Quincyan recalls night late Bill Russell played in Blue Devil Gym
QUINCY (WGEM) - The death of NBA legend Bill Russell at age 88 on Sunday brought back memories of a special night for one Quincy man.
Nearly 60 years ago on Oct. 13, 1962, the defending NBA champions, loaded with six future Hall of Famers and one local kid, Gary Phillips, played the St. Louis Hawks in an exhibition game.
And Dick Wentura, who has been a bench table fixture at Blue Devils games since 1957, was among the 3,500 fans who endured a sweltering 80-degree fall day.
“It was really cool seeing Russell and all the Celtics hall of famers,” Wentura recalled. “Plus the legendary Red Auerbach was the coach.”
Wentura recalls Russell didn’t seem all that imposing. That season would be Russell’s seventh in a 13-year career, that included a record 11 championships
“Russell was very slim and trim, but you could tell he was really graceful,” Wentura said. “He was 6-foot-9, and that was really big in the early 60s.”
Those days of the NBA didn’t have saturated 24-hour talk tv and radio plus national TV contracts, so Russell wasn’t quite a household name.
“There just wasn’t the kind of coverage like kids get to see today about players,” Wentura said.
But the star of the show that day was former QHS all-stater Gary Phillips, who was in the Celtics’ starting lineup that night.
“I will never forget the player introductions,” Wentura said. “Bob Cousy kept all the Celtics in the tunnel, so when Gary Phillips ran on to the court, he was the only player out there. The crowd was going wild, and the Celtics were all laughing.”
Phillips, a 1957 QHS graduate, was one of two Blue Devils to play in the NBA (Bruce Douglas was the other). Phillips is in the top 20 of all-time scorers at QHS and led two Quincy teams to the state quarterfinals.
After an All-American senior season at the University of Houston in 1961, he was picked ninth by the Celtics in the 1961 NBA Draft. He was a key reserve in the Celtics 1961-62 team that won its fifth consecutive title. He was eventually traded to the San Francisco Warriors.
So who won the game?
According to a story in the next day’s edition of The Quincy Herald-Whig, the Hawks won 134-119.
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