His basketball career began in a Kansas railroad town, and while his legacy will forever be defined by his contributions to Kansas State University – first as an All-American guard with a feathery touch from outside, and then as the school’s athletic director and fund-raiser extraordinaire – Ernie Barrett will also remain deeply woven into the fabric of professional basketball’s greatest franchise. Selected in the first round of the 1951 NBA Draft by Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics, Barrett’s most important contribution may have come years later, as Auerbach wrestled over whom to select with the Number 4 overall pick in 1970 – New Mexico State big man Sam Lacey, or Florida State’s undersized-but-energetic Dave Cowens. Auerbach respected Barrett’s opinion immensely. He also knew that Barrett, then the K-State athletic director, had seen Lacey in action against the Wildcats. Barrett came away from that contest less than enamored with the Aggies’ 6’-10” center, and he shared his evaluation with Auerbach on the eve of the draft. The Celtics patriarch heeded Barrett’s advice and selected Cowens at Number 4; and while Lacey would go on to play thirteen solid-yet-unspectacular seasons with the Cincinnati Royals, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers, Cowens would win two NBA championships with Boston and wind up in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame…
Barrett on playing for Red Auerbach:
It was a great honor to be the first round selection of the Boston Celtics. I had a two-year military obligation, so I didn’t get to play for them immediately. I had to wait until I was out of the service to go to Boston, so my “rookie” year was actually two years later (1953-54). Red started me every game during the exhibition season, opposite Bob Cousy, for what amounted to 15-20 games over a three week period. We basically barnstormed all over New England. Things changed once the regular season started. I didn’t get into a single game during the first 35 games, at which point [Celtic owner] Walter Brown went to Red and wanted to know why I wasn’t playing. He [Brown] looked at me as the team’s first round selection in 1951 and figured I should be seeing some action. Needless to say, I was on Walter Brown’s side [laughs]. So I ended up playing more during the second half of the season, sharing time with the great Bill Sharman.
Barrett on Celtics enforcers Bob Brannum and Jungle Jim Loscutoff:
They were practically identical on the court – they both had the same hardnosed style, and both of them were very aggressive players. Jim was a better shooter than Bob, and that’s probably what set him apart. He was a small forward in those days, and handicapped because a lot of the taller players blocked his shots. Wilt Chamberlain comes to mind. But he was cantankerous and didn’t back down from anyone, Wilt included. So nobody pushed him around on the court [laughs]. And he could run. He never stopped running. Jim and I are good friends – we saw a lot of each other in Boston after I retired – we’d go to the Final Four together, and get together whenever we could.