By A.Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM Every now and then, you'll see this slender, lanky, bow-tie wearing man at the Boston Celtics practice facility.
One by one, current Celtics will stop to say a few words to the distinguished gentleman, showing the kind of admiration that's reserved for basketball royalty.
It's Tom "Satch" Sanders, one of the Celtics' greatest role players ever and an integral part of eight championships during his 13 NBA seasons -- all with the Celtics.
So it's only fitting that Sanders became the latest Celtics player to be elected to the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Sanders, 72, enters the Hall of Fame as a contributor, selected by the veteran's committee.
"It was fun playing with so many of those guys," Sanders said. "It certainly is fun to be on the club again."
Although he averaged double figures scoring in 9 of his 13 seasons, Sanders didn't put up the kind of scoring numbers usually associated with a Hall of Fame career.
He was a 9.6 points-per-game career scorer, and never averaged more than 12.6 points in a single season.
But his impact on games wasn't about numbers, unless you focused on the low shooting percentage most of the guys he guarded shot against the Celtics.
Sanders' game was about four letters: W-I-N-S.
"The quintessential team member was Tom Sanders, who had a very selfless role as a player," said Tommy Heinsohn, Sanders' former teammate and coach with the Celtics. "He was a guy, I termed him the second-best defender on a very good defensive team, next to Bill Russell. But he was never recognized in the league for that."
Despite being such an important cog in the Celtics' defensive machine under Red Auerbach and later Heinsohn, Sanders was considered no more than a role player on a very good team.
In fact, it was what Sanders did after his playing days that had as much with him getting into the Hall of Fame as anything.
Along with coaching stints with the Celtics and Harvard University, Sanders played a pivotal role in the development of NBA rookie orientation programs that, in many ways, were emulated by other professional sports leagues.
"That influences the lives of current players, past players to where they can adjust to the life, liberty and what the country is all about," said Heisohn, an NBA analyst for Comcast SportsNet. "He's been a solid contributor in every way, every facet of the game. He coached. He was a coach at Harvard. He was my assistant coach at the Celtics (and later the head coach when Heinsohn was dismissed in 1977-78). It's long overdue for Sanders to make the Hall of Fame."
When the Celtics drafted him with the eighth overall pick in 1960, Sanders knew he was joining a team where winning an NBA title wasn't a goal, but an expectation.
Oh, yeah, he definitely felt some added pressure.
"One thing I didn't want to do was become the guy that was drafted and . . . not have them win," Sanders said. "That was a heck of a burden at that point in time. And then we kept on winning, and the burden is now on the shoulders of some other rookies' shoulder that comes in because I'm in the club now."
Only two players in NBA history -- Sanders' teammates, Bill Russell (11) and Sam Jones (10) -- were part of more championship teams than Sanders.
Those teams consisted of players who had very defined roles, and rarely strayed from that because the goal was clear: win a championship.
"Everybody had been on winning teams and knew what it took to be winners," Heinsohn said. "They remind me of the current Celtics team and the one that won in '08. Nobody cared about who scored what. They were worried about the wins and losses. Satch epitomized that."