Here's another Bob Ryan/Boston.com column that calls attention to a special person in the basketball world as Tom "Satch" Sanders will be honored by a wonderful group of people at Northeastern University's Sport in Society.
Honoring Satch — that’s cool
Sanders credited for lifelong assists
There is cool, there is beyond cool, and then there is Satch Sanders.
Did he really exit a 1963 White House visit with President John F. Kennedy by saying, “Take it easy, baby?’’ Yes, he did. Is he always impeccably dressed, often complete with bow tie? Yes, he is. Does he have a polysyllabic response to any question, delivered in a perfectly modulated late-night DJ voice? Yes, he does.
Some people try so hard to be cool, and are never able to pull it off. Satch accomplishes this simply by getting out of bed. He may have had his share of unpleasant moments, but he’s never had an uncool one.
Or perhaps you want to call it style. Fine. Sammy Cahn wrote the lyrics for Sinatra: “You’ve either got, or you haven’t got, style. If you’ve got it, it stands out a mile.’’ Could be Satch’s theme song.
But don’t confuse having inherent cool and obvious style for being frivolous. When Sport in Society honors someone, it’s not because he or she is merely likeable. It’s because that person has had a positive impact on the lives of his fellow citizens. Dour folk who don’t know how to dress can be exemplary human beings, too.
Tonight is the 25th annual Sport in Society’s True Heroes of Sport Awards. We will gather at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena to honor the late Eunice Shriver, Josh Trautwein, Peter Roby, Bob Ley, and our own Bob Hohler; and we also will pay tribute to Thomas “Satch’’ Sanders, who will be the Lenny Zakim Hall of Fame inductee.
Just as Lenny Zakim dedicated his life to helping others, so, too, did Satch Sanders play 13 years with the Celtics in the shadow of more celebrated players, 11 of whom are enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. If you were to ask every one of the Hall of Famers which teammate regularly, and uncomplainingly, did the most dirty work on the team, the unanimous answer would be “Satch.’’
That’s because his primary job was to play defense against some of the great scoring machines of the day. The most notable, of course, was the incomparable Elgin Baylor, the man who most created modern basketball when he took a game that had been horizontal and only occasionally vertical and made it diagonal with his superb body control, variety of shot-release points, and amazing combination of strength and speed.
Guarding Baylor in his prime was a thankless and, for most people, impossible task. No one made life more difficult for Baylor than the 6-foot-6-inch Sanders. I still can hear Red Auerbach praising Satch to his summer campers because “he never lets Elgin get the second shot.’’ Both Auerbach and Bob Cousy swore that on the night Baylor scored 61 points against the Celtics in a playoff game, the only reason he didn’t get 75 or 80 was Satch, who made him work for every last point.
But Satch, who played on eight championship teams, was more than just a dogged guy who guarded people and grabbed rebounds. He was, in fact, an accomplished offensive player who had a nine-year stretch in which he averaged between 10.2 and 12.6 points a game. Twice he averaged in excess of 13 during the playoffs. He had individual game highs of 30 points and 22 rebounds. He did all this on his own, because there is no doubt that not once during his combined 25,213 regular-season and playoff minutes was there ever a play run for him.
There was only one Satch, whether it was his incessant reading of paperbacks, even while having his ankles taped — he said he had to do all his reading on the road because he was too busy when he got home — or the legendary taping jobs themselves. Satch Sanders may personally have created millionaires out of Johnson & Johnson stockholders because he had trainers Buddy LeRoux, Joe DeLauri, and Frank Challant wrap each ankle in two pounds of tape for every game and every practice. Yes, you read that correctly.
Satch the Player recognized his role on a team and maximized his potential. Satch the Person similarly has recognized his role in society as an educated and compassionate man whose solemn duty is to share his knowledge and expertise with those who need a boost in life.
Satch never has forgotten that without the encouragement and efforts of a pair of neighborhood friends named Cecil and Crawford, he would not have left his home on 116th Street in Harlem to attend a better high school, Seward Park, in Lower Manhattan. He never has just talked about “giving back.’’ He has gone out and done it, as a speaker, clinician, and adviser to youth and as the longtime director of the NBA Rookie Transition Program and the Vice President and Director of Player Programs.
He always has been a man for all the people, black, white, Asian, or anything else. In addition to making a dollar or two, his stated intention when he opened his Stanhope Street restaurant many years ago was to have a place where blacks and whites could meet and mingle.
In 2007, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame conferred on him its John Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, and now Sport in Society will place him in its own Hall of Fame, recognizing him “for his lifelong commitment for civil rights, having sacrificed on and off the court for a greater good. His continuing ambassadorship of goodwill epitomizes the intersection of humanity and sport at its best.’’
How’d they leave out the bow ties? Sometimes these academics overlook the obvious.