As most of you know, Larry Siegfried passed away due to heart failure on Thursday, at the age of 71.
Because I didn’t know much about Siegfried besides the fact that he was “the other Larry,” I didn’t want to offer my thoughts. I never saw him play, couldn’t have told you whether he was righty or lefty, and couldn’t possibly do him or his career justice. So I decided not to write a tribute.
But that didn’t work for me either. How could I not write a tribute of a man who won five championships for my beloved Celtics? Who was “hugely competitive,” according to Satch Sanders, and by all accounts exhibited Celtic Pride at all times? Who sounds just like a player I would have fallen in love with?
“He was one of the best pure basketball minds that I have come across,’” close friend and former Celtic Rick Weitzman told the Boston Globe. “He really understood the game, knew the game. It was great for me to play behind him because he wasn’t gifted with tremendous athleticism but he got the most out of his ability.”
Despite being the Cincinatti Royals’s first pick in the 1961 NBA Draft (and third overall), a long story left Siegried out of the game and teaching high school when John Havlicek convinced Red Auerbach to offer Siegfried a tryout. Likely down to his last chance at making an NBA roster, Siegfried was in real danger of being cut by Auerbach when Tom Heinsohn spoke on Siegfried’s behalf. Heinsohn told Auerbach that Siegfried was the only player on the Celtics’ roster who could beat Heinsohn one-on-one. It would be a mistake to cut such a talent, Heinsohn felt.
Auerbach agreed to secretly watch Heinsohn and Siegfried play a one-on-one game, and was impressed enough to keep Siegfried around. The rest is history. In seven years of being what the New York Times described as “a key element in a relentless and indomitable Celtic machine”, Siegfried won five championships and a spot in Celtics lore.
I couldn’t not write a tribute about a player like that, right? A player who had it all, lost it all, and scraped and clawed his way to earning some of it back? I had to, even if I know little about his game and can’t possibly do him justice.
I never got to see Larry Siegfried play, but after hearing about his career and the traits that make his passing such a big deal, I can tell you one thing: I would have loved to.
“As time goes on, the championship does not mean as much to me,” Siegfried said at Ohio State this spring while celebrating the 50th anniversary of his NCAA championship team. “The thing that matters to me is what coach Taylor taught us and the relationships, those intangible things. The core values that made me who I am today, that’s what’s important to me.”
As much as I love basketball, as much as I value wins and championships, Siegfried’s words couldn’t ring more true. We love basketball because it brings us closer to our father, because we’re still friends with our high school teammates thirty years later. We love basketball for the jokes we can tell to random strangers in a barber shop, and for the way we’ll one day teach our sons how to dribble. We love basketball for the stories we’ll undoubtedly share with our grandchildren, and we love basketball because you can tell a lot about a man just by seeing him box out.
As time goes on, the championships didn’t mean as much to Siegfried. But the Boston Celtics? I imagine they always had a firm place in his heart.