October 28, 2006


Passing of a Celtics legend (Peter May, October 28, 2006, Boston Globe)

Arnold Red Auerbach, named the greatest coach in the history of the National Basketball Association and, for more than half a century, the combative, competitive and occasionally abrasive personification of pro basketball's greatest dynasty, the Boston Celtics, has died at age 89. [...]

In two decades of NBA coaching, Auerbach won 938 games, a record when he retired in 1966, as well as a record nine NBA titles, a record he shares with Phil Jackson. In those 20 years, 16 of them with the Celtics, Auerbach had only one losing season while winning almost two thirds of his games. He was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1968 and, 12 years later, was recognized as the greatest coach in NBA history by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America. That same year, 1980, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame a second time as a contributor.

In 1996, he was honored on the 50th anniversary of the NBA as one of its greatest 10 coaches. His coaching achievement is recognized annually with the awarding of the Red Auerbach Trophy to the league's Coach of the Year. Auerbach himself won the award only once, in 1965, two years after it was instituted.

But Auerbach's genius extended well beyond his coaching years, when he moved into the Celtics front office, starting in 1966. By then, he already had shown his ability to judge and acquire talent with the acquisitions of Hall of Famers such as Bill Russell, John Havlicek, and Sam Jones through trades or the NBA draft. Later, as the team's general manager, he engineered deals for Hall of Famers such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dave Cowens.

A testament to Auerbach's impact on the game as both a coach and talent evaluator is seen by the number of his players who made it to the Hall of Fame and to the number of his players who followed his footsteps into professional coaching. There are 14 Hall of Famers who had extended Celtics careers thanks to either playing for, or being drafted by, Auerbach. More than 30 Auerbach players ended up in coaching positions, including eight of the 12 players on his 1962-63 championship team. Three of his players, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman, and Don Nelson, later won Coach of the Year honors. Nelson won it three times.

He was also a social force in the NBA, drafting the league's first African-American player in 1950 in Chuck Cooper, hiring pro sports' first African-American head coach in 1966 in Russell, and starting five African-Americans on the Celtics, an NBA first. He was an international ambassador for the game as well, leading NBA teams on exhibition tours through Europe.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 28, 2006 11:24 PM

That off-colored cloud you saw in the heavens yesterday was but the result of the ultimate victory cigar.

Posted by: John Ziemba at October 29, 2006 4:48 PM