South's resistance to integration had hardened. College sports proved a popular battlefront. The upcoming Sugar Bowl in New Orleans slated all-white Georgia Tech against the University of Pittsburgh and its black backup fullback. "The South stands at Armageddon," thundered Georgia governor Marvin Griffin. "There is no more difference in compromising the integrity of race on the playing field than doing so in the classroom." Soon after, the Georgia Board of Regents restricted state schools from future bowl games against integrated competition, and Louisiana outlawed interracial athletics. (44)
At the time, however, Loyola's teams competed against black athletes, and the field house had integrated seating. A Jesuit institution like USF, Loyola was trying to promote racial tolerance. USF scheduled the game not only to aid its fellow institution, but to further progress. "I guess it was something of a small crusade on our part," said Woolpert. Unfortunately, as USF was beating Wichita, Loyola was hosting Bradley University. When Bradley's black forward Shellie McMillon fouled out, the Loyola band played "Dixie" and fans shouted "Bye Bye Blackbird!" One report claimed that McMillon responded by sticking out his tongue. Others remember that he stuck out his middle finger. Clearly, a game in the Deep South subjected black athletes to enormous pressures, and any misstep might deliver bad publicity. (45)
USF's black players now faced that challenge. "We got off the plane and saw the restroom signs for 'white' and 'colored,'" recalled Jones. "That shook some of the guys up." Unlike the previous year in Oklahoma, they were given no option to stay together. While the white players and coaches stayed at the downtown Jung Hotel, the black players lodged at Xavier University, a historically black private college. Everyone seemed edgy, especially Russell. He hated any acquiescence to segregation, but the team had arrived in Louisiana to foster racial goodwill. When a local black restaurant owner threw a banquet, each player gave a short speech. As his teammates spoke, Russell furiously scribbled notes. He stood up last. Stone-faced, he surveyed his teammates, the locals, and the media. The room got quiet. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "the greatest place to be from in America is New Orleans." He delivered a deft, warmhearted speech, neutralizing the tension in the name of racial harmony. (46)
During the game itself, the spirit of liberal tolerance clashed with the context of racial bigotry. Loyola and USF officials expressed confidence that no controversies would mar the game, and the black players drew polite ovations during pre-game introductions. At the tip-off, however, the referee boorishly mimicked a black dialect, right in front of Russell. During the game, fans taunted the black players. Again, Russell calmed the bubbling pot. After grabbing a rebound as two Loyola players crashed to the floor, Russell dropped the ball and lent his white opponents a hand. The crowd cheered. During USF's 61-43 win, Woolpert played Russell, Jones, Perry, Baxter, and Brown together. He rarely played even four blacks together, but now the all-black team took a poke at Jim Crow. (47)
Upon solidifying their credentials as emblems of racial integration, the Dons next buttressed their athletic reputation. The previous season, they had emerged from anonymity by winning the NCAA title. Now their winning streak reached thirty-three games. Yet they never played east of the Mississippi River, and the NCAA tournament was not televised until 1963. So cynics remained, especially New York fans, who had seen all the greats but never this skinny, black center that must have caught Tom Gola on an off night. Although USF had its pick of post-Christmas tournaments, the Dons chose the sport's biggest stage: Madison Square Garden. (48)
The Holiday Festival Tournament featured a host of college stars, but none generated more anticipation than Russell. When Russell stepped on the Garden floor against LaSalle, the crowd howled.
He could not dribble or pass like Gola. His loping style looked lazy. And he missed his first three shots, all from close range. The fans jeered him, teased him, and waved handkerchiefs when he took foul shots. But soon, observed Roy Terrell of Sports Illustrated, "The looks of doubt and derision changed into looks of incredulity and awe." True, he lacked a jump shot. True, he looked awkward. But who else could leave his man on the weak side perimeter, take two long strides, extend an antenna-like arm, and block a driving lay-up on the other side of the court? He also tallied twenty-six points and twenty-two rebounds, and USF won the game 79-62. "All the words they had read," Terrell wrote, "had not really prepared the crowd for Bill Russell." (49)
Russell still seemed an oddity to basketball purists. The media described his rail-thin frame, simian arms, and "turkey neck." Russell chafed at this sardonic tenor. "Don't you think I read the papers?" he said. "It's like knives. It hurts." He considered the disrespect racist. He drew extra motivation for the semi-final against Holy Cross, hyped in all the New York papers as a showdown between Russell and Tom Heinsohn, a white, 6-foot 7-inch, slick-shooting, media-celebrated bulldog. Heinsohn managed twelve points in an excellent first half, but Russell shut him down after halftime, finishing with twenty-four points and twenty-two rebounds in a 67-51 rout. The post-game assessment focused on Russell's superiority. Even Heinsohn agreed. "I didn't get my thirty, did I?" he growled to reporters in the locker room. (50)
The final against UCLA proved more a coronation than a contest, though it illustrated the shifts in college basketball embodied by Russell. Both teams hailed from the West Coast, and both featured African American stars. Russell's defense soared above the offensive talents of Willie Naulls. When Naulls faked, drove past Russell, and rose for a powerful two-hand dunk, Russell reached over the cylinder and blocked the ball, even though it never left Naulls's hands. UCLA coach John Wooden cried goaltending, but the amazing block "surprised everyone so much that no one knew what to call." That play sparked a 70-53 USF win. Russell left the game to a huge ovation. In three games he had accumulated sixty-seven points and sixty-two rebounds. He won the MVP award, his fifth consecutive tournament honor. (51)
Joe Lapchick, a thirty-five-year veteran of competitive basketball, called USF "the best college basketball team I have ever seen." Some teams had better shooters, but none played defense like the Dons. "That's because no team ever had a player like Bill Russell," he explained. USF had won seven games in sixteen days on the road, stretching their winning streak to thirty-six games. As the calendar turned to 1956, Russell and the Dons returned to California. They faced not only their conference schedule, but also the burden of basketball history. (52)
From 1935 to 1937 Long Island University set an NCAA record with thirty-nine consecutive wins. Seton Hall tied the mark from 1939 to 1941. After opening its CBA schedule with easy wins over Pepperdine, Santa Clara, and Fresno State, USF shared the record. But winning delivered new tensions. (53)
"I never, ever experienced pressure like I did during the streak," Russell later reflected. He was attracting national attention: photo essays in Life, Look, and Ebony, profiles in Time, the New York Times, and the Chicago Tribune. The black press breathlessly followed his exploits, and he became a Bay Area celebrity. Carl Boldt joked that if the team plane crashed, the headlines would read "Bill Russell Killed" and the back pages would list his teammates as "also dead." Russell resented it. "Lay off, Carl," he snapped. "Just remember, with me under the basket, your shots can be guided out as well as in." Woolpert had to call a team meeting to clear the air. (54)
More often, however, the constant winning smoothed over personality conflicts and ego trips. The team also created friendships across the racial divide. For instance, one night Jones took Mike Preaseau to a black nightclub. With the racial proportions reversed, Preaseau glimpsed the difficulties of life as an African American on the USF campus. In general, the players traded jokes, played poker, and shrugged off the pressures of the streak. Living by the cliche of "one game at a time," they often seemed preternaturally loose. "Luckily," Russell said, "we had players who were kinda hep." (55)
Despite his nip at Boldt, Russell set his team's character. "I was in awe of the guy," recalled Preaseau. "He knew who he was." Hal Perry recalled how Russell would insist on one-on-one games to test himself against a quick dribbler. Tom Nelson marveled at his sharp mind and verbal facility. Mike Farmer remembered him as intellectually curious and opinionated, but always deriving his conclusions after research and careful thought. He believed that the team players adopted Russell's personality: analyzing the game's larger patterns, studying their opponents, and taking confidence in their own abilities. "Don't ever do what you can't do," Russell said. "Just do what you can do--and do it well." (56)
Russell also created a public persona quite at odds with the scowling, militant posture that he later adopted. Phil Woolpert celebrated Russell as a "good citizen" who absorbed strong values from his father. His teammates found him affable and outgoing, "one of the boys." In front of crowds, he shone with charisma, making people laugh and feel at ease. As the streak wore on, national magazines published his self-effacing, team-oriented quotes. Basketball fans of every size and stripe shook his hand, got his autograph, and engaged in a smiling conversation. (57)
The local media painted Russell as proud, "with a deep sense of personal dignity," but also happy and humble. "I'm not as good on defense as people think," he said. "In fact, I am the worst defensive man on the team." This "aw-shucks" attitude conformed to what white America expected of its black athletes, but it also reflected Russell's personification of black achievement. In the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, these individual glories suggested new possibilities for African Americans. The Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier glowed with news of Russell's accomplishments. His team succeeded through interracial cooperation. More than any other figure in college basketball, Russell embodied a liberal optimism about American race relations. (58)
But anger simmered beneath, a low boil. Russell had suffered racist indignities and arrogant dismissals. When celebrated by Time and Sports Illustrated, he was described stereotypically as "a happy-go-lucky Oakland Negro" and "something of a clown." For all his achievements, race shackled his possibilities. That frustration, that rage, that pessimism helped drive his greatness. "I decided in college to win," he later said. "Then it's a historical fact, and nobody can take it away from me." (59)
On January 28, 1956, Russell and the Dons vied for an NCAA record forty straight wins. The game against the University of California, sold out since mid-December, riveted the region. Scalpers fetched $25 for $1.50 tickets. USF set the record, but only after the ugliest, weirdest game of their streak. The Dons shot 21 percent, and Cal 22 percent. In the second half, though his team trailed 26-21, Cal coach Pete Newell ordered substitute Joe Hagler to hold the ball on the perimeter. For over eight minutes, Hagler froze the game, looking forlorn while enduring the crowd's hoots. Jones and Boldt held quiet conversations with their Cal counterparts. Some players sat on the floor. Hal Perry shadowboxed a little, trying to stay loose. Finally, with six minutes left, Cal tried a shot. It missed. USF won the grim, slogging affair 33-24. (60)
The Dons now tore through their conference schedule. No games were even close, thanks in part to their burgeoning reputation. "We were a great team," Russell recalled, "but once we got this terrible 'unbeatable' monster idea loose, all we had to do a lot of times was show up at the gym and we had the game won." The starters subbed out early in most games, since Woolpert refused to run up the score. USF became the region's darlings. The Cow Palace set an attendance record of 14,297 for a January 31 dismantling of San Jose State, and it topped the record with 15,732 customers for a March 6 win over St. Mary's. (61)
As the streak stretched on, basketball historians unearthed new challenges. Seton Hall and Long Island University each had won four games against alumni teams and junior colleges during their strings, so some claimed that the record was forty-three wins. USF bested that mark against Fresno State on February 10. Next someone discovered that Kansas State Teachers College of Pittsburg won forty-seven straight games from 1929 to 1932. USF surpassed that record on February 28 against the College of the Pacific. Then it surfaced that Peru State Teachers College in Peru, Nebraska, won fifty-five consecutive games from 1922 to 1926. To match that unofficial mark, the Dons would have to win another NCAA championship. (62)
USF entered the tournament with impeccable credentials. Deemed a first team All-American by every major media outlet, Russell had averaged 20.5 points and twenty-one rebounds a game. K. C. Jones also won All-America honors, and Woolpert repeated as United Press Coach of the Year. The team had twenty-five wins and no losses. Some were already calling the Dons the best team in the history of college basketball. (63)
But a specter hung over the Dons all season: they would defend their NCAA championship without K. C. Jones. Although the California Basketball Association had granted Jones an extra year of eligibility after his appendix burst, the NCAA declared him ineligible for its postseason tournament. Jones's reputation had soared during the streak. The floor general and defensive sparkplug earned further respect for his quiet determination, level head, and friendly demeanor. "No man will miss K. C. during the tournament as much as I will," said Russell. They had formed a powerful partnership based on their cerebral approaches and complementary playing styles. Now, in this final act, Russell stood alone at center stage. (64)
As the Dons rode an overnight train to Corvallis to begin their NCAA title defense, doubts centered on the absence of K. C. Jones. But the players cited the talent of his replacement Eugene Brown, adding that the sophomore only needed confidence. Reporters asked how he felt about filling Jones's shoes. "Scared," Brown replied. (65)
USF opened against UCLA, the last team to beat the Dons. Led by Willie Naulls, the Bruins averaged eighty-three points a game. "UCLA can whip San Francisco without Jones on the floor," decreed Washington coach Tippy Dye. He was wrong. For the third time since that December 1954 loss, USF stifled UCLA. The Dons got a twenty-point lead and coasted to a 72-61 win. (66)
USF next faced Utah, another fast-breaking team. This game provided a sterner test, as Russell accumulated three fouls in the first half. Without Jones and fearful of fouling out, Russell "walked on eggs the rest of the way," allowing the Utes to maintain a breakneck pace. More than any previous game, the Dons relied on offensive firepower. They finally won 93-77, the most points they had scored and allowed all season. Russell netted fifty points in two games, winning the Regional's MVP award. Eugene Brown joined him on the All-Tourney team. (67)
Heading to the NCAA Finals in Evanston, Illinois, Woolpert's anxieties bubbled. He had not scouted Southern Methodist University, which boasted a nineteen-game winning streak and sweet-shooting center Jim Krebs. Russell had sprained a finger, and Brown suffered from an upset stomach and painful foot blisters. But after twelve minutes, USF led by twenty points and Woolpert substituted freely throughout the 86-68 victory. "San Francisco can beat any basketball team I know of," said SMU coach Doc Hayes. "San Francisco can beat the Russians." (68)
The next morning, before their final showdown against Iowa, Russell slept until eleven o'clock. He picked up a good-luck telegram from his girlfriend. Then he and his teammates lounged around the hotel, joking and laughing. On the ride to McGaw Memorial Hall they belted out songs to a rock and roll beat, changing the lyrics to tease their trainer. Even in the locker room, they jabbered and giggled until game time. A relaxed attitude had served them well throughout the streak, but as game time approached, Woolpert's stomach tied into ever-tighter knots. (69)
Those fears seemed realized in the opening minutes, when Iowa grabbed a 15-4 lead. The Hawkeyes scored on fast breaks and back-door cuts while their lone black player, a versatile forward named Carl "Sugar" Cain, amassed ten quick points on fake-right, go-left dribble drives. USF clearly missed K. C. Jones. "Nervous? No, I wasn't nervous," Russell recalled. "I was just flat scared." (70)
Yet one final time, Russell and the Dons submitted a bravura performance. Eugene Brown shifted to forward and shut down Carl Cain. The Dons forced turnovers throughout the second half, holding Iowa to 33 percent shooting for the game. Russell blocked a shot, blocked another, and then scared a Hawkeye into a wild miss. Russell finished with twenty-six points and twenty-seven rebounds. He scored three baskets with his trademark "steer" shot, reaching above the hoop and guiding in errant shots. When the final buzzer sounded on the 83-71 victory, USF owned a fifty-five-game winning streak and two consecutive NCAA titles. "This must be the finest undergraduate team since Naismith first hung the peach basket," marveled the San Francisco Chronicle. Even Woolpert agreed. "The difference--without a doubt--was Russell." (71)
The previous year, the NCAA Rules Committee had met in Kansas City during the tournament. It had widened the lane from six to twelve feet, with the hope of freeing congestion under the basket. This year, panicked coaches again worried about a generation of Bill Russells driving the little man out of basketball. They banned "offensive goaltending," a direct result of Russell's steer shot. The best basketball teams had long depended on cuts, screens, and ball movement. USF instead had relied on speed and quickness, height and agility, defense and rebounds. Russell's game augured the sport's future. Because the Rules Committee drafted these laws during USF's two titles, the changes earned a nickname: Russell Rules. (72)
Russell observed the new rules with bemusement, since his college career ended with the second national championship. But a disappointment festered: after winning MVP in six consecutive tournaments, he lost the NCAA tournament's honor to Hal Lear of Temple, a 5-foot 10-inch guard who had scored forty-eight points in the consolation game. After two national titles, two awards for national player of the year from the Helms Athletic Foundation, and buckets of praise from sportswriters, Russell remained excruciatingly sensitive to perceived disrespect. (73)
THE HOUSE THAT RUSSELL BUILT
Russell left USF in May 1956, one semester short of graduation. The next summer, after winning the gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and the first of eleven NBA championships in 1957 with the Boston Celtics, he returned to campus. But he resented that the school charged him tuition, and he left without completing his degree. He has since maintained his distance from his alma mater. He avoided the university's 150-year anniversary celebration and the fifty-year anniversary celebration of his team's historic accomplishments. (74)
In the mid-1950s, Russell exhibited the cheerful, humble, optimistic tone of many black athletes. By the mid-1960s he foreshadowed the "revolt of the black athlete," when various activists challenged the notion that sport fostered racial equality. Though his bitterness surfaced later, the double standards, the racist taunts, and the ostensible lack of recognition of his USF years laid the foundation for his future politics. (75)
But Russell's anger belonged to the future. The present deserved celebration. Possessors of a fifty-five-game winning streak and two national titles, the Dons were the greatest team in the history of college basketball, the fulcrum upon which college basketball pivoted. As they delivered to West Coast basketball a new legitimacy, they made the sport faster, more vertical, more athletic, more dynamic, more black. No African Americans made the Look All-America team until 1952, and by 1958 four of the five all-stars were black. While traditionalists derided a fast, freeform, jump-shooting, dunking, undisciplined game as "playground" or "Negro" basketball, USF's exceptional pressing defense allowed it to inject that offensive style into basketball's older patterns. The team had led a revolution in college basketball's style and meaning. It had showed the sport the benefits of racial integration. Not unlike Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson before them, the Dons had fostered a liberal, democratic spirit among those they had touched. (76)
The Dons' second championship was capped with another triumphant parade through San Francisco, the motorcade rolling from campus to City Hall, led by fire trucks with sirens wailing. Afterward, a reception at City Hall raised money for a gymnasium on the USF campus. During the 1955 title run, a fifty-eight-person committee had initiated an eighteen-day fundraising drive. The campaign had rallied the community, revealing the civic benefits of athletic success, but it raised only half the required amount. The committee filed an extension, and as the Dons rewrote the record book, the donations streamed in. After another championship, the committee raised over $700,000. Thanks to the extraordinary winning streak, in December 1956 USF broke ground on an 8,000-seat arena it named the War Memorial Gymnasium. (77)
It could have been called The House That Russell Built.
Thanks to David Welky, the anonymous readers, the editors and staff at California History, the players who agreed to interviews, and especially Father Michael Kotlanger, head of Special Collections at the University of San Francisco.
(1) See Kelli Anderson, "In Their Own Style," Sports Illustrated (July 3, 2006): 98-100. Despite popular acknowledgment of the Dons' racial pioneering, sport historians have yet to chart and analyze the team's success. Scholars of Bill Russell have focused on his professional career. See Thomas J. Whalen, Dynasty's End: Bill Russell and the 1968-69 World Champion Boston Celtics (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004); John Taylor, The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball (New York: Random House, 2005).
(2) Russell's career and public persona both exemplify and complicate the historic burden of the black athlete, who has been expected to project racial good will through humility and enthusiasm. See Thomas R. Hietala, The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis, and the Struggle for Racial Equality (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2002), 148-322; William J. Baker, Jesse Owens: An American Life (New York: Free Press, 1986); Donald McRae, Heroes Without a Country: America's Betrayal of Joe Louis and Jesse Owens (New York: Ecco, 2002); Jules Tygiel, Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (New York: Oxford University Press, expanded ed., 1997); Arnold Rampersad, Jackie Robinson: A Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997); David K. Wiggins, Glory Bound: Black Athletes in a White America (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1997); Patrick B. Miller and David K. Wiggins, eds., Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Routledge, 2000); David K. Wiggins and Patrick B. Miller, eds., The Unlevel Playing Field: A Documentary History of the African American Experience in Sport (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003).
(3) Bill Russell as told to William McSweeney, Go Up for Glory (New York: Berkley Medallion Books, 1966), 13-23; Bill Russell and Taylor Branch, Second Wind: Memoirs of an Opinionated Man (New York: Random House, 1979), 60-81; William Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," Sports Illustrated (April 22, 1968): 74.
(4) Foghorn, September 19, 1952; The Don, 1953.
(5) Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 74; Ed Linn, "Bill Russell's Private World," Sport (February 1963): 65; Russell, Second Wind, 81-82; Bill Russell with Alan Hilburg and David Falkner, Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century's Greatest Winner (New York: New American Library, 2001), 115-19; William Ladsen, "The Middlemen Talk Hoops," Sporting News (March 1, 1999): 12.
(6) K. C. Jones with Jack Warner, Rebound (Boston: Quinlan press, 1986), 41-52; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Mike Preaseau, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Russell, Go Up for Glory, 24-26; Russell, Second Wind, 82-85.
(7) 0cania Chalk, Black College Sport (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1976), 130-33; San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1979; Kristine Setting Clark, Undefeated, Untied, and Uninvited: A Documentary of the 1951 University of San Francisco Football Team (Irvine, CA: Griffin, 2002); Kathryn Jay, More Than Just a Game: Sports in American Life Since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 36-37; Foghorn, March 11, 1949, March 25, 1949, December 3, 1954, January 7, 1955, March 18, 1956; 1949 NIT Program, "Basketball Programs" Folder, USF Archives.
(8) Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 68-71; Foghorn, December 3, 1954, December 2, 1955; Mike Farmer, interview with the author, March 9, 2005; Phil Woolpert, "Scene Behind the Scene on Dons," USF Alumnus (December 1955): 12; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Bruce Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," Sport (April 1964): 38-39.
(9) Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 71-72; Nell D. Isaacs, All the Moves: A History of College Basketball (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1975), 191-92; Othello Harris, "Historical Analysis of Racism and Critical Events," in Dana Brooks and Ronald Althouse, eds., Racism in College Athletics: The African American Athlete's Experience, 2nd ed. (Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology, 2002), 40; Chalk, Black College Sport, 130-33; John F. X. Connolly, The University of San Francisco: A Credo--And a Commitment to Excellence (New York: Newcomen Society in North America, 1960); San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1979. On integration of college basketball in this era see also Tom Graham and Rachel Graham Cody, Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball (New York: Atria Books, 2006), 89-190.
(10) The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) was a
prominent governing board for amateur athletics. The Don, 1953; Foghorn, October 31, 1952, March 6, 1953, March 13, 1953, March 20, 1953, April 17, 1953, April 23, 1954.
(11) San Francisco Chronicle, December 1, 1953, December 2, 1953; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 39; Isaacs, All the Moves, 192.
(12) Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 39; Jones, Rebound, 53-54; San Francisco Chronicle, December 8, 1953, January 14, 1954, January 15, 1954, January 16, 1954; Foghorn, December 11, 1953, January 8, 1954; The Don, 1954, 1955.
(13) San Francisco Chronicle, January 15, 1954; Foghorn, March 5, 1954; The Don, 1954; Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1954; Hal Perry, telephone interview with the author, April 13, 2007; Russell, Russell Rules, 41-43, 57-58.
(14) Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 74; Anderson, "In Their Own Style," 100; Russell, Second Wind, 119-21.
(15) Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1954; San Francisco Chronicle, December 15, 1954; Foghorn, December 10, 1954; Los Angeles Daily News, December 15, 1954. Blocked shots were not kept as an official statistic in the 1950s.
(16) San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 1954, January 13, 1955; Foghorn, December 3, 1954; Hayward Review, March 22, 1955; Roger Kahn, "Preview: Great Season, Greater Star," Sports Illustrated (December 13, 1951): 20-21. West Coast teams had achieved prominence before. Besides USF's NIT championship in 1949, Oregon won the NCAA title in 1939 and Stanford won it in 1942.
(17) Isaacs, All the Moves, 192-93; Foghorn, December 2, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, December 12, 1954; "Celtics Rate Russell Better Than Ever," Boston Traveler, undated, Bill Russell File, Basketball Hall of Fame, Springfield, MA; New York Times, December 13, 1956; Los Angeles Daily News, December 15, 1954.
(18) USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955); Austin American-Statesman, April 1, 2005; San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 1956; Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1973; Foghorn, March 6, 1956; Hal Perry, telephone interview with the author, April 13, 2007.
(19) San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 1954.
(20) See Lars Andersen and Chad Millman, Pickup Artists: Street Basketball in America (New York: Verso, 1998), 28-29, 61-64; Nelson George, Elevating the Game: Black Men and Basketball (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), xiii-xxi.
(21) St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 6, 2005. On San Francisco race relations see Albert S. Broussard, Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Equality in the West, 1900-1954 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1993); Scott Harvey Tang, "Pushing at the Golden Gate: Race Relations and Racial Politics in San Francisco, 1940-1955" (PhD diss., University of California, Berkeley, 2002).
(22) San Jose Mercury News, March 31, 2005; San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1979; Steve Balchios, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006; Warren Baxter, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 85.
(23) Austin American-Statesman, April 1, 2005; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 7, 2005; Jones, Rebound, 55-56; San Jose Mercury News, March 31, 2005; Isaacs, All the Moves, 193; San Francisco Examiner, December 24, 1954; uncited article in USF Scrapbook, University of San Francisco Archives; San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 1954, December 23, 1954, January 4, 1955.
(24) San Francisco Chronicle, January 4, 1955, January 6, 1955; The Don, 1956; USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955); Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 85.
(25) Foghorn, January 7, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, December 30, 1954, January 5, 1955, January 6, 1955, January 11, 1955, January 13, 1955, January 15, 1955, January 17, 1955, January 18, 1955, January 25, 1955, January 26, 1955, January 30, 1955, February 1, 1955; San Francisco Examiner, January 5, 1955, January 29, 1955, January 31, 1955; Oakland Tribune, February 1, 1955; Sacramento Bee, February 1, 1955.
(26) San Francisco Chronicle, December 19, 1954, January 13, 1955, February 1, 1955; Bakersfield Californian, January 31, 1955.
(27) Nat Holman, Holman on Basketball (New York: Crown, 1950), 76-77; San Francisco Chronicle, February 3, 1955, February 28, 1955; San Francisco Examiner, January 31, 1955; Sporting News, January 19, 1955.
(28) The Don, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 1955, March 1, 1955, March 3, 1955, March 8, 1955, March 11, 1955; Los Angeles Times, March 1, 1955, March 3, 1955, March 11, 1955.
(29) Russell, Go Up for Glory, 32-33; Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 74.
(30) San Francisco Chronicle, February 19, 1955, February 21, 1955, March 7, 1955, March 9, 1955; Ken Rappoport, The Classic: The History of the NCAA Basketball Championship (Mission, KS: National Collegiate Athletic Association, 1979), 102; USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955).
(31) San Francisco Chronicle, March 11, 1955, March 12, 1955; USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955); Rappoport, The Classic, 102; Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 77; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 85-86.
(32) San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 1955, March 13, 1955, March 14, 1955; Los Angeles Times, March 14, 1955; Anderson, "In Their Own Style," 98; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 86; USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955); Rappoport, The Classic, 103-4.
(33) 1955 NCAA Final Program, 1955-56 Dons Basketball Folder, USF Archives; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 86; San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 1955, March 17, 1955, March 18, 1955; USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955).
(34) Milton Gross, "In Philadelphia Nearly Everybody Likes Gola," Sports Illustrated (December 27, 1954): 30, 62-63; Marty Glickman, "All-America Basketball Preview," Sport (January 1955): 12-15, 91; Sporting News, February 2, 1955; Philadelphia Inquirer, December 29, 1954, February 1, 1955, February 2, 1955; Peter C. Bjarkman, The Biographical History of Basketball (Lincolnwood, IL: Masters Press, 2000), 24-25, 135-38; Kansas City Star, March 19, 1955.
(35) Rappoport, The Classic, 98, 104; San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 1955, March 21, 1955, March 22, 1955; Los Angeles Times, March 22, 1955.
(36) Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 86; San Francisco Examiner, March 21, 1955, March 22, 1955; Foghorn, March 25, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 1955; New York Times, March 23, 1955
(37) Los Angeles Times, March 20, 1955; Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, March 23, 1955, April 7, 1955.
(38) Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1955; Sporting News, December 7, I955, December 14, 1955; Foghorn, April 14, 1955, December 2, 1955, January 13, 1956; Marty Glickman, "All-America Basketball Preview," Sport (January 1956): 12-13, 64-65. On Boldt see San Francisco Chronicle, March 12, 1956. On Farmer see San Francisco Chronicle, March 13, 1956.
(39) San Francisco Chronicle, December 2, 1955, December 4, 1955, December 7, 1955; Sporting News, December 14, 1955; Foghorn, December 9, 1955; Roy Terrell, "Basketball Bounces In," Sports Illustrated (December 12, 1955): 24; Roy Terrell, "Basketball," Sports Illustrated (December 19, 1955): 44.
(40) San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 1955, December 18, 1955; Washington Post and Times Herald, December 20, 1955.
(41) Merv Harris, The Lonely Heroes: Professional Basketball's Great Centers (New York: Viking Press, 1975), 23. On Mikan see George Mikan as told to Bill Carlson, Mr. Basketball: George Mikan's Own Story (New York: Greenberg, 1951); George L. Mikan and Joseph Oberle, Unstoppable: The Story of George Mikan, the First NBA Superstar (Indianapolis: Masters Press, 1997).
(42) San Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 1955.
(43) Warren Baxter, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006.
(44) Charles H. Martin, "Integrating New Year's Day: The Racial Politics of College Bowl Games in the American South," in Patrick B. Miller, ed., The Sporting World of the Modern South (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 175-99; Charles H. Martin, "Jim Crow in the Gymnasium: The Integration of College Basketball in the American South," in Patrick B. Miller and David K. Wiggins, eds., Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Routledge, 2004), 233-39; Adolph H. Grundman, "The Image of Intercollegiate Sports and the Civil Rights Movement: An Historian's View," Arena Review 3, no. 3 (1979): 17-24; Jay, More Than Just a Game, 74. The Supreme Court ruled Louisiana's law unconstitutional in 1959, but the Sugar Bowl did not include another black player until 1965.
(45) San Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 1955, December 23, 1955; Chicago Defender, December 31, 1955; Warren Baxter, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006.
(46) Sacramento Bee, March 20, 2006; San Francisco Chronicle, December 21, 1955, April 3, 2005; Russell, Go Up for Glory, 163; Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 74.
(47) San Francisco Chronicle, December 23, 1955, December 24, 1955, April 4, 2005; Johnson, "Triumph in Obscurity," 74; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Mike Farmer, interview with the author, March 9, 2005.
(48) Roy Terrell, "The Tournaments and the Man Who," Sports Illustrated (January 9, 1956): 38; Charles Rosen, God, Man and Basketball Jones: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Professional Basketball (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1979), 62; New York World-Telegram and Sun, December 22, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, December 24, 1955, December 26, 1955: Foghorn, April 14, 1955.
(49) New York Times, December 25, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, December 27, 1955, December 28, 1955, January 8, 1956; Al Hirshberg, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics (New York: Julian Messner, Inc., 1963), 68: Terrell, "The Tournaments and the Man Who," 40; New York Times, December 28, 1955; Foghorn, January 13, 1956.
(50) San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 1955, January 4, 1956; Red Holzman with Leonard Lewin, A View from the Bench (New York: W. W. Norton, 1980), 37-38; New York Times, December 29, 1955; Tommy Heinsohn with Leonard Lewin, Heinsohn, Don't You Ever Smile?: The Life and Times of Tommy Heinsohn and the Boston Celtics (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1976), 76-77; Tommy Heinsohn and Joe Fitzgerald, Give 'Era the Hook (New York: Prentice Hall, 1988), 26-29; Russell, Russell Rules, 78-79; Los Angeles Times, December 29, 1955; Foghorn, January 13, 1956.
(51) San Francisco Chronicle, December 31, 1955; New York Times, December 31, 1955; John Wooden and Bill Sharman with Bob Seizer, The Wooden-Sharman Method: A Guide to Winning Basketball (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1975), 116-17; Foghorn, January 13, 1956.
(52) Chicago American, December 31, 1955.
(53) San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 1956, January 11, 1956, January 14, 1956; New York Times, January 14, 1956.
(54) Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1973; "Best Big Man on View," Life (January 16, 1956): 12-14; "Bill Russell--The Antenna With Arms," Look (January 10, 1956): 66-68; "Basketball's Leaning Tower," Ebony (April 1956): 50-51; "Along Came Bill," Time (January 2, 1956): 36-37; New York Times, December 28, 1956; Chicago Tribune, March 21, 1956; Chicago Defender, January 7, 1956, January 14, 1956, March 3, 1956, March 26, 1956, April 7, 1956: Pittsburgh Courier, March 26, 1955, February 4, 1956, March 3, 1956, March 10, 1956; New York Amsterdam News, March 10, 1956; San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 1956; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 86.
(55) Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Steve Balchios, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006; Mike Preasaeu, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1973.
(56) Mike Preaseau, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Los Angeles Times, January 18, 1973; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Mike Farmer, interview with the author, March 9, 2005.
(57) "Dons on Defense," Time (February 14, 1955): 50-51; "The Big Surprise of 1955," Sports Illustrated (March 28, 1955): 17-19; Richmond Independent, February 2, 1955; San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 1955; Tom Nelson, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Steve Balchios, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006; Mike Preaseau, telephone interview with the author, July 11, 2006; Herb Michelson, "Eagles and Priests," View (Fall 1982): 10; Warren Baxter, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006. For Russell's more controversial interviews and articles as a professional athlete, see Gilbert Rogin, "We Are Grown Men Playing a Child's Game," Sports Illustrated (November 18, 1963): 74-90; Edward Linn, "I Owe the Public Nothing," Saturday Evening Post (January 18, 1964): 60-63; Bill Russell with Tex Maule, "I Am Not Worried About Ali," Sports Illustrated (June 19, 1967): 18-21; William F. Russell, 'I'm Not Involved Anymore," Sports Illustrated (August 4, 1969): 18-19; William F. Russell, "Success Is a Journey," Sports Illustrated (June 8, 1970): 81-93. See also his first autobiography, Go Up for Glory.
(58) San Francisco Chronicle, February 10, 1955; Chicago Defender, March 12, 1955; Pittsburgh Courier, March 5, 1955, April 2, 1955.
(59) "Dons on Defense," 51; "The Big Surprise of 1955," 19; Frank Deford, "The Ring Leader," Sports Illustrated (May 10, 1999): 110.
(60) New York Times, January 29, 1956; Rap poport, The Classic, 105-6; San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 1956.
(61) Bill Russell with Bob Ottum, "The Psych ..., And My Other Tricks," Sports Illustrated (October 25, 1965): 34; San Francisco Chronicle, February 1, 1956, February 3, 1956, February 4, 1956, February 7, 1956, February 8, 1956, February 11, 1956, February 15, 1956, February 18, 1956, February 25, 1956, March 3, 1956, March 30, 1956; Anderson, "In Their Own Style," 98; New York Times, March 7, 1956; Roy Terrell, "Black Saturday," Sports Illustrated (March 5, 1956), 54-55.
(62) San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 1956, March 11, 1956, March 28, 1956.
(63) USF Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955); The Don, 1956; San Francisco Chronicle, February 8, 1956. March 2, 1956, March 7, 1956, March 8, 1956, March 9, 1956, March 16, 1956; Foghorn, February 17, 1956; New York Times, March 7, 1956.
(64) Foghorn, November 4, 1955, January 13, 1955, March 6, 1956, March 9, 1956; San Francisco Chronicle, February 7, 1956, February 24, 1956, March 2, 1956, March 6, 1956, March 7, 1956, March 8, 1956; Mike Farmer, interview with the author, March 9, 2005
(65) San Francisco Chronicle, March 14, 1956, March 16, 1956; Foghorn, March 9, 1956, March 20, 1956.
(66) San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 1956; Foghorn, March 20, 1956.
(67) San Francisco Chronicle, March 18, 1956; Foghorn, March 20, 1956; Roy Terrell, "NCAA Semifinals," Sports Illustrated (March 26, 1956): 47.
(68) San Francisco Chronicle, March 19, 1956, March 20, 1956, March 23, 1956; New York Times, March 19, 1956; San Francisco Examiner, March 23, 1956; Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1956; Roy Terrell, "Victory No. 55: End of an Era," Sports Illustrated (April 2, 1956): 42.
(69) "Easy Does It and Dons Do It," Life (April 2, 1956): 93-94; San Francisco Chronicle, March 24, 1956; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 87.
(70) San Francisco Chronicle, March 24, 1956; Terrell, "Victory No. 55: End of an Era," 42. On Carl Cain see Des Moines Register, April 6, 1980.
(71) Warren Baxter, telephone interview with the author, July 12, 2006; Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1956; New York Times, March 24, 1956; San Francisco Chronicle, March 24, 1956; Terrell, "Victory No. 55: End of an Era," 43- A video recording of the 1956 NCAA Final is available in Special Collections at the University of San Francisco.
(72) New York Times, March 18, 1955, March 22, 1955, March 26, 1956; Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1956, March 25, 1956; Foghorn, September 30, 1955, December 9, 1955.
(73) Russell, Go Up for Glory, 34; Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1956; Lee, "Unstoppable San Francisco," 87; San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1956, March 26, 1956; New York Times, March 30, 1956.
(74) Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2007; Russell, Go Up for Glory, 38-39; Chancellor John LoSchiavo, telephone interview with the author, April 13, 2007.
(75) On new attitudes about black sport in the 1960s see Harry Edwards, The Revolt of the Black Athlete (New York: The Free Press, 1970; orig. 1969); Jack Olsen, The Black Athlete: A Shameful Story (New York: Time-Life Books, 1968); Amy Bass, Not the Triumph but the Struggle: The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); Douglas Hartmann, Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003); Thomas Hauser, Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times (New York: Touchstone Books, 1991); Elliott J. Gorn, ed., Muhammad Ali: The People's Champ (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995); David Remnick, King of the World (New York: Vintage Books, 1998); David W. Zang, SportsWars: Athletes in the Age of Aquarius (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2001).
(76) Martin, "Jim Crow in the Gymnasium," 237. The USF winning streak would reach sixty games before getting snapped in December 1956. The record survived until UCLA broke it in 1973.
(77) San Francisco Chronicle, March 3, 1956, March 4, 1956, March 22, 1956, March 23, 1956, January 13, 1956, March 26, 1956, March 28, 1956, December 6, 1956; San Francisco Examiner, March 3, 1955; USE Alumnus, Souvenir Edition (April 1955); Foghorn, February 24, 1956.
ARAM GOUDSOUZIAN is an assistant professor of history at the University of Memphis. He has a B.A. from Colby College and a Ph.D. from Purdue University. The author of Sidney Poitier: Man, Actor, Icon (2004) and The Hurricane of 1938 (2004), he has written book chapters and journal articles on the politics of American sport and film. He is currently writing a biography of Bill Russell.
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|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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