By Henry Schwan
Bob Kraft is getting a lot of attention these days, and deservedly so. His New England Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl to take on the New York Giants. It’s been a bittersweet year for the Pats owner. He lost his wife Myra to cancer in July while helping to negotiate an end to the NFL’s 135-day lockout. I can’t forget the image of Jeff Saturday, the Colts player representative, hugging a grieving Kraft during the press conference to announce the end of the lockout only five days after Myra’s death. It was one of those rare, unscripted moments in sports that tug at the heartstrings.
If a poll were taken right now to gauge Kraft’s popularity, it would be off the charts. A real love-fest. We connect with Bob. Certainly not financially; how many of us are in his billionaire club? Our connection is on a personal level. Just like Bob, most of us have lost someone close to us, gone through a period of grieving, and mustered up the strength to meet our daily responsibilities. More than anything, it’s this personal connection that ties us to Bob Kraft during this latest Super Bowl run by the Pats.
Some of you might think that Kraft is the most successful owner in Boston sports history, having saved a floundering franchise and guided it to six Super Bowl appearances and three Vince Lombardi trophies. But what about Joseph Lanin, who owned the Red Sox when they won three World Series Championships in 1915, 1916, and 1918? Or Charles Adams, whose family owned of the B’s for nearly five decades and rewarded the Hub hockey faithful with five of Lord Stanley’s Cups? Don’t they deserve to be in the discussion of Boston sports deity? Sure, but the guy that’s at the top of the Boston ownership heap is the late Walter Brown.
I was introduced to Walter Brown back in the fall of 1991. Yours truly was an intern in the Celtics Public Relations Department. The best part of the gig was watching the games courtside, but I also had access to the locker room before and after games. During one of my excursions into the cramped, steamy locker room in the old Boston Garden, I noticed a large black and white photo perched above one of the player stalls. A Celtics staffer told me it was Walter Brown, the team’s original owner. I guess he was watching over his flock.
Brown was more than the first Celtics owner. It’s not a stretch to say that we may not have an NBA without his leadership. The NBA came into existence in 1949 when Brown was instrumental in merging the Basketball Association of America (which Brown helped found in 1946) with the National Basketball League. Under his stewardship, the Green hired Red Auerbach, drafted the first African-American player in the NBA (Chuck Cooper), and swung a deal to get the great Bill Russell. The rest they say is history. Brown won 6 NBA titles as owner of the Celtics before his death in 1964, laying the foundation for 11 more NBA titles to come.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not begrudging Bob Kraft. He used his smarts, vision, and millions to bring a winning culture to the Pats. You can’t argue with his results. However, he’s done it in the age of the 24-7 news cycle, where every cell phone and camera records practically everything he does connected to the Pats. Last Sunday, he raised the AFC Championship trophy and gestured to the heavens to acknowledge his wife Myra. If you didn’t see it live on television, you witnessed it within seconds on the web, facebook, and twitter. As for Walter Brown, he did his work in relative obscurity compared to today’s insatiable appetite for anything connected to the world of professional sports. Don’t believe me? Google Walter Brown and all you’ll find is a handful of photos of a guy wearing a suit with slicked back hair and nice smile.
Oh yes, Bob Kraft is at the top of the ownership mantle right now. He’s in our consciousness. But don’t forget about the late Walter Brown and his SIX NBA titles. No Boston owner ( I repeat, NO BOSTON OWNER!) can touch that mark. Let’s just hope his photo is still hanging in the C’s locker room over at T-D Garden.