By Peter F. Stringer
October 29, 2006
WALTHAM - Before the Celtics took the floor for practice on Sunday, they got a history lesson from Doc Rivers.
Even casual basketball fans are aware of the basics of his legacy, but several young Celtics never got the opportunity to meet or play as Celtics in front of Auerbach, who planned to be at the TD Banknorth Garden for opening night.
Rivers never played for the Celtics either, but he certainly had plenty of exposure to Auerbach as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. And apparently the patriarch entertained the idea of putting Rivers in Celtics green during the 1980s. According to Rivers, his first ever meeting with Red was in a restaurant, when Auerbach approached him.
"Typical Red...he was tampering," laughed Rivers. "He just walked up and said 'I think it would be very wise if you didn't sign an extension,' and then he just kind of walked away. That was his way of telling me that there was interest."
Anecdotes aside, Rivers explained to his troops how Auerbach forged Celtics Pride and nurtured a rabid fan base by barnstorming all over New England with exhibition games in the 50s, and that while the previous administration wanted to keep the games close to give fans an entertaining game, Auerbach wanted to destroy the opposition.
Rivers said Auerbach told him, "'We were going to beat them by 50 if we can to show them that this is the Celtics, and that we are different.' So they did that and then after the game they'd sign autographs for two hours."
Rivers also stressed to his team Auerbach's influence not only on the franchise and the NBA, but the game of basketball and professional sports as well. His color-blind attitude toward building a championship team was ahead of its time, and he helped open doors for African American players by drafting and playing Chuck Cooper in 1950 (among the first black players in the NBA), playing the first African American starting five, and installing Bill Russell as the NBA's first African American head coach.
"Red did all that, but he wasn't doing it because he was trying to break ground," Rivers said. "That's what I loved about Red. His response to it was, 'I'm trying to win a game.'"
Rivers reminisced with reporters about his first day as the head coach of the Boston Celtics.
"It was amazing, the day I signed as coach, I was a part of his family. I flew back home that night and the phone rings and it's Red Auerbach on the phone," Rivers said. "It's amazing how he makes you feel. That's what he created around here. He created a family. And he wanted you to feel that you were special, that you were better than everybody else, because you were part of the Celtics family. And he did that."