September 20, 2010 have been Red Auerbach's 93rd birthday and it is a good time for the Celtics Nation to pause and remember the patriarch of the Celtics franchise. I have a tee shirt that has the clover on the front with Red's name inside the clover and on the back, it says this:
"The Boston Celtics are not a basketball team, they are a way of life."
Red was a member of the National Basketball Association since its formation in 1946 and was with the Celtics since 1950. For him, the Celtics truly were a way of life. When the Celtics won the 2008 NBA championship, it marked the first of the Celtics' 17 championships that Red wasn't there to see. But his hand was still in that championship in that it's architect, Danny Ainge, was chosen by Red to be the team's GM. And Danny has mentioned having many discussions with Red in his early years as GM about the direction to take the team.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Red attended Eastern District High School in that city, attended Seth Low Junior College in New York, and George Washington University in the District of Columbia. He played three years of college basketball at GW, and was the team's leading scorer and a defensive specialist. He received a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1940 and a Master of Arts in Education from GW the following year.
In 1941, Auerbach began coaching basketball at the St. Albans School and Roosevelt High School. Two years later, he joined the US Navy fand spent three years in the military, coaching the Navy basketball team in Norfolk. There, he caught the eye of Washington millionaire Mike Uline, who hired him to coach the Washington Capitols in the newly-founded Basketball Association of America (BAA), a predecessor of the NBA. Auerbach spent the first three seasons of his pro career with the Washington Capitols before moving on to the Tri-Cities Hawks for one campaign. At this point, Walter Brown, who owned the struggling Boston Celtics, approached Auerbach to become the man to lead the squad into what would ultimately become the greatest franchise in pro basketball history.
Auerbach carefully crafted a competitive team but the championship eluded them in his first 6 years as coach and GM. Then, on April 29, 1956 Red sent Easy Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan and the 7th pick in the draft to St. Louis for the Hawks' first-round pick. That pick was the second in the draft and it was believed that the Rochester Royals, who had the first pick, might be interested in taking Russell. Red, though, made the Royals' owner, Lee Harrison, an offer he couldn't refuse. The owner of the Celtics, Walter Brown, was also the president of the Ice Capades. Brown offered Harrison the Ice Capades, which at that time was a bigger draw than basketball, for one week if the Royals would pass on Russell. The rest, as they say, is history.
This blockbuster trade, including two players, a draft pick and the Ice Capades, for a rookie center would spur the Celtics toward becoming the most dominant franchise in pro basketball history and helped to create the legend of Red Auerbach as a step above everyone else in the NBA. From 1950-1966, Auerbach coached the Celtics to nine world titles, including eight in succession from 1959-1966. His incredible record was 938-479 (.662) in regular-season play and an equally impressive 99-69 (.589) in post-season encounters.
What is even more impressive is that Red wasn't just the coach. He was the GM, the coach, the driver, the equipment man, and much more for the team. He did everything. He didn't have assistant coaches. He had to arrange for accommodations on the road. He had to do the scouting. He had to be a jack of all trades. Prior to the 1966-67 season, the "coach" removed himself from the bench in order to concentrate on his duties as General Manager, and appointed Bill Russell as player-coach.
With Red's guidance and knowledge, the Celtics continued to win. In 1968 and 1969, the Celtics added two more titles. After a down period in the early 1970s, Auerbach restructured the team, adding key personnel through trades and the draft, and ultimately raised banners in 1974 and 1976. It was the subsequent years that would provide Auerbach with his biggest challenge, as the late '70s proved to be a dismal period for the Celtics. Yet Auerbach once again saved the franchise with the shrewd selection of Larry Bird in the 1978 draft. Although he would have to wait a year before Bird would play in the NBA, Auerbach sensed that the Indiana native was the man to rejuvenate the proud organization and he was right. Five other teams had a shot at Bird, but all passed.
In 1981, Boston became the NBA champions again as Auerbach orchestrated another amazing trade, this time dealing the first and 13th picks in the 1981 draft to Golden State for Robert Parish and the third overall pick which became Kevin McHale. Boston added two more titles in 1984 and 1986 thanks to the master's keen additions of Danny Ainge, Dennis Johnson, Bill Walton, among others.
Through the years, Red could be seen at the end of Celtics' victories smoking a cigar on the bench. He started out lighting his cigars on the bench when the game was in hand because he hated to see coaches playing to the TV cameras and to the crowd, making themselves seen when the game was in hand. He felt that when the game was in hand, the coach should sit down and be quiet. So, he would light up his cigar to keep himself occupied as his team played out the end of the game. Arenas with no smoking rules didn't dare tell Red not to light up and the victory cigar soon became Red's trademark.
Auerbach has been the recipient of numerous distinguished awards and honors throughout his career. In 1968, he was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. When the NBA chose its Silver Anniversary Team honoring the best of the league's first 25 years, Red was chosen as coach of that distinguished team. In 1982, he was elected to the Washington Hall of Stars, a Hall of Fame which involves people from all sports. Red was also honored as NBA Coach of the Year in 1965, winning the trophy that now bears his name, and NBA Executive of the Year in 1980. Also in that year, he was selected to the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team as "Greatest Coach in the History of the NBA," by the PBWAA (Pro Basketball Writers Association of America).
In 1985, the Red Auerbach Fund, established in the Celtics' legends' name, was created to promote athletic, recreational, and other youth development activities in Boston and throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. January 4, 1985 will always be a special day in Boston sports history, as it was on this day that the Celtics family saluted its patriarch by having the number "2" retired in his honor. Number 1 was retired in honor of the team's founder, Walter Brown. The 2 retired for Red is emblematic of his being the second most influential person in the organization's history. On Red's 68th birthday, September 20, 1985, a life-size sculpture of Auerbach was unveiled and placed in Boston's historic Faneuil Hall Marketplace so the public would have a lasting tribute to this basketball genius and legend.
Red received seven honorary degrees from various institutions. He valued such honors so much that he kept a previous commitment to American International College by delivering its commencement speech on May 22, 1988, even though it prevented him from being at Boston Garden for the deciding game of the Celtics-Hawks' best-of-seven thriller. On that day, AIC presented Auerbach with a Doctor of Humanities Honorary Degree. A week earlier he had received a Doctor of Arts Honorary Degree from Stonehill College. He also received Honorary Doctorate Degrees in Humane Letters from Franklin Pierce College, on May 24, 1981, the University of Massachusetts (Boston), in 1982, and from Boston University, on May 13, 1984. In 1986, Central New England College honored him with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Business Administration. On February 14, 1993, his alma mater, George Washington, bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Public Service Degree, and on June 9, 1998, the university celebrated Red's 80th birthday by unveiling a plaque and a bust of the legendary coach. This tribute is permanently attached to the exterior of the Smith Center, GW's athletic facility.
Red authored seven books. His ﬁrst, Basketball for the Player, the Fan and Coach, has been translated into seven languages and is the largest-selling basketball book in print. His second book, co-authored with Paul Sann, was Winning the Hard Way. He also penned a pair of books written in conjunction with Joe Fitzgerald: Red Auerbach: An Autobiography and Red Auerbach On and Off the Court. In October, 1991, Auerbach’s released, M.B.A.: Management by Auerbach, which was co-authored with Ken Dooley. In 1994, Red co-authored “Seeing Red”, written in conjunction with Dan Shaughnessy. In October 2004, his final book, “Let Me Tell You A Story”, was published and was co-written by legendary sports journalist John Feinstein. I've read several of Red's books, but if you haven't yet read Let Me Tell You a Story, you really need to. In 1987, an excellent instructional video entitled Winning Basketball became available to the public featuring the insight, thoughts, and philosophy of Red and three-time NBA Most Valuable Player and Celtics’ captain Larry Bird.
In spite of his passing on October 28, 2006, his hand was still on the latest Celtics championship. Danny Ainge was Red's choice for GM of the club. Red always had faith that Danny was the man to lead the Celtics back to glory and, as always when it came to basketball, he was right. Red's passing has left a void in the basketball world that will never be filled. On this, the 93rd anniversary of Red's birth, we remember him... and miss him.