Boston Celtics president Red Auerbach in front of collage created by his brother, Zang Auerbach
September 20, 1917|
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||October 28, 2006
|High school||Eastern District
(Brooklyn, New York)
|College||George Washington (1937–1940)|
|Position||Head coach and Executive|
|Career highlights and awards|
As head coach:
|Basketball Hall of Fame as coach|
Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach (September 20, 1917 – October 28, 2006) was an American basketball coach of the Washington Capitols, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and the Boston Celtics. After he retired from coaching, he served as president and front office executive of the Celtics until his death. As a coach, he won 938 games (a record at his retirement) and nine National Basketball Association (NBA) championships in ten years (a number surpassed only by Phil Jackson, who won 11 in twenty years). As general manager and team president of the Celtics, he won an additional seven NBA titles, for a grand total of 16 in a span of 29 years, making him one of the most successful team officials in the history of North American professional sports.
Auerbach is remembered as a pioneer of modern basketball, redefining basketball as a game dominated by team play and defense and for introducing the fast break as a potent offensive weapon. He groomed many players who went on to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Additionally, Auerbach was vital in breaking down color barriers in the NBA. He made history by drafting the first African-American NBA player, Chuck Cooper in 1950, and introduced the first African-American starting five in 1964. Famous for his polarizing nature, he was well known for smoking a cigar when he thought a victory was assured, a habit that became, for many, "the ultimate symbol of victory" during his Boston tenure.
In 1967, the NBA Coach of the Year award, which he had won in 1965, was named the "Red Auerbach Trophy," and Auerbach was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969. In 1980, he was named the greatest coach in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America, and was NBA Executive of the Year in 1980. In addition, Auerbach was voted one of the NBA 10 Greatest Coaches in history, was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and is honored with a retired number 2 jersey in the TD Garden, the home of the Boston Celtics.
- 1 Early life
- 2 First coaching years (1941–1950)
- 3 Boston Celtics (1950–2006)
- 4 Personal life
- 5 Writing
- 6 Legacy
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Notes
- 10 External links
Arnold Jacob Auerbach was one of the four children of Marie and Hyman Auerbach. Hyman was a Russian Jewish immigrant from Minsk, Belarus, and Marie Auerbach, née Thompson, was American-born. Auerbach Sr. had left Belarus when he was 13, and the couple owned a delicatessen store and later went into the dry-cleaning business. Little Arnold spent his whole childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, playing basketball. With his flaming red hair and fiery temper, Auerbach was soon nicknamed "Red."
Amid the Great Depression, Red played basketball at PS 122 and in the Eastern District High School, where he was named "Second Team All-Brooklyn" by the World-Telegram in his senior year. Auerbach received an athletic scholarship to the basketball program of Bill Reinhart at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.. Auerbach was a standout basketball player and graduated with a M.A. in 1941. In those years, Auerbach began to understand the importance of the fast break, appreciating how potent three charging attackers against two back-pedalling defenders could be.
First coaching years (1941–1950)
In 1941, Auerbach began coaching basketball at the St. Albans School and Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C. Two years later, he joined the US Navy for three years, 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.
In the 1946-47 BAA season, Auerbach led a fast break-oriented team built around early BAA star Bones McKinney and various ex-Navy players to a 49–11 win–loss record, including a standard-setting 17-game winning streak that stood as the single-season league record until 1969. In the playoffs, however, they were defeated by the Chicago Stags in six games.
The next year the Capitols went 28–20 but were eliminated from the playoffs in a one-game Western Division tie-breaker. In the 1948-49 BAA season, the Caps won their first 15 games (still a league-record start) and finished the season at 38–22. The team reached the BAA Finals, but were beaten by the Minneapolis Lakers, who were led by Hall-of-Fame center George Mikan. In the next season, the BAA and the rival league National Basketball League merged to become the NBA, and Auerbach felt he had to rebuild his squad. However, owner Uline declined his proposals, and Auerbach resigned.
Auerbach was then approached by Ben Kerner, owner of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. After getting a green light to rebuild the team from scratch, Auerbach traded more than two dozen players in just six weeks, and the revamped Blackhawks improved, but ended the 1949–50 NBA season with a losing record of 28–29. When Kerner traded Auerbach's favorite player John Mahnken, an angry Auerbach resigned again.
Boston Celtics (1950–2006)
The early years (1950–56)
Prior to the 1950–51 NBA season, Auerbach was approached by Walter Brown, owner of the Boston Celtics. Brown was desperate to turn around his struggling and financially strapped franchise, which was reeling from a 22–46 record. The still young but already seasoned Auerbach was made coach. In the 1950 NBA Draft, Auerbach made some notable moves. First, he famously snubbed Hall-of-Fame New England point guard Bob Cousy in the 1950 NBA Draft, infuriating the Boston crowd. He argued that the flashy Cousy lacked the poise necessary to make his team, taunting him as a "local yokel". Second, he drafted African-American Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA club. With that, Auerbach effectively broke down the color barrier in professional basketball.
In that year, the core of the Celtics consisted of Hall-of-Fame center Ed Macauley, Auerbach's old favorite McKinney, and an unlikely addition, Cousy. Cousy had refused to report to the club that had drafted him (ironically, the Blackhawks, Auerbach's old club), and because his next team (the Chicago Stags) folded, he ended up with the Celtics. With Auerbach's fast-break tactics, the Celtics achieved a 39–30 record but lost in the 1951 NBA Playoffs to the New York Knicks. However, the relationship between Auerbach and Cousy improved when the coach saw that the "Houdini of the Hardwood"—as the spectacular dribbler and flashy passer Cousy was lovingly called—-became the first great playmaker of the fledgling NBA.
In the following 1951–52 NBA season, Auerbach made a remarkable draft pick of future Hall-of-Fame guard Bill Sharman. With the high-scoring Macauley, elite passer Cousy, and new prodigy Sharman, Auerbach had a core that provided high-octane fast-break basketball. Other notable players who joined the Celtics were forwards Frank Ramsey and Jim Loscutoff. In the next years until 1956, the Celtics would make the playoffs every year, but never won the title. In fact, the Celtics often choked in the playoffs, going a mere 10–17 in the postseason from 1951 through 1956. As Cousy put it: "We would get tired in the end and could not get the ball." As a result, Auerbach sought a defensive big man who could both get easy rebounds, initiate fast breaks, and close out games.
The dynasty (1956–66)
Before the 1956 NBA Draft, Auerbach had already set his sights on defensive rebounding center Bill Russell. Via a draft-day trade that sent Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagan to the rival St. Louis Hawks, he acquired a center in Russell, who would go on to become one of the greatest basketball players of all time. In the same draft, Auerbach picked up forward Tom Heinsohn and guard K.C. Jones, also two future Hall-of-Famers. Emphasizing team play rather than individual performances, and stressing that defense was more important than offense, Auerbach drilled his players to play tough defense and force opposing turnovers for easy fast-break points. Forward Tom Sanders recalled that the teams were also regularly among the best-conditioned and toughest squads.
Anchored by defensive stalwart Russell, the tough Celtics forced their opponents to take low-percentage shots from farther distances (there was no three-point arc at the time); misses were then often grabbed by perennial rebounding champion Russell, who then either passed it on to elite fast-break distributor Cousy or made the outlet pass himself, providing their sprinting colleagues opportunities for an easy slam dunk or layup. Auerbach also emphasized the need for role players like Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek, who became two of the first legitimate sixth men in NBA history, a role later succeeded in by Don Nelson. Auerbach's recipe proved devastating to the opposition. From 1957 to 1966, the Celtics won nine of ten NBA championships. This included eight consecutive championships—which is the longest championship streak in North American sports—and six victories over the Los Angeles Lakers of Hall-of-Famers Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in the NBA Finals. Perhaps most notably, this also included denying perennial scoring and rebounding champion Wilt Chamberlain a title during Auerbach's coaching reign.
Flowing from Auerbach's emphasis on teamwork, what was also striking about his teams was that they never seemed to have a dominant scorer: in the 1960–61 NBA season, for instance, the Celtics had six players who scored between 15 and 21 points per game, but none made the Top 10 scoring list. Auerbach also firmly believed in breaking down color barriers in the NBA. In 1964, he sent out the first-ever NBA starting five consisting of an African-American quintet, namely Russell, Willie Naulls, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones, and K. C. Jones. Auerbach would go a step further in the 1966–67 NBA season, when he stepped down after winning nine titles in 11 years, and made Bill Russell player-coach. Auerbach also popularized smoking a victory cigar whenever he thought a game was already decided, a habit that became cult-like in popularity in the Boston area. Furthermore, having acquired a reputation as a fierce competitor, he often got into verbal altercations with officials, receiving more fines and getting ejected more often than any other coach in NBA history.
All in all, Auerbach coached nine championship teams directly and mentored 4 players—Russell, Sharman, Heinsohn and K.C. Jones—who would go on to win an additional 7 NBA championships as coaches (two each for Russell, Heinsohn and Jones, all with the Celtics, and one for Sharman with the Lakers). Ten players who played for Auerbach have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame—Macauley, Ramsey, Cousy, Sharman, Heinsohn, Russell, K. C. Jones, Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bailey Howell. Although Don Nelson played for Auerbach only during his last year as coach, his influence was profound: Nelson would later join Auerbach as one of the 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history. Sharman would become one of only three people to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Few, if any, coaches can match Auerbach's record of wins and successful mentorship of his players.
General manager (1966–84)
Prior to the 1966–67 NBA season, Auerbach announced his retirement as a coach and named his successor, Bill Russell. Russell took over as a player-coach and so became the first African-American coach in the NBA. While his pupil led the Celtics to two further titles in 1968 and 1969, Auerbach rebuilt the aging Celtics with shrewd draft picks, among them Jo Jo White and future Hall-of-Famers Dave Cowens, Paul Westphal, and Don Chaney. With his ex-player Tom Heinsohn coaching the Celtics and led by former sixth man John Havlicek, Auerbach's new recruits won the Atlantic Division every year from 1972 to 1976, winning the NBA title in 1974 and 1976. Further notable Auerbach signings were veteran forward/center Paul Silas and ex-ABA star Charlie Scott.
However, Auerbach could not prevent the Celtics from going into a slump at the end of the 1970s. He traded away both Silas and Westphal because they wanted salary increases that would have made them higher earners than the best player on the Celtics (Cowens), which was not acceptable to Auerbach, even though Cowens personally begged him to give Silas a new deal. When scoring champion Havlicek retired in 1978, the Celtics went 61–103 in two seasons. But in 1979, Boston's fortunes changed when Auerbach set his eyes on talented college player Larry Bird. Despite knowing that Bird had a year of college eligibility remaining, he drafted Bird in the 1978 NBA Draft and waited for a year until the future Hall-of-Fame forward Bird arrived, finally setting aside his team salary rules when it became clear that his choices were paying Bird a record-setting rookie salary or watch him simply re-enter the 1980 draft. Bird then became the highest-paid Celtic as a rookie, with a $650,000-per year deal. Auerbach immediately sensed that the brilliant, hardworking Bird would be the cornerstone of a new Celtics generation.
In 1980, Auerbach achieved another great coup, which was dubbed "The Steal of The Century". He convinced the Golden State Warriors to trade him a #3 overall pick and future Hall-of-Fame center Robert Parish in exchange for two picks in the 1980 NBA Draft: #1 overall Joe Barry Carroll, who went on to have an unremarkable career, and the #13 pick Rickey Brown. With the #3 pick, Auerbach selected the player he most wanted in the draft, Kevin McHale, who would also be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The frontcourt of Parish-McHale-Bird became one of the greatest front lines in NBA history. Auerbach hired head coach Bill Fitch who led the revamped Celtics to the 1981 title.
In 1983, Auerbach named former Celtics player K.C. Jones coach of the Celtics. Starting in 1984, Jones coached the Celtics to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals, winning championships in 1984 and 1986.
President and vice chairman (1984–2006)
In 1984, Auerbach relinquished his general managing duties and became president and later vice-chairman of the Boston Celtics. When the Celtics defeated Houston in the 1986 finals, it was Auerbach's 16th championship, an unmatched feat in the NBA. However, in the next years, tragedy struck the Celtics. Sensing that the 1980s Celtics of Larry Bird needed to be rejuvenated, Auerbach traded Henderson away for the second overall draft pick, and picked college prodigy Len Bias in the 1986 NBA Draft. But just two days later, Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Several years later, Celtics player Reggie Lewis died suddenly in 1993, and the team fell into decline, not seeing another Finals in Auerbach's lifetime.
In an interview, Auerbach confessed that he lost interest in big-time managing in the early 1990s, preferring to stay in the background and concentrating on his pastimes, racquetball and his beloved cigar-smoking. He would, however, stay on with the Celtics as president until 1997, as vice chairman until 2001, and then became president again, a position he held until his death, although in his final years, he was weakened by heart problems and often used a wheelchair.
Auerbach was one of four children of American-born Marie Auerbach and Russian Jewish immigrant Hyman Auerbach in Brooklyn. His brother Zang Auerbach, four years his junior, was a respected cartoonist and portraitist at the Washington Star. He married Dorothy Lewis in the spring of 1941. The couple had two daughters, Nancy and Randy.
Auerbach was known for his love for cigar smoking. Because Red made his victory cigars a cult in the 1960s, Boston restaurants would often say "no cigar or pipe smoking, except for Red Auerbach". In addition, Auerbach was well known for his love of Chinese food. In an interview shortly before his death, he explained that since the 1950s, Chinese takeout was the most convenient nutrition: back then, NBA teams travelled on regular flights and had a tight time schedule, so filling up the stomach with heavier non-Chinese food meant wasting time and risking travel-sickness. Over the years, Auerbach became so fond of this food that he even became a part-owner of a Chinese restaurant in Boston. Despite a heart operation, he remained active in his 80s, playing racquetball and making frequent public appearances.
Despite his fierce nature, Auerbach was popular among his players. He recalled that on his 75th birthday party, 45 of his ex-players showed up; and when he turned 80, his perennial 1960s victim Wilt Chamberlain showed up, a gesture which Auerbach dearly appreciated.
In an interview with ESPN, Auerbach stated that his all-star fantasy team would consist of Bill Russell—who in the former's opinion was the ultimate player to start a franchise with—as well as Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, with John Havlicek as the sixth man. Regarding greatest basketballers of all time, Auerbach's candidates were Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, and Robertson."
Auerbach was the author of seven books. His first, Basketball for the Player, the Fan and Coach, has been translated into seven languages and is the best-selling basketball book in print. His second book, co-authored with Paul Sann, was Winning the Hard Way. He also wrote a pair of books with Joe Fitzgerald: Red Auerbach: An Autobiography and Red Auerbach On and Off the Court. In October 1991 M.B.A.: Management by Auerbach was co-authored with Ken Dooley. In 1994, Seeing Red was written with Dan Shaughnessy. In October 2004, his last book, Let Me Tell You A Story, was co-authored with sports journalist John Feinstein.
Auerbach died of a heart attack on October 28, 2006 at the age of 89. NBA commissioner David Stern said, "the void caused by his death will never be filled" and players Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek and Larry Bird, as well as contemporaries like Jerry West, Pat Riley, and Wayne Embry universally hailed Auerbach as one of the greatest personalities in NBA history. Bird stated "Red shared our passion for the game, our commitment to excellence, and our desire to do whatever it takes to win." Auerbach was survived by his two daughters, Nancy and Randy. Auerbach was interred in Falls Church, Virginia at King David Memorial Gardens within National Memorial Park on October 31, 2006. Attendees included basketball dignitaries Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, and David Stern.
During the 2006–07 NBA season, NBA TV and NBA.com aired reruns of Auerbach's four-minute instructional videos known as "Red on Roundball" previously aired during NBA on CBS halftime shows in the 1970s and 1980s, and as a testament to his importance in the Boston sports world, the Boston Red Sox honored Auerbach at their April 20, 2007 game against the New York Yankees by wearing green uniforms and by hanging replicated Celtics championship banners on the "Green Monster" at Fenway Park. Boston won 7–6.
Prior to Boston's season opener against the Wizards, his signature was officially placed on the parquet floor near center court, thereby naming the court as "Red Auerbach Parquet Floor." The ceremony was attended by his daughter Randy and some of the Celtics legends. The signature replaced the Red Auerbach memorial logo used during the 2007 season.
Among Auerbach's accomplishments during his 20-year professional coaching career were eleven Eastern Division titles (including nine in a row from 1957–65), 11 appearances in the finals (including ten in a row from 1957–66), and nine NBA championships. With a total of 16 NBA championship rings in a span of 29 years (1957–86) as the Celtics coach, general manager, and team president, Auerbach is the most successful team official in NBA history. He is credited with creating several generations of championship Boston Celtics teams, most notably the first Celtics dynasty with Bill Russell which won an unprecedented eight titles in a row (1959–66). As Celtics general manager, he created championship-winning teams around Hall-of-Famers Dave Cowens in the 1970s and Larry Bird in the 1980s.
In addition to coaching, Auerbach was a highly effective mentor; several players coached by Auerbach would become successful coaches themselves. Bill Russell won two titles as Auerbach's successor, Tom Heinsohn won a pair of championships as a Celtics coach in the 1970s, K.C. Jones led the Celtics to two further titles in the 1980s, and Bill Sharman coached the Los Angeles Lakers to their first title in 1972. In addition, prototypical sixth man Don Nelson had a highly successful coaching career and joined his mentor Auerbach as one of 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history.
One area of Auerbach's legacy that is less positive was his underpaying of his players while he was the Celtics' coach. This played a role in bringing about the players union according to David Halberstam:
The hard core of the union came from the Celtics. That was not surprising; Red Auerbach went after the players of the highest intelligence and character, and then of course paid them horribly. That made the Celtics a mass of contradictions. They had great coherence as a team, great personal loyalty to each other, great respect and love for Auerbach, who had created this unique institution and honored each of them by making him a part of it, and then of course great anger at him for paying them so little.
In Auerbach's honor, the Celtics have retired a number-2 jersey with the name "AUERBACH," memorializing his role as the second most important Celtic ever, behind founder Walter Brown, in whose honor the number-1 "BROWN" jersey is retired.
His story is documented in The First Basket, the first and most comprehensive documentary on the history of Jews and Basketball. He is also featured as an interviews subject for the film.
From his early days, Auerbach was convinced that the fast break, where a team used a quick outlet pass to fast guards who run downcourt and score before the opponent had re-established position, was a potent tactical weapon. This new strategy proved lethal for the opposition. Further, Auerbach moved emphasis away from individual accolades and instilled the teamwork element into his players. He also invented the concept of the role player and of the sixth man, stating: "Individual honors are nice, but no Celtic has ever gone out of his way to achieve them. We have never had the league's top scorer. In fact, we won seven league championships without placing even one among the league's top 10 scorers. Our pride was never rooted in statistics."
While Auerbach was not known for his tactical bandwidth, famously restricting his teams to just seven plays, he was well known for his psychological warfare, often provoking opposing players and officials with unabashed trash talk. For his fiery temper, he was ejected more often and received more fines than any other coach in NBA history. Concerning his own team, Auerbach was softer. Earl Lloyd, the first black player to play in the NBA, said: "Red Auerbach convinced his players that he loved them [...] so all they wanted to do was please him."
No color barrier
Auerbach was known for choosing players for talent and motivation, with disregard for skin color or ethnicity. In 1950, he made NBA history by drafting the league's first African-American player, Chuck Cooper. He constantly added new black players to his squad, including Bill Russell, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, and Willie Naulls. In 1964, these five players became the first African-American starting five in the NBA. When Auerbach gave up coaching to become the Celtics general manager in 1966, he appointed Bill Russell as his successor. Russell became the first black NBA coach, and was the first black coach of a professional sports organization since Fritz Pollard in 1925. Similarly, in the 1980s, as the Celtics GM, Auerbach fielded an earnest, hardworking team that was derided as being "too white." While the 1980s Celts were, in actuality, neither predominantly white nor black, the NBA at the time was predominately black. White players like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, and Bill Walton played alongside Tiny Archibald, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, and Cedric Maxwell to bring three more championships in the '80s under coaches Bill Fitch (white) and K.C. Jones (black).
Auerbach is prominently featured in the documentary film, "The First Basket" about Jewish basketball history.
Arnold "Red" Auerbach Award
To honor Auerbach, the Celtics created the Arnold "Red" Auerbach award in 2006. It is an award given annually to the current Celtic player or coach who "best exemplifies the spirit and meaning of what it is to be a Celtic. This award is named in honor of the legendary Coach, General Manager and President of the organization, Arnold 'Red' Auerbach."
NBA Coach of the Year Award
The NBA gives out an annual coach of the year award to honor the league's best coach as voted by a panel of sportswriters. The trophy is named the 'Red Auerbach trophy' and has a figure of Auerbach sitting on a bench.
- May, Peter (October 29, 2006). "Auerbach, pride of the Celtics, dies". Boston.com. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- "Red Auerbach biography". JockBio.com. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- Ryan, Bob (October 30, 2006). "Red was just full of color". Boston.com. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- Goldstein, Richard (October 29, 2006). "Red Auerbach, Who Built Basketball Dynasty, Dies at 89". The New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- Hilton, Lisette. "Auerbach's Celtics played as a team". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- "Chuck Cooper, one of the NBA's first Black players". The African American Registry. Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
- Shouler, Ken. "The Consummate Coach". ESPN.com. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- Feinstein, Ron. "Red Auerbach: True Stories and NBA Legends". NPR. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- Bballbreakdown - How Red Auerbach Stole Parish and McHale on YouTube
- "A Tribute to Red". NBA.com. Retrieved July 10, 2007.
- "Red Auerbach Biography – life, family, parents, name, history, school, mother, son, born, college, contract, house, time, year, Parents Were Russian Immigrants". Notablebiographies.com. Retrieved February 1, 2011.
- Halberstam. pg. 343
- Adande, J.A. "The truth isn't always black and white for Celtics". Espn.com. Retrieved April 12, 2009.
- Obituary (January 19, 2007), Jewish Chronicle, p. 45
- Halberstam, David. The Breaks of the Game. Random House. 1981
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