Since the day he joined the team in 1950, Arnold Jacob 'Red' Auerbach, 'The Coach', has been the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics franchise. He was the man who developed the proud tradition with the Boston Celtics, and brought winning and success to Celtics fans throughout the world. Auerbach and his Celtics won a record nine titles from 1957 to 1966 - including an unprecedented eight consecutive. He has been the team's head coach, General Manager, Vice Chairman of the Board and President - he truly did do it all.
'The Coach', who in high school wanted to be a physical education teacher and then ended up building professional sports' most famous franchise, passed away Saturday at the age of 89.
He was the Patriarch, the boss, an American Original... the man. In this bottom line world, all you truly need to know about Red Auerbach and his influence and impact on the organization is to walk into the TD Banknorth Garden (formerly the FleetCenter and the famous Boston Garden before that) and let your eyes gaze upward toward the heavens. Sixteen World Championship banners hang with distinguished and hard-fought pride and with a special touch of cigar smoke added for good measure. Red had his hand and spirit in each one. In fact, in the 1999-2000 season the team wanted to recognize and say, 'thank you' in return to their leader by raising another banner - not for a team but for Red himself and his 50 years of loyal service.
Arnold 'Red' Auerbach not only assumed many titles, roles and responsibilities during his outstanding tenure, he was also a creator, promoter, enforcer and shrewd businessman. He formed the famous Sixth Man concept and developed the fast break style of play. He built Celtics Pride. His team's would barnstorm throughout the six New England states and play as many pre-season games as they could each year. He represented the United States behind the Iron Curtin conducting clinics. He punched out opposing owners and was given the 'heave-ho' by many referees long before the word 'ejected' became popular. He patrolled and prowled and grumbled and growled on the sidelines for 20 seasons. He is the only coach to get thrown out of an All-Star Game and an Old Timers Game. Safe to say he was a, "fierce competitor"... and the ultimate winner!
Perhaps, just as important, he respected and loved the game and he was a man who always kept his word.
'The Coach' was the recipient of numerous awards and honors. He was recognized and received seven Honorary Doctorate degrees. He was the first coach in NBA history to win 1,000 games (in 1966). He was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1968. 'The Coach' was deservedly named the NBA's 25th Anniversary All-time Team Coach (in 1970) and named the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team's 'Greatest Coach in the History of the NBA' in 1980. Also in that same year, he was named the NBA Executive of the Year and he was named, 'The Greatest Coach in the History of the NBA' by the Professional Basketball Writers' Association of America. The winner of the NBA Coach of the Year in 1965, the league on July 20, 1984, named the Coach of the Year trophy in his honor. As NBA Commissioner David Stern once remarked, "this was a simple no-brainer to name this trophy after Red and all for that he has done for the game of basketball."
'The Coach' and his teams never had a losing season. In fact, his teams won nine titles in the first 20 years that the league existed.
He had a successful television series, 'Red on Roundball'. He was the author of seven books - many which were translated into other languages. Along with Celtics Legend and Hall of Famer Larry Bird, he was part of the highly regarded instructional video, 'Winning Basketball'. After his coaching days were over, he even assumed the duties as a television color analyst for a few seasons. He made commercials both local and nationally; remember the Miller Lite commercials with many former great athletes and entertainers in them?
He was a combination of General Patton and Winston Churchill. He had his opinion on most everything from letter openers to handball. And, he was the foremost authority on Chinese food... 24/7, 365 days a year.
How many people have a statue of themselves? On his 68th birthday, September 20, 1985, a life-size sculpture of Auerbach was unveiled and placed in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace. A few years later, his alma mater, George Washington University, celebrated Red's 80th birthday with a plaque and a bust of the coach that is permanently attached to the exterior of the Smith Athletic Center on the school's main campus. When the Celtics moved into the spacious Gosman Sports and Convocation Center on the campus of Brandeis University to conduct their practices beginning in the early 1990's, only one name would be appropriate - the Red Auerbach Gymnasium - complete with a large-scale signature of 'The Coach' right on the playing floor.
He has left his mark in the Garden heavens as well. The number "2" is retired in his honor (emblematic as the second most influential person in the organization's annals; similarly, the number "1" is dedicated to Celtics founder Walter Brown). It should be noted and the history books are chalked full of the account, but without Brown there would be no Red. Brown "took a chance" on the young 32-year old coach and Auerbach thought it was a great opportunity. In fourteen years together (until Brown's death in 1964), they never had a contract... just trust.
'The Coach' was a keen student of basketball and human nature ever since he, as a youngster, first started bouncing a ball on Brooklyn playgrounds. In looking over a prospect, each player was evaluated on basis of, at least, five points: (1) his background, (2) physical make-up, (3) the manner in which he handles a ball, (4) his competitive spirit and (5) his ability to associate and adjust himself to his teammates.
During any game, Red was an attraction in himself. No sooner has the opening tap off occurred when he starts bellowing at the officials for missing calls or being too harsh with his own men. However, once the Celtics had acquired a substantial lead, 'The Coach' would unwrap and light up a favorite cigar and puff away as the Green and White polished off another opponent.
It jumbles the mind to think of how many world leaders, politicians, corporate executives, VIP's, dignitaries, actors and entertainers he met over his glorious lifetime. And how many children, budding basketball players, young men just wanting to be like Red and adults who copied his cigar-smoking ways did he influence and have a huge impact on? How many speeches did he deliver to civic groups, corporations, graduation ceremonies or summer basketball camps?
When the Hotel Madison/Manger was imploded... Red was still here. The sudden deaths of President Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King shocked the nation... Red was still here. When the Vietnam War was raging in the 60's and 70's... Red was still here. When John Y. Brown owned the Celtics... Red was still here (just barely, thanks to the fans of Boston for talking him out of leaving the team in favor of the arch-rival New York Knickerbockers). Len Bias and Reggie Lewis... Red was still here. The Central Artery/Big Dig transformation... Red was still here. When the Boston Garden was demolished... Red was still here. Camp Milbrook, Eastern Airlines, Howard Johnson's restaurants, Jordan Marsh and Lechmere (to name just a few) had all come and gone but Red was still here - he was the Celtic constant.
Inflation, The Depression, world wars, ATM's, Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, Velcro, TV dinners, 8-track tapes, polio, AIDS, Nintendo, astonishing gas prices, gas rationing, faxes, email, internet, cell phones, iPods, hand-held Blackberries, cars with electric windows and a rear defroster, fast food, diet food, in-arena scoreboards, team charter planes, team's with more than three assistant coaches, vhs tape recorders, DVD's, the three-point shot, $150 pair of sneakers, knee-length game shorts - you name it and he saw it, dealt with it and seemed to be above it all in his lifetime.
Red and his beautiful wife of 59 years, Dorothy, had two children - both daughters, Nancy and Randy. No sons. His family resided in our nation's capital, Washington, DC, and 'The Coach' (and husband and father) would have to "commute" to and from Boston. For years he had a place at the Hotel Lenox and later had a single bedroom apartment in the Prudential area of downtown Boston. He would never fly first-class either. Why? 'Why should I waste my owner's money like that?' he would always say.
Red's interest may have been physical education but it could easily have been chemistry. Think about it, what would you say to the same players year after year after your team has won the title for consecutive years? Someone had to listen to, direct and combine the talents and temperaments of the players into a solid team concept. The Coach gets an A+ for this. Only he could mold and develop each man into one way of thinking - take great individual skills and combine them with each other to form a superior team. A team that would out-run, out-hustle, out-rebound and out-smart every opponent year after year.
The secrets of success? Red once said, "I don't think there are 'secrets'. I think you have to take the best care you can of the basketball. Value the ball more and, most importantly, do what got you there. If your team had success doing certain things during the regular season, there's no reason to make any changes now."
'The Coach' has given all of us so much - his passion, his leadership, his giving of time and advice and his friendship. One can call them 'gifts' but all of us have been truly blessed, enriched and, perhaps, spoiled for all these years. 'Thank you, Coach,' just doesn't seem to say enough for all he gave to us.
- By Jeff Twiss, a 26-year employee of the Boston Celtics, who was hired by Red Auerbach.