Danny Ainge addressed the media during Sunday's practice at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint in Waltham to discuss the passing of Celtics patriarch Red Auerbach. Ainge shared his thoughts on his relationship with Red, what he learned from him and some of his favorite memories. Ainge said he last spoke to Red on September 20, 2006, Auerbach's 89th birthday.
The following is a transcript of Ainge's discussion with the media.
"It is a sad day. Red has been a part of the entire history of the Celtics, and I found myself reflecting on Red quite a bit the last couple of years as his health has been struggling, and all I can do is smile. [I remember] all of the fond memories I have of Red, and all of the fun times that we had and funny things that he said and did. His personality was so unique and controversial, inspiring and charismatic. Red was a lot of fun to be around."
On his relationship with Red
"Red for me was kind of like a grandfather. I remember when Red first picked me up at the airport when I was drafted by the Celtics. He picked me up in a limo, and we went out to eat and we just talked about basketball and the Celtics. And then my wife was coming in to the airport shortly there after, and Red says, "How many wives do you Mormons have, anyway?" He was fun that way. He always had a light heart.
"When I had struggles with the coach or with my playing, I could always to talk to Red, and he was always a wise man who would make you see things from a bigger perspective, and not just living in the moment like most young players do. I always had that kind of relationship with him, where he could always put things in perspective."
On learning about Red's passion for Celtics basketball
"I think that I kind of got [his] passion more from the older players like Tommy, Bobby and Hondo, listening to their stories; I didn't have the experience of playing for him. I think as a coach you see a lot more of that passion than you do as a general manager. In 1981 when I came to the Celtics he was more laid back, and I saw a calmer, not so crazy man that some people had described, where he punched out a fan in Detroit or something...[laughs]...things like that, I didn't see that side of Red, I saw the grandfather side of Red."
On Red's legacy
"He's already been voted as one of the greatest coaches ever. And obviously as the President and general manager of the team, he had great success. His record stands on its own. But he just had a way about him. The question is, why did he have success? Obviously he had great players and there was a great mystique and tradition. I always laugh at the Celtics mystique; I think it had a lot more to do with Heinsohn, Cousy, Russell, Havlicek and Bird than it had to do with some sort of mystique, and I think that talent wins. But Red had a way to manage the talent. He didn't like to use the word 'manage', you deal with people he always said. He had a way of calming the egos down and getting people to play on the same page, and talking them through the jealousies that can exist when you have a lot of talented players on a team. I think that those were some of his great strengths."
On how Red "stole" from the Blue Jays
"Do you want the real story or what the deposition said? [Laughs] Red talked with me before the draft. I had a contract that was an iron clad contract with the Blue Jays that would prohibit me from playing another professional sport for at least another year. So when I was coming out of college, my contract indicated that I can't play professional basketball. I told everybody that, the Sixers, the Mavericks, the Lakers. I told every team the same thing. I told the same thing to Red Auerbach, and Red says, "Forget that, we're drafting you anyway!" So Red ended up drafting me. He had the best opportunity [to draft me], he had three picks that year. He was able to roll the dice, go to court and lose the battle with Toronto, and then paid Toronto to have my rights. There was just something certain about Red. And from my perspective, I'm not sure that I leave professional baseball at that time to play for any other organization but the Boston Celtics, although I never indicated that to Red. If the Celtics draft me I'll come, but I'm not going to any other team, I never said any of that to Red, but he didn't care. He was confident that he had an organization that would be appealing to a player like myself, and he was willing to take the chance and try to make something happen."
On Red's successes
I still think that a lot of that Red would tell you was luck and there [were] other people who had influence in the decisions. It wasn't just him coming up with the ideas to trade the number one pick for Parish and McHale, I think Bill Fitch had a lot to do with that. But again, I think it goes back to Red, he surrounded himself with good people, and he listened to their perspectives and their point of view. He just had a confidence about him. Red made some wrong decisions as a coach and wrong decisions as a manger, but it didn't matter. He was OOK with himself, and he was OK with why he made the decisions that he made, and "lets try and do it again."
On what he learned from Red
"One of the things that I appreciated so much about Red as a player in the 80s playing and his role in the organization, he would come in and point out things, he would make it very clear to me that he was not satisfied with how I had played in a particular game, for a particular reason, even though the media would be surrounding me, because I had 25 points and made a couple of three-pointers. He would recognize the little things in the game, and being a grandfather figure, you didn't want to disappoint Red. When Red would come in to me after shooting 1-for-10, and I was down, and I could have played better, he would notice the little things I had done to help the team win and he would point those things out. I always appreciated those things about Red. He didn't care what the media was saying, he didn't even care what the coaches were saying. He had his own view on who was helping them win the games, and I've always taken that from Red.
"And then [he had] just the big picture perspective. I remember one time I was struggling in my rookie year, and there was a lot of expectations that I had of my self, and the media had, as college player of the year, and coming through baseball, the money that they'd paid to get my rights, and so I was feeling a lot of pressure, and wasn't getting an opportunity to play, and was not really getting along real well with Bill Fitch. So I went into Red's office and I said, Red, am I not better than these guards playing ahead of me? And Red says, yeah, you are. So I said, could you go ahead and talk to the coach, and he said, "no, he knows. He knows you are too. But there's a whole bigger perspective. The team was good before you got here and you've' got to wait your time. And there's a lot more things that I'm dealing with beside who's the best player. So I was able to deal with that. And there've been situations throughout my playing career and now as the Executive Director of the Celtics that those situations come up all of the time. I've seen those and recognized those circumstances so I've been able to give that counsel to young players who aren't getting exactly what they want, and talk them through to see the bigger picture."
On his memories of Red
"One year when I was in training camp at Hellenic College, they had some racquetball courts underneath the backcourt, so anyway, I was kind of dubbed as the best athlete on the team by the Celtics. I think Red was 65, but he was beating Bird and McHale at racquetball, but he hadn't beaten me yet. I don't even know how to play racquetball, quite honestly, because I was kind of ambidextrous, I did most things left handed and played basketball right handed, we went in the back and played racquetball. I beat him three straight games. Now this is in the middle of Bull Fitch two-a-days. He forced me after the first practice to go back there and play him, and I beat him in the first three games. And I said, "Red, I've got a second practice coming on, I'm trying to win a job." But he made me stay there and play racquetball. Well, Bird and McHale came in, probably only an hour before our second practice is going to start, and he still wanted to beat me. Bird and McHale noticed that I didn't have the string around my racquet, and that's illegal in racquetball, so they tattled on me. They told Red, he can't switch hands like that, that's illegal, you've got to make him put the string around one hand, and then Red beat me and went in and bragged the rest of the training camp that he beat me in racquetball."
Is it the end of an era?
"I don't know if it closes the books on anything; Red is part of all of us. I think that will live on. I will never forget what Red has done for me and the opportunities that opened the doors for me and many of the people in the organization, and I think that Red lives on in all of us."
- October 29, 2006