October 28 -- Red Auerbach, the architect and mastermind behind one of the most dominant franchises in professional sports history, the Boston Celtics, has died at the age of 89.
The cigar-chomping Auerbach was an aggressive, challenging and often explosive mentor who coached 11 Hall of Famers, including Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, and led Boston to 10 Eastern Division titles in 16 years.
"Red Auerbach was the consummate teacher, leader, and a true pioneer of the sport of basketball," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "The NBA wouldn't be what it is today without him."
Born on Sept. 20, 1917 in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of hard-working immigrants from Minsk, Russia, Auerbach started playing basketball at P.S. 122 in Brooklyn and became a star guard for Eastern District High School, making all-scholastic second team as a senior.
Auerbach longed to be a teacher and coach. After a year at Seth Low Junior College, the Brooklyn arm of Columbia University, he transferred to George Washington University, where he was a standout basketball player. Auerbach left George Washington in 1941 with an M.A., to go with the bachelor's degree he had earned earlier at the school.
Auerbach started his coaching career at St. Albans Prep School and Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C., before serving in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946.
That year, Auerbach began his coaching career in the BAA with the Washington Capitals and led them to the 1947 and 1949 division titles. In 1950, Auerbach became head coach of the Boston Celtics.
One of Auerbach’s most notable attributes was that he was colorblind. He didn't see black or white players on the court; he just saw players who could help him win. In 1950, he became the first to draft an African-American: Chuck Cooper, a second-team All-American from Duquesne, in the second round.
He was also the first to start five blacks and first to hire a black coach (Bill Russell, 1966) in the NBA. He also hired two other African-American coaches after Russell stepped down -- Satch Sanders and K.C. Jones, both former Celtics.
From 1959 to 1966, the Celtics won eight straight NBA championships, a streak unmatched in sports history. He was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1965, and in 1970, was selected as the NBA's 25th Anniversary All-Time Team coach.
When Auerbach left the Boston bench in 1966 at the age of 48 to concentrate on being general manager, he was the winningest coach in NBA history with 938 victories. He was the first to use a "sixth man," he ran a simple offense of seven set plays, and he never had a league-leading scorer. Boston fans reveled when Auerbach lit a cigar to signify that another victory was secure.
In 1980, the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America (PBWAA) named Auerbach the greatest coach in the history of the NBA. After coaching, Auerbach joined the Celtics front office full-time and in 1980 was named NBA Executive of the Year.
His 938-479 (.662) career coaching record currently ranks fifth all-time in NBA history. His all-time record for wins as a coach (1,037, including playoff victories) was eventually broken by Lenny Wilkens. Auerbach led Boston to 99 playoff victories, third all-time behind Phil Jackson and Pat Riley.
Arnold "Red" Auerbach once proclaimed, "The Boston Celtics are not a basketball team, they are a way of life." Auerbach, a member of the National Basketball Association since its formation in 1946, has been with the Celtics since 1950. He, like the Celtics, is a way of life.
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