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:

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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....'

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April 9, 1957. "AUERBACH IS FINED $300 FOR SCUFFLE"
'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.)

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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.)

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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."

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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."

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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."

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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.

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