Summer Reading: Red Auerbach On & Off the Court

Today's book review is Red Auerbach On and Off the Court by Red Auerbach with Joe Fitzgerald, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1985.  This book is pure Auerbach.  It's Red on basketball, recalling the times he first saw Bill Russell and Larry Bird;  describing the less talented athletes who got the utmost out of their abilities, and came to be known as Celtic-type players;  and blasting the coaches who insist on calling every play and dominating every game.  But it's also Red on how to deal with drugs in sports;  on heroes and celebrities, and why we have so many of the latter and so few of the former;  and on the dangers in any kind of business that follow from losing sight of what the customers want.   On and Off the Court is more than just a basketball book.  It is the philosophy and reflections of an extraordinary man who just happened to be the most successful sports executive who ever lived.  

Here's an excerpt from the book where Red talks about what it means to be a Celtic. Red had ubuntu down long before Doc introduced the word to the '07-'08 season. First is Red's speech welcoming a new player and then he goes into a story about Charlie Scott becoming a Celtic.

"Have you ever seen our team play? Then you know we expect certain things from our guys. We've won championships, and we hope to win a lot more, but to be a champion you have got to act like a champion, on and off the court. You've got to have a certain feeling about yourself and about the team, and you've got to be willing to pay the price.
"We're smart enough to know when you're loafing, when you're giving us false hustle, and if we ever see that we'll get rid of you because we won't have the room or time to go into the whys and wherefores.
"But if you have the desire, and if you show the proper attitude, you'll find all kinds of help here, not only from the coaches and me, but from all of your teammates as well. Because they want to win, and if they can help you to improve, they'll also be helping the team to improve. That's the concept we go by here. You'll be aware of it right away.
"You'll never see a player on the Celtics bawling out a teammate. You'll never see a Celtic throwing a towel or jacket in disgust when he is taken out of a game. That crap is selfishness and we don't buy it here. The name of our game is unity.
"If you start with us and do your job, you more than likely will finish with us. We've had more players start and finish with us than the rest of the league combined. We've helped our guys get jobs when their playing days were over. We've helped them not to squander their money. When you leave here, you're prepared to face the future.
"Now if we're willing to take this kind of interest in you, what are you going to do? Go out there and go through the motions? Rely solely on your natural abilities, rather than going out there and working like a dog? Or are you going to make it your business to become a Celtic? That's what we want. We want you to become a Celtic."
Charlie Scott became a Celtic. A lot of people thought he never would, but I wasn't one of them. He'd been a big scorer most of his career, a one on one guy, and some folks wondered if he could fit into the Celtics' style of play when he came to us in 1975. He was almost 28 then. Let me tell you a story about Charlie.
In the fifth game of our championship series with Phoenix that year - Charlie was called out on fouls, some of which were really questionable. We won that night, but as soon as I walked into our locker room, before the press arrived, Tommy Heinsohn pulled me aside. "Will you talk to Charlie?" he said. "He's ready to explode."
And he was. They'd given the kid six fouls and a technical, and he was so upset he was shaking.
I grabbed him by both arms. "Charlie," I said, softly. "You've had a great year. You've done everything we've asked you to do, but now you're ready to blow your stack..."
He started to interrupt me. I squeezed his arms tighter. "Listen. Let me tell you something. I was worse than you are now, on many occasions, but I didn't have someone to grab me and stop me like I'm doing to you. And so I did a lot of crazy things. But I'm stopping you now. I want you to show me what you're made of. I want you to grit your teeth, take a quick shower, then get the hell out of here without saying a word to anyone. Just dress and go. Quickly."
I dropped his arms. He looked at me for a minute, then went straight to the shower room, came out a minute later, jumped into his clothes and left. He never said a word.
In the next game he scored 25 points, played fabulously, and we won the championship. As soon as the final horn sounded he came running to me, tossed his arms around me and gave me a kiss. He knew what it was all about and so did I. The rest of the players knew, too, although nobody else did.
In my eyes and in the eyes of his teammates, Charlie had disciplined himself for the good of the ballclub, and now he'd just helped us win the biggest game of the year. Each one of us had total respect for what he had done. He'd come to Boston with a bad rap, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind now.
Charlie Scott had handled himself like a man. He'd become a Celtic.
Oh, I know some people think that's a lot of bull. That's what Paul Silas though, too, when he came to us in 1972. But the next year, in the spring of
74, we won it all. Wayne Embry, one of our old guys from the end of the Russell era, was GM of the Bucks that season. It was us against Milwaukee in the final round, and now it had all come down to Game 7 on a Sunday afternoon out there.
Here's what Embry told a reporter after it was all over, "I felt then, and I still feel now, that we had the better ballclub. And I know our guys have just as much pride as the Boston guys do. I felt we were going to win - and yet, as I sat in my office that morning, I just couldn't relax. I kept saying to myself: If we were playing anybody else but the Celtics... If it had been any other team I'd have been down there taking ring sizes! But I knew the character of John Havlicek and those guys. I knew if they were down by 20 points with 3 minutes left, they'd never give up. There's a lot if the old Celtics in them. Whatever that intangible is, it must be inherent."
Later, after we'd won, I was standing in our locker room when Silas walked over and put his arm around me.
"Red," he said, "I want to tell you something. When I first got here I thought all that stuff about tradition and so on was a lot of BS. But I know better now. It's real all right, and I'm awfully proud to be a part of it." It was real. And it's still real today.

Although this book was written back in 1985, it is still true today as well. The Celtics have always had ubuntu as a motto, they just didn't know the word for it. And we have players like KG, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce who are willing to sacrifice their own stats and games for the good of the team.  If you want to know what being a Celtic means or what makes this franchise special, you'll find that ane more in this fascinating book. 

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