Sunday, December 31, 2006

Red Auerbach

There have been a large number of deaths of public figures who were a major part of my consciousness in my younger years. I will be commenting on some of them over the next week or two. And I start today with the one whom I only remember from the end of his career: the late Red Auerbach. (I should add that I did not know that Coach Auerbach was Jewish until I was an adult.)

I was born in 1957 so by 1966 I had no memory of any team other than the Boston Celtics winning an NBA championship. (The St. Louis Hawks actually had won in 1958.) And despite a roster full of great players, the most notable figure on the team was the coach. He always seemed to be screaming at everyone, especially referees.

So I wanted to see if my recollections were really accurate. Thanks to New York Times Select, I was able to type "Red Auerbach" into the newspaper's search engine and what appeared were a huge number of articles with the kind of descriptions I highlight now:


Gordon S. White, Jr., Dec. 19, 1955. "Knicks Downed by Celtics in Basketball; BOSTON CAPTURES ROUGH GAME, 95-92 Celtics Rally to Top Knicks at Garden -- Felix of Local Five, Loscutoff Fight"
'Red Auerbach, the fiery coach of the Boston Celtics, received many gifts, including a fire-engine red automobile, during ceremonies before the Knickbocker-Celtic basketball game at Madison Square Garden yesterday. He made a nice speech thanking all for the "Auerbach Day" and then retired to his bench and coaxed, yelled and master minded his squad to a 95-92 victory over the New York quintet. '
'The game was played to order for the hot-tempered Auerbach....'


'Arnold (Red) Auerbach, coach of the Boston Celtics, learned that the punch he took at Ben Kerner, owner of the St. Louis Hawks, on Saturday was $300 worth of "unbecoming conduct."
(blogger note: The argument was over the height of the hoops at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis, the site for game 3. Auerbach thought that they were higher than the ten feet specified in the rules. The fact that Auerbach had coached the St. Louis team for owner Kerner when it was known as the Tri-Cities Blackhawks didn't seem to matter to Auerbach. St. Louis won that game, but the Celtics went on to win the series in a double overtime seventh game. The team had three rookies named Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, and K.C. Jones.)


October 29, 1958. "CELTICS' AUERBACH DRAWS FINE OF $150"'Arnold (Red) Auerbach, the explosive coach of the Boston Celtics, was fined $150 yesterday by Maurice Podoloff, the president of the National Basketball Association, "for his complete defiance" of a league rule during last Saturday's game with the New York Knickerbockers.' (blogger note: He refused to leave the floor after having been ejected from the game. The Celtics lost this one to the Knicks, 127-125, in overtime.)


Anonymous, October 2, 1963. "CELTICS SET BACK KNICKS, 95 TO 92; Auerbach Pulls Boston Five Off Floor After Referee Puts Him Out of Game"
"Red Auerbach, the coach of the Boston Celtics, pulled his National Basketball Association champions off the floor of Oceanside High School's court tonight in protest of his being ejected from the game with the New York Knickerbockers. "
(blogger note: This was an exhibition game! But yes, it really was played in Oceanside, Long Island. Not that it helped the Knicks. Or gave Coach Auerbach an excuse to refrain from his usual antics.)
"Near the end of the third quarter, referee Mendy Rudolph assessed Auerbach a technical foul. Auerbach strode on the court and Rudolph called another technical foul and ordered him out of the game."
"When the Celtics put the ball in play, Auerbach was still on the bench. Rudolph charged him with a third technical foul and Auerbach jumped up and ordered all his players to follow him to the locker room. Sid Borgia, the N. B. A. referee who has been called "the worst in the league" by Auerbach, was a fan tonight. He went into the locker room and convinced Auerbach to send his players back on the court."
"The Celtics returned, without Auerbach, and rallied to defeat the Knicks."


Anonymous, Feb. 2, 1965. "GALLATIN RENEWS AUERBACH BATTLE Coaches Exchange Insults -- Both Fined by N.B.A."
"Harry Gallatin, coach of the New York Knickerbockers, and Red Auerbach, coach of the Boston Celtics insulted one another and one another's teams yesterday as a feud between the two continued. The verbal battle came less than 24 hours after the coaches nearly came to blows during a National Basketball Association game at the Boston Garden Sunday night."


Gordon S. White, Jr., April 30, 1966. "Auerbach Is in Form to the End; Celtic Coach Fined $150 for Criticizing Playoff Referees." (Blogger note: He had just won his eight straight NBA championship when his Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 95-93 in game 7 of the championship series.)..."Red has been a controversial and at times unpopular man in basketball. He is jumpy on the sidelines, is none to gracious to opponents, and rarely has a kind word for officials. Somehow he puts it all together to get the most out of his teams. He gets the respect of professionals if not their friendship."


No major professional coach other than Auerbach ever won eight straight championships (out of a total of nine). Casey Stengel won five World Series in a row from 1949 to 1953, and Hector "Toe" Blake won five Stanley Cups in a row from 1956-1960 with the Montreal Canadiens, and few think even those records will be passed. And Auerbach contined as General Manager and then President of the Celtics, winning a nother seven championships with players he selected. He is right up there with Hank Greenberg, Sid Luckman, Sandy Koufax, and Mark Spitz as being among the greatest Jewish sports figures ever.

But I would not want to have the kind of personality that led to the kinds of news articles excerpted above. Is it really necessary to intimidate everyone in sight with obnoxious behavior in order to be successful? I surely hope not. I would rather be mediocre and a mensch.

New Year's Eve

Anyone keeping up with the daf yomi, or anyone who is two weeks behind, or even anyone who has ever read the first mishnah of Rosh Hashanah, is well aware that Jews have a lot of New Years. On top of that, today is a fast day on which we remember the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem before the destruction of the first temple. So why would a Jew want to party tonight?

Years ago, I went to Times Square on the night of December 31. I've never seen as many people in one place in my life. It was unbelievably crowded -- one struggled to move more than a few feet per minute. And someone tried to pick my pocket -- he had his hand in my back pocket where my wallet was and I turned around and gave him possibly the meanest look I've ever given anyone in my life. I disappeared into the crowd, without my wallet, probably to pick on his next victim.

I'm not saying that New Year's Eve is evil. And I don't object to Jews celebrating secular holidays. I make a point of deliberately celebrating July 4 (and not just because my mother of blessed memory was born on July 4, 1931). But the secular New Year sure seems silly. The entire secular calendar is arbitrary -- the secular New Year is the anniversary of nothing. I don't plan on doing anything special tonight other than ending my fast with a nice home cooked dinner.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dennis Prager doesn't get it about the Left

In his most recent column, Dennis Prager shows again that he does not understand the religious motivations regarding much of political discourse:


'And they [the religious Bible believers of many faiths] line up together on virtually every major social/moral issue.

Name the issue: same-sex marriage; the morality of medically unnecessary abortions; capital punishment for murder....strong support for Israel'

Actually, no. A large fraction of religious Christians -- most non-evangelical Protestants -- don't have a problem withe abortion. Most Christian Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, oppose capital punishment -- and I've been told by two different rabbis independently not to serve on a jury in a capital case because the protections our legal system provides defendents in such cases fall so far beneath the Torah standard.

'the hatred that much of the Left has for Jewish, Protestant, Catholic and Mormon Bible-believers'

Actually, much of the Left consists of such Bible believers. Talk to a devout Mennonite about the morality of war, for example. Or an Orthodox Jewish scientist about the importance of not having politics interfere with medical research. (I am such a scientist.) Or a Catholic priest who is ready to go to prison for helping undocumented immigrants. Or any reasonable Christian or Jew who has read the prophets about the importance of society taking care of those who are not as fortunate.

We believe. We are of the Left. And we aren't going anywhere. Mr. Prager may not understand this, but we don't fit into his simple system.

Monday, December 25, 2006


I haven't said anything about recent news about alleged sexual abuse in the Orthodox community because (1) I don't know all the facts of any particular incident, and (2) I don't have anything to say that hasn't been said elsewhere.

However, I now break that silence by giving commendation to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, who seems to be doing the right things and is in a position to have an impact:

I hope that he may have the kind of impact on the problem of abuse that Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski has had for substance abuse in the Jewish community.

A Gentile behaves very badly

Congressman Virgil Goode has, throughout his political career, been known as someone who marches to his own tune. Unfortunately, that tune no longer is consistent with the US Constitution.

When Dennis Prager criticized congressman-elect Keith Ellison for planning a symbolic swearing-in ceremony using a copy of the Koran, criticism was quick to come from right and left. But Prager is just a writer and talk show host, with no influence over anyone who doesn't choose to listen to him. (And Prager is actually correct on a lot of things -- just not this one!) Goode, on the other hand, is a member of the US House of Representatives -- thankfully, soon to be part of the minority party which will have little influence -- and he went even further than Prager in expressing bigotry.

Here is Congressman Goode's letter:

An excerpt:

"if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran....we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America..."

Never mind the fact that the US Constitution prohibits religious tests for any public office, and guarantees free expression of religion (including use of the Koran for any purpose). And never mind that Ellison is not an immigrant but someone who had ancestors here during colonial times.

The question here is whether Goode should be sworn in at all, since it is questionable whether he is willing to uphold the Constution himself. The Richmond Times-Dispatch, a newspaper which for generations has been known for its far right wing editorial positions, took Goode to task for this:

An excerpt:

"Goode's idea of traditional values and beliefs doesn't include some of the basic tenets of our democracy....As he holds up his right hand, Goode should remember what he's swearing to uphold. "

Well said.

Gentiles behaving well

Those of us on the political left who are supporters of Israel were surprised this fall by two shows of support for Israel's position from unexpected sources:

First Congressman John Conyers, who has never been known as a supporter of Israel and will be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives for the next two years, publically criticized Jimmy Carter's new book for its use of the term "Apartheid" to describe Israel's policies. As reported in the Forward:

“I cannot agree with the book’s title and its implications about apartheid,” the lawmaker wrote in a statement. “I recently called the former president to express my concerns about the title of the book, and to request that the title be changed.”

I hope that Conyers, the second most senior member of the US House of Representatives, continues to see the light.

Second, Ségolène Royal, the Socialist Party candidate for President of France, who has also not been known as a friend to Israel, suggested that Iran not be permitted ANY nuclear program for any reason -- that the line between civilian and military nuclear programs was so small that the world can't take the risk.

This, of course, led to much criticism from the French Right -- even from the mainstream non-anti-Semitic part. FWIW, Iran has a right under the nuclear nonproliferation treaty to have a civilian nuclear power program. But treaties are for countries that can be trusted. At least in this instance, Royal is a leftist who gets it.

Jews behaving badly

So in the past few months, we've had a few examples of Jews doing things that Jews aren't supposed to do. (And I'm not even going to get to the problem of abusing children on this post -- that will be a later post.) Here are some examples:

Christmas is not a Jewish holiday. But you wouldn't know it from the attitudes of these Jews:

Dr. Laura is having a Christmas tree in her home, and is inviting listeners to send an ornament:

And Cindy Chupack wrote about her family getting a tree:

Michael Medved might excuse them, saying that Christmas trees can be thought of as a secular symbol:

Mr. Medved's fellow Seattle resident, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, isn't concerned about the fact that Dr. Laura or Ms. Chupack are engaged in avodah zarah. No, Rabbi Lapin is more concerned about defending Christmas!

I agree that it was really silly and stupid for the Seattle Tacoma Airport Authority to remove Christmas trees rather than allow a rabbi to erect a Chanukiah. But when did promoting a symbol that is unquestionably Christian become mutar? There is a substantial body of halachic support for the idea that Christianity is a religion forbidden even to non-Jews. While my own rabbis do not hold like that, and I personally have no problem with Christians practicing Christianity, shouldn't we be more concerned about the souls of Jews who find Christmas tempting? Can't Mr. Medved or Rabbi Lapin call upon their fellow right wing Jewish radio commentator, Dr. Laura, to give up the avodah zarah?

Finally, another right wing Jewish commentator, Dennis Prager, went way over the line in objecting to congressman-elect Keith Ellison's plan to have a symbolic swearing in using a copy of the Koran. Ellison is the first practicing Muslim to be elected to congress. Mr. Prager does not realize that the US Constitution's forbidding of any religious test for public office applies here as well, and if a Muslim must use a Christian Bible, so must a Jew. Even Michael Medved took exception on this one. (This also produced a Gentile behaving badly...more on that later.)


To my five fans who check this blog -- I am going to start posting occasionally again. I had six grant proposals in a six week period, and then my wife has had a difficult job transition that isn't complete yet. I've also been keeping up with daf yomi and attending two regular shiurim -- chas v'shalom that blogging interfere with torah study! I also found that I didn't have a lot original to say and didn't want to clog up the internet. But I have a few (hopefully original) things to say and will post some things within the next few days. Stay tuned.