“We’ve had players who became very wealthy guys while playing- Russell, Cowens, Bird, McHale, Parish – and they never stopped caring about winning. If guys are just playing for the money, you don’t win. I think one of the things we did well was identifying guys who wanted to win.” He paused and his voice softened for a moment. “I thought Len Bias was that type of kid. I still think if he hadn’t died we would have won a couple more titles before Bird, McHale, and Parish were done. --- Red Auerbach
And who could argue with Red? It’s been said a part of Red Auerbach died when Len Bias died. I can’t say I disagree. Sure, Red still had the charisma that made him who he was. But he lost a step in his swagger.
Check out his quote below- "his ambition was to play for the Celtics" and "we'll always consider him a member of the Celtics' family." Red grew especially close with Len in the couple of years leading up to his draft. Red was from the DC area, close to College Park, Maryland. He was good friends with Len's college coach, Lefty Driesell.
Coach Lefty Driesell with Len Bias
Red persuaded Len to stay in school after his junior year because he thought he'd be around a #15 pick. He also knew that because of a shrewd trade he implemented in trading starting guard Gerald Henderson to Seattle for their #1 pick two years prior, he'd have a shot at snagging Len in the draft himself and adding him to Boston's lineup.
Red was scheduled to have lunch with Len along with Ted Kennedy and Tip O’Neill the following Tuesday after his death. Auerbach and Bias had agreed to meet at the House of Representatives in Washington with some of the country's biggest Celtic fans, including Tip O'Neill and Ted Kennedy. Back then there were Celtics' fans everywhere.
"They're friends of the Celtics, and they wanted to meet him," Auerbach said.
That lunch date was on Auerbach's mind when he saw Bias for the last time, Tuesday June 17th. At 5:15 that evening, as the draft wound down, Auerbach and Bias exited Madison Square Garden. Attache case in one hand, cigar in another, the Celtics' president nodded at his prized rookie, winked and said, "See you Tuesday."
At Len's funeral, Red addressed the crowd at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland and said "I schemed for 3 years...to get Lenny Bias."
Red died on October 28, 2006, or just a few months longer than 20 years after Bias. He never lived to see another Celtics’ title after 1986, and most would agree, never quite got over the death of his star draft pick and good friend.
2 Seasons Before: 1984-85, Celtics lose in NBA Finals
2 Seasons After: 1987-88, Celtics lose in Eastern Conference Finals