The game came easily to him. From the first time he picked up a basketball, to later earning All-America honors in both high school and college, Bailey Howell possessed a gift that very quickly set him apart from his peers. He was a natural on the court, at home within its geometric confines, a player so skilled that at the time of his retirement from the NBA in 1971, Howell ranked among the league’s top 10 leaders in nine statistical categories. But statistics only tell part of the story. Howell, who grew up near the cotton fields surrounding Middleton, Tennessee, never made himself bigger than the team. Regardless of his star power, he was always willing to subjugate his considerable game for the bigger cause. Such characteristics explain how Howell, a six-time NBA All-Star, blended perfectly with Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, winning two world championships as the curtain closed on arguably the greatest sports dynasty ever…
Howell on Bill Russell as player/coach:
It was a very difficult job, without question, but he handled it well. The team was getting up in years. Philly was the up-and-coming team. The previous season the Sixers had the better record, and then they set the record for most wins. They had players like Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham. And after Philly beat us 4-1 in the playoffs, everyone from the media to the fans was saying that the dynasty was over. Boston was dead. But we still had Bill Russell, and that was the biggest factor working in our favor. Great players make the game easier for his teammates. Bill did that. He was the greatest MVP that ever walked onto the floor. As a coach, Bill learned a lot that first year. He also had a veteran team, which really helped, because the players knew what it took to win a championship. I’m not so sure it would have worked if he had a roster full of younger players. He was able to win championships those last two years, even though the team was continuing to age, and even though the Celtics were winning few games during the regular season. We were 48-34 in 1968-69, but we were able to win the games that counted. Bill deserves a lot of credit for that.
Howell on the great Sam Jones:
Sam was a great person, a prolific scorer, and a complete basketball player. He was also a big guard with a magic touch. Whatever he did, he did well – whether is was playing cards, basketball, or anything else for that matter. Anyone who played with him knew that Sam was a competitor and a winner. The Celtics had a lot of guys like that. Sam was at his most productive on the nights when the Celtics needed him most. He was always a better player in the big games – not because he was holding back at other times, but because he loved to play under pressure. He could raise his game when the stakes were the highest. Sam Jones was a joy to play with.