November 09, 2011
Ed Macauley, Basketball Hall of Famer and former NBA champion, died on Tuesday. The former St. Louis Bomber, Boston Celtic and St. Louis Hawk was 83.
All initial reports and reactions point to Macauley's role in delivering Bill Russell to the Celtics before the team embarked on its legendary run of 11 championships in 13 years, and it's fair to lead off with that. Trading All-Stars Macauley and Cliff Hagan (himself a rugged scoring forward) to the St. Louis Hawks for the rights to move up in the draft to select Russell turned the C's from a powerhouse offensive outfit into the well-balanced club that revolutionized the pro sport and dominated the league for over a decade. His deal wasn't exactly Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock, but it wouldn't be fair to ignore Macauley's role in history.
It would be criminal to ignore the other 99 percent of his career, though.
Macauley was a phenomenal scoring big man in an era where teams routinely took the air out of the ball, allowing for low scores and little chance to pad stats. He twice averaged over 20 points per game on Boston teams that were either tops or near the top in the NBA in scoring with point averages in the mid-80s. Macauley also led the NBA in field-goal percentage twice, relying on a running hook for most of his damage.
Boston could never get over the hump, though. And with the introduction of the shot clock in 1954 and a changing landscape, Celtics coach Red Auerbach saw something in San Francisco center Bill Russell as the league readied for the 1956 draft. Racial overtones, though no fault of any of the particulars, also played a part -- St. Louis would not be an easy place for an African-American rookie to develop, to put it as mildly as we can without charging the entire community and Hawk franchise with outright racism.
Making things easier and making this a much nicer story is the fact that Macauley was an absolute legend in St. Louis due to his dominant turn leading St. Louis University to the NIT championship in 1948. The team's championship parade drew 14,000 people -- not bad for a fledgling, mostly untelevised sport.
"Easy Ed" was no mere local hero, though, with his homecoming possibly ranking akin to someone like Chris Paul(notes) being traded home to North Carolina in modern times. Pairing with Bob Pettit and Hagan, Ed and the Hawks battled the Celtics nearly to a draw in the next two NBA Finals -- losing in 1957 in a double-overtime Game 7 (with Pettit battling a sprained ankle, no less) and winning in 1958. Macauley retired the year after to turn in a successful two-year stint as Hawks coach.
Lest you think Macauley lazed about the court, the Associated Press details exactly when and how he picked up his famous nickname:
When he got his star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2003, he told the story about how he got his nickname when he was a sophomore at Saint Louis.
"It was the first time I was appointed captain," Macauley said. "We dressed in the basement of West Pine Gym and it was my role to lead the team from the basement locker room through the door.
"But nobody followed me when I ran down the court and made a layup. Then I heard people shout, 'Take it easy, Ed.' I didn't realize it, but they were playing the national anthem. That 'Easy Ed' nickname helped me get a lot of attention."
His game took care of the rest.