I’ve spent most of the past four months reading about the jump shot, talking about the jump shot and thinking about the jump shot. A few times — when playing with other old guys in northern Manhattan or playing H-O-R-S-E against one of the great streetball shooters in NYC history — I’ve also been shooting jump shots. I’ve loved every moment of it. Reading about the jumper has proven especially enjoyable. I’ve looked through hundreds of old newspaper articles and magazine profiles, features on some of the first players to ever shoot the shot and profiles of some of the best to ever shoot it.
The only problem with all this reading research is I’m easily distracted. While reading about a player from 1942 who pioneered the jump shot I get distracted by a bizarre ad on the same newspaper page or a headline about the U.S. hockey team preparing to take on the hated Commies. Old newspapers employed colorful language, if not layout, the front page hosting 10, 15 stories, same thing with the front page of sports. I often find myself questioning the editorial decisions of people who worked 80 years ago and have probably been dead for 60.
But this week I might have found my favorite head-scratching story selection. The Sporting News archives — all online in their original form available through PDFs — have proven invaluable. Dominated by its baseball coverage in the early years, The Sporting News developed into a must-read on all sports by the 1950s and ’60s and had great stories about some of basketball’s finest. The magazine also had a bizarre, borderline-disturbing obsession with the women who happened to be married to men who played for the Boston Celtics.
It was a different world back then. The Celtics owned the NBA in the 1960s. Their wives owned the attention of The Sporting News.
The first story came in 1962.
The second story came in 1964.
The third story came in 1968.
Three different stories, three different writers, although two of them — in 1964 and ’68 — were first published in Christian Science Monitor.
The dek for the 1964 story reads, “Gals tell how hubbies react after a defeat.” The caption featured Lyn Loscutoff, Judy Phillips, Diane Heinsohn, Jean Ramsey, Marie Cousy and Gladys Jones. An editor’s note assures readers “Celtics players were barred in order to give the ladies free rein in expressing their feelings,” although the players might not have been so accommodating if they’d realized the Sporting News would make a regular habit of locking the ladies in a room to interrogate them.
“Just as their more famous husbands are All-Americans, the comely bevy of beauties, guests of the Basketball Writers at a hotel luncheon, boast additional virtues including adaptability, do-it-yourself prowess and inherent loyalty to the team and each other.” Good job, ladies.
When asked about the difficulties of being a player’s wife, one mentioned the milkman complaining about a loss. None of them were bothered by people who wanted autographs from their husbands. Mrs. Loscutoff also said she shoveled during the winter.
Snow came up again in 1964, those tough Boston winters. “You can’t be a clinging vine,” Tommy Heinsohn’s wife explained. “Many’s the time I’ve shoveled snow while my big burly husband was upstairs sound asleep, resting before that night’s game.”
The headline carries a different tone in 64: “Celtics’ Spouses — Pert, Pretty and Proud of Husbands.” The story talks to many of the same wives, although K.C. Jones’ spouse, Beverly, also gets ink. Interesting details emerge, even if the feature repeats much of the same information as the previous tale. Bill Russell’s wife talks about “rubber farming in Liberia, where Bill owns several hundred acres.” Rose Russell also thanked her husband for his taste in her clothes, complimenting his shopping choices. “And if he thinks I’m getting fat,” she said, “he buys a size or two smaller.” Bill Russell: Ultimate winner, fat shamer.
The magazine didn’t check in on the women in 1966 but returned in ’68, a year before the Russell dynasty ended with another seven-game victory over the Lakers. Beth Havlicek joined the party this time, in a story that begins, “Eating as though taste makes waist, three wives whose husbands play professional basketball had no problem getting an edge in wordwise at a Boston Celtics’ press conference.” The women were possibly fearful Bill was going to go buy all of them clothes at the end of the interview.
Red Auerbach, no longer the Boston coach but still lord of all things Celtics, makes an appearance, commenting on why he preferred not to mingle with the wives. “Jealousy among women is a terrible thing. You get it more in baseball than basketball because baseball wives talk salary too much.”
Yes, it was a different time, all right — Celtics’ wives were married to champions.