Just prior to the beginning of the 2006-07 season, Arnold 'Red' Auerbach passed away in his hometown of Washington, DC on October 28, 2006. He was 89 years old.
Red had been a part of the Celtics family for 57 years and he had been a part of the National Basketball Association for 60 years, never missing the opening of a season. The Boston Celtics organization has dedicated the 2006-07 season in his memory.
Auerbach spent the first three seasons of his pro career with the Washington Capitols before moving on to the Tri-Cities Hawks for one campaign. At this point, Walter Brown, who owned the struggling Boston Celtics, appointed Auerbach as the man to lead the squad into what would ultimately become the greatest franchise in pro basketball annals.
Auerbach carefully crafted a competitive team, and his moves culminated with an April 29, 1956 transaction that sent Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis for the Hawks' first-round pick; with that selection, the Celtics chose Bill Russell. This blockbuster trade would spur the Celtics into the most dominant franchise in pro basketball history and helped spawn the legend that is Auerbach and the Celtics. From 1950-1966, Auerbach coached the Celtics to nine world titles, including eight in succession from 1959-1966. His incredible record was 938-479 (.662) in regular-season play and an equally impressive 99-69 (.589) in post-season encounters. Prior to the 1966-67 season, the "coach" removed himself from the bench in order to concentrate on his duties as General Manager, and appointed Bill Russell as player-coach.
With Red's guidance and knowledge, the Celtics continued to win. In 1968 and 1969, the Celtics added two more titles. After a down period in the early 1970s, Auerbach restructured the team, adding key personnel through trades and the draft, and ultimately raised banners in 1974 and 1976. It was the subsequent years that would provide Auerbach with his biggest challenge, as the late '70s proved to be a dismal period for the Celtics. Yet Auerbach once again saved the franchise with the shrewd selection of Larry Bird in the 1978 draft. Although he would have to wait a year before Bird could play in the NBA, Auerbach sensed that the Indiana native was the man to rejuvenate the proud organization. Five other teams had a shot at Bird, but all passed.
In 1981, Boston became the NBA champions again as Auerbach orchestrated another amazing trade, this time dealing the first and 13th picks in the 1981 draft to Golden State for Robert Parish and the third overall pick (Kevin McHale). Boston added two more titles in 1984 and 1986 thanks to the master's keen additions of Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton, and others.
Auerbach had been the recipient of numerous distinguished awards and honors throughout his career. In 1968, he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA for all his successes. When the NBA chose its Silver Anniversary Team honoring the best of the league's first 25 years, Red was chosen as coach of that distinguished team. In 1982, he was elected to the Washington Hall of Stars, a Hall of Fame which involves people from all sports. Red was also honored as NBA Coach of the Year in 1965, winning the trophy that now bears his name, and NBA Executive of the Year in 1980. Also in that year, he was selected to the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team as "Greatest Coach in the History of the NBA," by the PBWAA.
In 1985, the Red Auerbach Fund, established in the great coach's name, was created to promote athletic, recreational, and other youth development activities in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. January 4, 1985 will always be a special day in Red's heart and in Boston sports history, as it was on this day that the Celtics family saluted its patriarch by having the number "2" retired in his honor (emblematic as the second most influential person in the organization's annals; similarly, the number "1" is dedicated to the team's founder, Walter Brown). On Red's 68th birthday, September 20, 1985, a life-size sculpture of Auerbach was unveiled and placed in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace so the public would have a lasting tribute to this basketball genius and legend.
He had received seven honorary degrees from various institutions. Red valued such honors so much that he kept a previous commitment to American International College by delivering its commencement speech on May 22, 1988, even though it prevented him from being at Boston Garden for the deciding game of the Celtics-Hawks' best-of-seven thriller. On that day, AIC presented Auerbach with a Doctor of Humanities Honorary Degree. A week earlier he had received a Doctor of Arts Honorary Degree from Stonehill College. He has also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees in Humane Letters from Franklin Pierce College, on May 24, 1981, the University of Massachusetts (Boston), in 1982, and from Boston University, on May 13, 1984. In 1986, Central New England College honored him with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business Administration. On February 14, 1993, his alma mater, George Washington, bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Public Service Degree, and on June 9, 1998, the university celebrated Red's 80th birthday by unveiling a plaque and a bust of the legendary coach. This tribute is permanently attached to the exterior of the Smith Center, GW's athletic facility.
Red was the author of seven books. His first, Basketball for the Player, the Fan and Coach, has been translated into seven languages and is the largest-selling basketball book in print. His second book, co-authored with Paul Sann, was Winning the Hard Way, and he also penned a pair of publications written in conjunction with Joe Fitzgerald: Red Auerbach: An Autobiography and Red Auerbach On and Off the Court. In October, 1991, M.B.A.: Management by Auerbach, was co-authored with Ken Dooley. In 1994, Seeing Red was written with Dan Shaughnessy. In October 2004, his latest book, Let Me Tell You A Story, was co-authored with legendary sports journalist John Feinstein. In 1987, an excellent instructional video entitled Winning Basketball became available to the public featuring the insight, thoughts, and philosophy of Red and three-time NBA Most Valuable Player and Celtics' captain Larry Bird. In 2005, he was recognized as an Honorary Master Chef at the the U.S. Coast Guard.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Red attended Eastern District High School in that city, attended Seth Low Junior College in New York, and George Washington University in the District of Columbia. He played three years of college basketball at GW, and was the team's leading scorer and a defensive specialist. He received a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1940 and a Master of Arts in Education from GW the following year.
Red (September 20, 1917 - October 28, 2006) and his late wife, Dorothy, were married in 1941 and survived by two daughters: Nancy, who is married to former CNN anchorman Reid Collins, and Randy, who is Vice-President of Creative Affairs for Blue Tulip Productions in Hollywood. Red is also survived by one granddaughter, Julie, a housewife and student at GW, who is married to Eric Fleiger. He also was survived by his great-grandson, Peter Auerbach Fleiger, and two great-granddaughters, Hope and Noelle Fleiger.