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Arnold "Red" Auerbach

Abrasive Personality

Auerbach guided the team during a simpler era. "When Red ran the Celtics in the '50s and '60s, he was head coach, director of basketball operations, general manager, team president, head scout … he did everything," wrote Simmons, a Boston native. He was a constant amid transient ownership. Walter Brown died in 1964 and control of the team frequently changed hands. Rumors occasionally had the team moving to such places as Providence, Hartford, or Long Island. Auerbach even says he had to reach into his own checkbook to get the team out of town for road games.

"(Woody) Erdman was a thief," Auerbach told the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy of a team owner in the early 1970s. "He had a company in New York and when we played there, he used to take the gate receipts and never pay any bills. I once put out six or seven thousand dollars of my own money so that we could make a road trip. We were on a COD basis with the phone company and the airlines. The guy was an out-and-out thief."


1917 Born September 20 in Brooklyn, New York
1932-35 Attends Eastern District High School, Brooklyn, New York; named all-Brooklyn second team as a senior
1936-37 Attends Seth Low Junior College, New York
1937-40 Earns three letters in basketball at George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
1941 Marries Dorothy Lewis
1941-43 Coaches Roosevelt High School, Washington, D.C.
1942 Plays for Harrisburg Senators, American Basketball League/Eastern Basketball League
1943-46 Serves in United States Navy
1946-49 Coaches Washington Capitals of the Basketball Association of America (precursor to National Basketball Association)
1949-50 Coaches Tri Cities Blackhawks of NBA and assistant coach, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
1950 Named head coach of NBA's Boston Celtics
1956 Traded Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis Hawks for the right to draft Bill Russell out of college
1957 Wins first NBA championship as Celtics defeat Hawks in seven-game final
1959-66 Coaches Celtics to eight consecutive NBA championships; retires in 1966 to focus on general manager duties
1978 Drafts Larry Bird while Bird was still a college junior
1979 Considers and rejects offer from New York Knicks
1997 Stripped of team president's title as Celtics name Rick Pitino chief of basketball operations and head coach
2001 Auerbach restored as team president

Awards and Accomplishments

1962 Arch McDonald Achievement Award
1965 NBA Coach of the Year
1968 Inducted into National Basketball Hall of Fame and Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame
1969 Elected to International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame
1971 Selected NBA's 25th anniversary All-Time Team Coach
1980 Named greatest coach in NBA history by Professional Basketball Writers Association of America; named NBA Executive of the Year
1995 Inducted into Sport in Society Hall of Fame, Northeastern University, Boston

Running a team, however, became more complex in the 1980s and 1990s, and Auerbach gradually withdrew from basketball operations. "Years ago, let's say I want to trade Mike for Ike—you call someone and say you want to make a trade, you say 'Give me a big guy, I got a big guy, you got a guard I can use, let's make a deal,' and then see ya, it's over."

Arnold "Red" Auerbach

Auerbach amassed $17,000 in fines during his coaching career. And, before a playoff game at St. Louis, he flattened Hawks owner Ben Kerner during an argument over the height of the basket. "So we're having a rhubarb with the refs," Auerbach told Simmons. "Finally, they bring out the (measuring) stick. So Kerner comes out of the stands, and he starts cussing me, and he takes a step toward me … so I hit him."

Pat Riley, who coached the Lakers against the Celtics during the Bird-Magic Johnson showdowns of the 1980s and had played for the Lakers in the late 1960s, accused the Celtics of shutting off the hot water to the visiting locker rooms of ancient Boston Garden, the Celtics' home until 1995. Auerbach has vehemently denied the charge. (The Celtics now play at the FleetCenter.)

Auerbach's testy side also emerged in 1984, when, as team president, he upbraided Brent Musburger, then of CBS, before a national audience while accepting the league championship trophy. "Whatever happened to the Laker dynasty?" he said, waving his cigar after Boston beat Los Angeles in a bitter, seven-game series.

Boston had long embraced hockey and baseball while the Celtics, in their early glory years, often did not sell out Boston Garden. They even had some radio broadcasts in the mid-1960s relegated to FM, when they shared the same station with the Bruins—even when the Bruins were perennially in last place in the National Hockey League (NHL). Auerbach did little to promote the team in a marketing sense, feeling a winning team sells itself. And the aloof Russell, who refused to sign autographs, drew some negative public and press reaction because of his stridence on civil-rights issues.

"The Boston Celtics and Russell owned the NBA in their heyday, but they were always a backroom act in Boston—poor cousins to the ever popular Red Sox in baseball and NHL Bruins," Peter J. Bjarkman wrote in The Biographical History of Basketball.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsBasketballArnold "Red" Auerbach Biography - Born In Brooklyn, Boston Era Begins, Celtics Mystique, Russell First Black Coach, Abrasive Personality