He battled George Mikan during the early days of his professional career, and he teamed with Bill Russell in its twilight, his contributions to the game obscured by basketball’s most dominant big men of the twentieth century. Arnie Risen is understandably cool with this. The shadows cast by Mikan and Russell swallowed their eras whole, and Risen is not alone among the forgotten. The wooden barn that was Edgerton Park Sports Arena is long gone, the games but fading memories to a vanishing breed of NBA fan. Risen played professional basketball at a time when the game itself was dwarfed not only by our national pastime, but also by a collegiate game that included such legendary coaches as Adolph Rupp, Phog Allen and Slats Gill. Football had grown in popularity by showcasing big names on its gridiron, promoting early stars like Red Grange and Jim Thorpe, while boxing boasted a lineage that ran from Jack Dempsey to the Brown Bomber himself, the incomparable Joe Louis. But professional basketball? It was more curiosity than sporting staple, more sideshow than main attraction. The average sports fan was more concerned with the exploits of men like Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Warren Spahn. Professional basketball players? In the mind of the average sports fan, guys like Arnie Risen existed to fill a void.
Risen on Celtics legend Bob Cousy:
In my opinion, Bob Cousy became a much better shooter after I arrived in Boston and began playing for the Celtics. Everyone who followed the NBA knew that he could drive to the basket and pass the ball. He was a terrific ball handler, probably the best in the business, but in the early days he really struggled with his shot from the outside. I think that changed because of some of the players on the team. My first year with the Celtics was during the 1955-56 season, and a player named Ernie Barrett was also on the roster at that time. Ernie had played with Boston for a stretch once before – I think it was a couple of years before I signed – and then Red asked him to come back and give it another chance. Ernie was just a tremendous outside shooter. He had a quick release, and great touch. He had played college basketball at Kansas State, where he was famous for his jump shot, and he spent some time with Cousy during my first season with the Celtics. You could really tell the difference in Cousy’s confidence from the outside after that, because he just shot the ball so much better that season..
Risen on the Celtics’ first NBA Championship in 1957:
It was a hard fought series with a couple of blowouts and the rest tight games. I remember losing the first game in Boston by a very close score – I think it was 125-123, which also happened to be the final score of Game 7. We won the next game at the Garden to tie the series, and then lost the third game by two points in St. Louis. And then we won that fourth game, also in St. Louis. That evened the series for us. We finally got the upper hand, winning Game 5 back home. St. Louis won the next game to force that Game 7 back in Boston. That is the game that everyone still likes to talk about. It was a double-overtime game, and while it was a very dramatic contest, I think that it has been built up a little over the years – and into something that is bigger than it actually may have been at the time.
Boston, and all points beyond