Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Personal Note: The End For A True, True, Icon - Red Auerbach

When you look at who Arnold “Red’ Auerbach was, and what he accomplished, you almost have to believe that it wasn’t true. That one man could not have done so much.

It was with tremendous sadness that I learned a short time ago, that Red had passed away this evening, a phone call from my sister, my basketball soulmate.
The news immediately took us back, to December 12, 1964, the first Boston Celtic game we attended (against the Gus Johnson-led, Buddy Jennette-coached Baltimore Bullets). We would attend hundreds-and-hundreds of games over the next few decades, but those games in the 60’s, still, are very special.
It wasn’t just Red’s 9 NBA titles as Coach (including in that run, eight-consecutive championships). Or the seven crowns that followed, as either General Manager or President.

It wasn’t just the unprecedented move, trading away a beloved established veteran (Ed McCauley), for the rights to a rookie, just out of college, and delayed coming to the team due to the 1956 Olympics (Bill Russell). Or outfoxing the rest of the league, drafting a junior-eligible “Can’t Miss” kid, a hick from French Lick, Indiana (Larry Bird).

No, Red made not only the Boston Celtics who they became, the standard of excellence Red lived also went towards establishing the league, all at a time when it wasn’t certain the league would survive.

In that era, struggling to draw fans to the game, the league played “doubleheaders”. Red, along with the legendary owner, the late Walter Brown, often agreed to be the team to go into whichever city, to play the “first game” so that local owner could bring in a crowd and, if they were lucky, break even for the night.

Red, in those early days, took on the role of the villain, baiting the referees (like his career-long head-butting with the late Mendy Rudolph) and, while still on the bench, lighting up his trademark cigar, once the victory was secured, but despite a minute, or two, left in the game.

(One of Red’s favorite story was of a game played in Cincinnati, against the Royals (led by the Big ‘”O”, Oscar Robertson and the big forward, Jerry Lucas). The team passed out 5,000 cigars so fans, once the Celtics were beaten, could blow smoke in Red’s face - no such luck, the Celtics won the game)
I’ll put some links below so you can look up stats and more information.
But understand a true giant as left us. While his successes are captured in choppy, flickering, black-and-white footage, his spirit, character and work ethic have indelibly stamped the game of basketball - and will continue to do so for decades to come.
Oh yeah, one more story.
If you want to win a bar bet, challenge someone to name who is the only man that can say he was traded for Bob Cousy.
In the late 1960’s, to early 1970’s, former Celtic legend Bob Cousy was coaching the Cincinnati Royals. With not a very good team, Cousy, some 8-years+ retired, activated himself to become player-coach, but was blocked, initially, by Auerbach - Cousy, the player, still belonged to the Boston Celtics and Auerbach was demanding compensation.
Cousy and the Cincinnati Royals ended up sending a young guard, Bill Dinwiddie to the Celtics.
Red wins again.

Updated Links
Boston Herald: Red leaves long legacy: Celtics legend dead at 89

Updated Links II - More About Red Flooding In

Note: There’s a bevy of links to more in Ryan’s piece

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