Weather Forces Sox Tribute to Auerbach Indoors
Rainout Makes For Intimate Gathering of Red's Celtics Family
Celtics legend Bill Russell shares a story about Red Auerbach with current Celtics Paul Pierce, Leon Powe Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins on Thursday afternoon in the Red Sox family room. Julie Cordeiro/Boston Red Sox
FENWAY PARK - Red Auerbach always maintained that he didn't like people making a big fuss over him, and he liked to keep things simple.
So in some ways, it may have fit his style that the ceremony planned to honor the Celtics patriarch at Fenway Park Thursday evening were curtailed by a rain out, which cancelled the baseball game and instead forced an intimate gathering in the Red Sox' Family Room.
The Celtics' family of yesterday and today was on hand to pay tribute to Auerbach, and while Bill Russell never got to throw out the first pitch, the 16 World Championship banners hung only briefly from the legendary Green Monster and the Red Sox never played in their green jerseys, the day did give Celtics legends some time together to reflect on their mentor, coach and friend.
Russell, who won the first of his 11 World Championships with Auerbach 50 years ago in 1957, spent the afternoon telling stories about Auerbach and the old Celtics, whether it was recounting playing gin rummy against Red (a favorite pastime of both men) or the lifelong friendship he developed with teammate Frank Ramsey, largely due to the environment fostered by Auerbach.
Ramsey, known as the NBA's first "sixth man" (yet another Auerbach innovation), won seven titles under Red and was on hand for the ceremony along former players Jim "Loscy" Loscutoff, JoJo White, Danny Ainge and Dana Barros for the afternoon to pay tribute to The Coach.
Addressing a room of mostly baseball reporters not as familiar with Auerbach's true legacy, Russell explained that Auerbach's contributions to race relations in Boston and the world of professional sports were made unwittingly, simply because he was already colorblind.
"He had no preconceived notions of what a player looked like," said Russell, who later rolled up his sleeve to reveal the longjohns he wore in anticipation of braving the elements to honor Auerbach on the field despite the dismal forcast. "All he was interested in were the results."
Russell also made it clear that despite his well-earned legacy of being an agent of change at time when Boston struggled with race relations, Auerbach had no agenda and was not conducting any social experiments. He said that Red was simply interested in having a "good team of good guys who got along."
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers has always held Auerbach in high regard since his playing days in the 1980s, and he noted that Red should be honored in every venue in Boston for his contributions to sports and society. Meanwhile, Paul Pierce, whose tenure with the team predates the current ownership group, coaches and much of the front office staff, is one of the lucky few current members of the Celtics' organization who really had a chance to develop a long-term relationship with Auerbach.
Pierce, who was joined by teammates Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe, talked about how honored he was, as "just the 10th pick in the draft", to have a humbling sit-down with Red right after he was drafted in 1998, a discussion in which he talked about basketball and life with Red for over an hour.
Pierce shared that he could always tell when Red was at a practice or at the arena without even seeing him, because he could just smell the aroma of his legendary cigars. He also shared that he has a collection of cigars given to him by Red over the years, but that he's never smoked them.
"I told Red I wouldn't smoke them until I won a championship," Pierce said.