Original Old School: Winning Is Everything

by May 07, 2011

SLAM: How did the success you and Russell had in college carry over?

KC: We played at the same level. We lost one game in our junior and senior years combined. I walked from one championship to another. When I arrived in Boston, I was impressed with guys like Bill Sharman and Cousy, but I was not overwhelmed. I felt I was at the same level, which is what I gained by playing on such great collegiate teams.

SLAM: As a defensive specialist, who was your toughest matchup?

KC: At the top of the list are Oscar Robertson and Jerry West. They mastered the art of being offensive-minded, and for me to be on the same level I had to master the art of being defensive-minded. If I wanted to be on their level, I had to be as creative defensively as they were offensively. The first step is mastering containment and denial. Denying the ball is most important, and it’s an art that’s in a poor state now. I see guys try to deny, but they’re not really confident against great players. If you, as a defensive stopper, can’t match the ego of a premier offensive player, than you’re invisible.

SLAM: Was it weird to go from being archrivals with Wilt to being on the same team as an assistant on the ’72 Lakers?

KC: Not at all. Despite their rivalry, Russell and Wilt were very close and had great respect for each other. When we went to Philly, Wilt picked us up at the airport and we went to his house for pregame dinner, and we’d do the same when he came to Boston. When I first joined Sharman with the Lakers, a player walked by at practice and says, “The big guy’s not gonna give it to you,” which shocked us, because it was such a negative comment about a teammate. That team started out being dysfunctional, but Wilt wanted to win. He was happy to have another opportunity because his butt was being kicked all over Philadelphia. When they won, it was “about time,” and when they lost it was all his fault as if he were out there alone. He suffered through that. We lost the first four games of the season, I believe, then we had a meeting and won five, six, 12 games in a row and kept going. The winning streak was incredible, and each player started to find his spot and play inspired ball, with Wilt as the leader, blocking shots, getting out on the fast break, passing, scoring. We won 33 games in a row and a championship.

SLAM: Obviously, Bird, McHale and Parish were great individually, but were they better for playing together?

KC: Big time. They all sacrificed some of their game, and no one ever complained about not getting their shots. There was a time when Parish was only averaging 4-5 shots a game, and I pulled him over and asked if that was a problem and he said, “Coach, not as long as we’re winning.” Believe me, he cared, but winning takes care of a lot. Start losing and he would have had a negative approach about Larry and Danny [Ainge], who both loved to shoot, competitively firing up threes, and about Kevin McHale—when you put the ball into him, it’s kind of difficult for it to ever come out.

SLAM: Your ’85-86 team won 67 regular-season games. Were they better than your first title team?

KC: Yes. They were very cohesive. Dennis Johnson was key to both teams on both ends, as well as the other guys, but the ’86 team also had Bill Walton, who was huge in the locker room and in practice. He epitomized Bill Russell, both intellectually and as a player. He was also as fancy a passer as Bird or Magic. And he was so enthusiastic. Here’s a great, great player who was part of a college team that won 88 games in a row, then won a title in Portland, but then had all that foot surgery and lost his ability to play consistently for years, so he was incredibly hungry. He and the Celtics were a match made in heaven.

SLAM: Why haven’t you been on an NBA bench since ’97?

KC: I don’t know. I’d like to share what I have to offer. I had a couple of chances with Chicago and Orlando that just didn’t work out.