Where Are They Now? - Tom ’Satch’ Sanders

Where Are They Now? - Tom 'Satch' Sanders

He is a quiet, sincere, loyal and perceptive gentleman. His #16 is proudly displayed in the upper right-hand corner of one the Boston Celtics retired number banners, right next to the #1 that is retired for the franchise's original owner Walter Brown. His number retirement ceremony was thirty-one years ago this month, January 1973.

Tom 'Satch' Sanders had a steady and successful NBA playing career. He was the Green and White's top pick (the 8th pick overall) in the 1960 NBA Draft, from New York University. He played in 916 career games (6th-most in Celtics history) in his 13 seasons - all with the Celtics. (He also served as Head Coach of the team in parts of the 1977-78 and 1978-79 seasons). The Celtics won eight championship titles during his career. He may have averaged only 9.6 points per game for his career, but with a ton of heart, a minimum of fanfare and a maximum of efficiency - Tom 'Satch' Sanders got the job done.

A 6-6 center at NYU (where he was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame), 'Satch' lived the NBA life as a forward. He could score and often would be on the receiving end of a fast-break lay-up or crisp pass from Bob Cousy or K.C. Jones that he would put in for an easy two points. But it was on the defensive end where Mr. Sanders made the headlines.

Who you going to call stop Willis Reed, Jerry Lucas, Dave DeBusschere or an Elgin Baylor? It was long before 'ghost busters'. It was 'Satch'.

Quite often 'Satch' was shorter or lighter (he weighed only 210 pounds) than most of the foes he had to deal with night-in and night-out. Did he complain? Never. Did always come through for his team? Always. As further evident of the fact that he played in over 450 consecutive games! Durable, smart and the ultimate team player... that was Tom 'Satch' Sanders.

Today, 'Satch' is the NBA's Vice-President and Director of Player Programs. Based in New York City, his birthplace, 'Satch' designs programs to help both veteran and rookie players take advantage of their unique status as professional athletes and to assist them in coping with the special pressures they face. Player Programs is responsible for facilitating the following: post-career counseling; educational and employment opportunities; the NBA/PA (Players Association) Anti-Drug and Alcohol Programs; advice on dealing with celebrity status and media attention and a nonprofit foundation that benefits former players.

Celtics.com's Jeff Twiss had a chance to chat with Tom 'Satch' Sanders when he attended a recent Celtics game at the FleetCenter.


We know you are the head of the NBA Player Programs division. Can you share with us some of your specific duties?

Sanders: "I have been working for the National Basketball Association in the office of Player Programs for some time. Basically, we're still trying to help players make that adjustment coming into the game and, certainly, while they are here but also on the way out - their departure time. So, we are working with players on 'adjustments'."

How did you become involved with this part of the NBA Office?

Sanders: "Oh, I'd say about 16 years ago, maybe 17, now as time is sort of running together, I went down and had an opportunity to sit down and talk with Commissioner Stern for two or three different opportunities. First, I consulted with him on their rookie program. Then, after a few years with that program he thought there was some value there and we got together and I started to head-up their Player Programs department."

Was this something you always wanted to do or something you thought should be done?

Sanders: "Well, it's more or less, something that should be done. We talked a lot about how players were having difficulty making the adjustments and how, if we helped them right in the first place, there was a strong possibility they would be able to get through their careers and even do better. And, even having a good shot at really doing well when they finish playing ball. That was the part of our program's main goal."

Are there any fond or special Celtics memories, 'Satch'?

Sanders: "Well, I tell you, fond memories come about every single time I take a look at that parquet floor, OK? No matter where it is, the Garden or here in the FleetCenter, it's meaningful to me and it brings back a rush of memories. Now the problem is trying to put those memories in the right place, OK? I can't seem to get some of those championship games together. I know there were quite a few but I can't seem to put them together."

Is there any particular thing you learned about being a Celtic?

Sanders: "Well, to be frank with you, it gave me a lot of insight to a lot of other players and those players represent people in life...period. There are some folks, and certainly not everybody, who always dig and always want to be successful, expect to be successful and, somehow, manage to be successful. And, we had a few of those on our team and it was a real pleasure playing with them."

How was adjusting to life, for you, after your playing days were done?

Sanders: "Well, that's always extremely difficult and certainly I had the same problems that most players have. I would like to think that I was a little more prepared only because, in those days, we had to work during the summer and in the off-season anyway. So, the 9-to-5 thing was already a part of my life. Thus, when it became necessary, I could adjust relatively easy. But you still miss everything about professional basketball, from the people, the fans, to your teammates to all the other things... and certainly the competitiveness of the game."

We know you work for the NBA but would you share with us your thoughts on the game today and how it has changed since you were playing?

Sanders: "The only thing that really has changed is the athleticism of the players. Obviously the dollars have changed. But the game is, pretty much, a lot of it the same, as it was when I was playing. The fact that there is so much individual talent here means you see a little bit more of the 1-on-1 game, but it's a fun game to watch and I still enjoy it immensely."