Friday, June 28, 2013

Book review: Let me tell you a story, by Red Auerbach and John Feinstein

John Feinstein has made a career of being a "thinking man's" sportswriter.  He shot to prominence with the oustanding 1986 Season on the Brink, which detailed a season spent with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers.  Some of his other works have been critically acclaimed as well, but have on occasion - eg. The Punch - tended to be too po-faced and serious for their own good.

Let me tell you a story, a collection of tales Feinstein could have knocked out in his sleep is the perfect antithesis to such overbearing seriousness.  It describes his invitation to lunch with Red Auerbach, the former President of the Boston Celtics and acknowledged King of Boston basketball.  What the casual fan probably fails to realise is Red's assocation with Washington D.C. hoops as well.  He was an alumni of George Washington University, his wife and children (and him, during the offseason) lived there and he maintained connections with several of the city's basketball aristocracy.

The book begins with Auerbach growing older and more aware of his mortality.  He therefore decided to invest time in his closest friends, which manifested as a regular lunch with the likes of his brother Zang, secret service agents and The Best High School hoops coach of all, Morgan Wootten.  Feinstein - who was working as a columnist for the Washington Post - smelled a story, managed to get an invitation and became a regular lunch guest.  He then proceeds to describe what the lunch became for him and his compatriots.

The book is named because even though there were upwards of a dozen regular diners, these were Red's lunches. He had the central seat, so he could hold court and opine about almost every issue - starting most of his stories with the words "Let me tell you about...".  The bill was also Red's, until the Celtics got wind of the events and insisted the team paid.  Red talks candidly (as if  he could speak any other way) about his time with the Celtics, the owners he worked for and even of his lack of malice at being replaced as Celtics President during the short-lived Rick Pitino era.

What impresses you so much is Red's reasoning - there were always completely logical reasons for every decision he made.  When he explains those reasons - even why he lit his trademark cigar when the Celtics had secured victory - he makes absolute sense.  (If you're wondering, he lit the cigars when the Celtics were up by a heap as a subconscious signal that his team was relaxed and not seeking to rub the victory in their opponents faces).  His tales stand in stark contrast to those of another Celtic great, Bill Russell.  As Auerbach became more acutely aware of his ageing, he became more congnizant of the importance of spending time with his friends; in stark contrast Russell became more and more arrogant, distant and spiky.

Throughout, you can't help liking Red.  It's obvious that Feinstein - and the entire Lunch crew - absolutely adored him.  He was fair, friendly and fun to be around, which in turn makes the book an easy read.  It is occasionally slightly stained by Feinstein's own opinions - what little he thinks of Rick Pitino is obvious, and his memorable description of Scottie Pippen as Scottie "I've got a headache when it matters most" Pippen are fine examples of unwanted editorialisation.

It's lightweight, but really enjoyable read.

Reposted from Books with Balls, a now sadly mostly-disregarded affiliate.

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