Boston Legends series: 'Satch' Sanders
January, 20, 2011
By Jamie Most | ESPNBoston.com
* Editor’s note: In the latest of an occasional series of interviews with Boston sports legends, Jamie Most goes 1-on-1 with Celtics legend Tom “Satch” Sanders, who talks about the Boston title teams of the past and his role with those squads. Click the video above for Part 1 of the interview then click HERE to watch Part 2. Follow the jump for a complete transcript of Sanders’ comments.
Jamie Most: Hi Satch, Thanks for doing this interview with me. You won eight championships in a 13- year career with the Boston Celtics and you were part of a great sports dynasty. Which championship stands out the most for you.
Satch Sanders: You know when I look back and try and pick out the championship that meant the most to me, I think in terms of the first championship team that I was on. We played St. Louis in the 1960-61 season and of course Bob Pettit was there and Cliff Hagan and everybody and I just felt that hey it was a great time it was also the first opportunity I had to start for the Celtic team. It was a great victory for the team certainly, obviously great for me it was my first championship team and that’s the one that stands out for me the most.
JM: Is there anything that stands out in that particular series in winning that championship?
SS: When you talk about standing out in that series there wasn’t really anything in the St. Louis-Boston series in that first year that really reached out and grabbed me outside of the fact that it was extremely competitive. And I had to play against Bob Pettit more times than I wanted to. At 6-foot-9, a shooter, a scorer, strong rebounder he was the kind of guy who only did what he could do which meant that the things he could do he did extraordinarily well [and] the things he couldn’t do he didn’t even try and he was really contained but he was an efficient scorer.
JM: No turnovers then.
SS: No, not with him, no not with Bob Pettit.
JM: You were a rookie.
SS: That was my first year.
JM: Playing on a team that had already won a few championships, was that intimidating for you?
SS: No, it wasn’t intimidating for me the fact that the Celtics had won some championships before I got there. I wondered how? But you know they were able to of course win and do well and have quite a record. Now what was intimidating to me was the Celtics’ record in the sense that I didn’t want to the one to be on the team that didn’t win a championship. And they had won 3 in a row when I got there, that was the fourth and I wanted to make sure I was not going to be considered the reason why they lost a championship.
JM: So that was the pressure, you didn’t want to be the jinx.
SS: Yep, that’s basically it.
JM: OK (laugh). How would you describe your game?
SS: OK, I was quite a fairly decent scorer at New York University for the four years, or three years I should say since we played freshman ball in those years and I had no problem scoring. When it came to the Celtics team Red Auerbach sort of felt that all he wanted from me was rebounding and defense and that was clear. And he said if you happened to score a point or two that’s OK, but we’re not looking for you to score, we’ve got enough people who can score on this team. So, that was not one of the skills they wanted to take advantage of but, it was not because the skill wasn’t there, but defensive player and rebounding was what I did most.
JM: Would you then consider yourself what they call today a role player?
SS: Well, the key to that particular statement, role playing, of course, when you look at a team one recognizes that they are all role players. The role for some might be shooting a lot more, the role for some may be passing for others it can be defensive play or rebounding whatever it happens to be, but they’re all playing roles though people like think in terms of role players as someone who is not a star that’s not the case, a star is a role player.
JM: Well with the Celtics especially, being a role player meant you fit in to the system and I’ve talked to Tommy Heinsohn about it and Bob Cousy about it, and clearly like you say, being a role player is not necessarily a negative thing it means you fit in to the system. And what was your role? What did Red make your role be with the Celtics?
SS: With the Celtics my primary function was to make sure that I guarded the strong offensive forwards for the other teams and that I got all of the rebounds that I possibly could, that [Bill] Russell left up there.
JM (Laugh) You got the seconds so to speak?
SS: (Laugh) Yeah.
JM: The Celtics ran a lot back then and Tommy [Heinsohn] mentioned the fact that guys like himself and like you had to fill the lanes and guys like Cousy would be in the middle and would dish off, is that fair to say that that was part of what you had to do?
SS: Well that’s still the name of the game for the forwards. They run the proverbial banana curve from one end of the court to the other hoping that they are going to be free to get the pass from the guard who’s normally in the middle of the court. That’s basic fastbreak basketball and we just run to the end of the court and keep on running with the hands extended hoping for the ball. Now that guard has choices whoever’s free will get it or that guard can give the ball to the following ballplayer, the fourth player following him which may be a shooter and so that fastbreak is still very much in play and they do it today.
JM: In college you were a center, correct?
JM: So you had to come to the NBA and change the position that you played. Was that a difficult transition for you?
SS: The difficulty that I had moving from the center position in College to the forward spot with the Celtics was not as difficult as many people would think simply because I had worked so hard in the summer during the offseason learning how to play facing the basket. And it was serious focus and because of the kind of competition that I played against in the Rucker Leagues and etcetera, in New York City, I had no problem learning how to make that adjustment facing the basket.
JM: Obviously, you played 13 years so something was working right.
SS: (Laugh) Yeah, the forward spot worked for me and I could have played center in the league at that time the dominant player, of course, was Wilt Chamberlain and later Nate Thurmond and Walt Bellamy were the centers of note, at that particular time, but against anyone else I could have played the center without a problem.