Sunday, October 29, 2006

Red Auerbach, Basketball and Politics

The publisher of African American Political Pundit was raised in Boston and remembers listening to the Boston Celtics late night on a little AM radio as a kid growing up in a segregated Roxbury section. He also remembers watching the Boston Celtics and Red Auerbach providing most blacks in Boston black sports hero’s like Bill Russell, Sam Jones, KC Jones, Satch Sanders,and Wayne Embry in the day. Red Auerbach was a sports hero to the publisher of African American Opinion and African American Political Pundit. Blue eyed soul brother Red Auerbach, former Mayor Kevin H. White, State represtative Mel King, and former Gov. Francis W. sargent, did more for racial harmony in Boston than many politicans, faith, and community leaders. during the early 60’s Red Auerbach did what no other leader in Boston did, decided to employ blacks on a Basketball team based on talent rather than racism - the rest is history. Red Auerbach managed a basketball team in a town like Boston and broke down racial barriers. He did what so many white politicans in Boston failed to do. He got people talking. Blacks and whites playing pick up games on basketball courts in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, East Boston, South Boston, Charlestown, and other segregated neighborhoods of Boston. Yes, talking with each other. Red Auerbach was a hero to this black man.

Red Auerbach lit his famous victory cigar to celebrate Celtic victories.

Red Auerbach lit his famous victory cigar to celebrate Celtic victories. (Globe File Photo)

Red Auerbach, 1917-2006

Celtics President Arnold “Red” Auerbach, architect of 16 Championships and one of the NBA’s greatest coaches, passed away Saturday. The Celtics are dedicating this season to him. NBA TV will have complete coverage of Auerbach’s life all day.

Source: Boston Globe

Arnold “Red” Auerbach, who for more than half a century was the combative, competitive, and occasionally abrasive personification of pro basketball’s greatest dynasty, the Boston Celtics, died yesterday in the Washington area. He was 89.


Red Auerbach’s parents were Russian immigrants, and he had a hardscrabble beginning in Brooklyn, where he washed taxicabs and worked at his father’s dry-cleaning shop. He played basketball at PS 122 in Brooklyn, lettered at Eastern District High School, and earned an athletic scholarship to George Washington University. He coached at St. Albans Prep and later Roosevelt High School in Washington DC, and earned extra income with part-time work as a referee. After a stint in the Navy, with only high school and military coaching on his résumé, he became a professional coach simply by walking into the offices of the Washington Capitols and telling them he was the best man for the job.

He coached the Caps for three winning seasons, then left to coach the Tri-City Blackhawks, where he suffered through his only losing season (the team went 29-35). He quit the team when the owners made a trade without consulting him. (The Blackhawks’ three cities, by the way, were Moline and Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa; the same franchise is now known as the Atlanta Hawks.)

Auerbach was quickly offered a job by the then-pathetic Boston Celtics, who had gone 22-46 and finished in last place the previous season. While discussing the job, he recommended that the team’s owner should draft Chuck Cooper, a black college player. No blacks had ever been drafted in the NBA, but the Celtics picked Cooper, and hired Auerbach two days later. He remained in the team’s employ for the rest of his life. Through most of his coaching tenure with the Celtics, Auerbach’s teams played a high-pressure defense led by Bill Russell. They ran only seven basic plays on offense, but those plays led to nine championships. Auerbach’s Celtics won an amazing eight consecutive NBA titles from 1959 to 1966.

As a coach, he was credited with making bench players and role-players an integral part of the team. He often said it was more of an honor to make his “finishing five” — one of the players in the last few minutes, when the game was on the line — than his “starting five”. He became known for smiling and lighting his cigar at courtside when he was certain his Boston Celtics would win the game.

Still, his habit of lighting that cigar when he knew the Celtics would win was an annoyance to opposing players, and to several Celtics. Bob Cousy complained that the cigar was a “trigger point” — it irritated the other team, angered fans on the road, and sometimes led to more aggressive and painful fouls in the game’s closing minutes. But the fans loved it in Boston, where to this day some restaurants have posted “No smoking,” and in smaller letters, “except Red Auerbach.”

He retired as coach in 1966 to concentrate on his duties as general manager of the team, and handed the coaching reigns to Russell, who became the league’s first black coach. Auerbach, upstairs as GM and later as Vice Chairman of the Board, eventually brought the Celtics seven more championships.

Auerbach’s brother Zang, a political cartoonist for the now-defunct Washington Star, designed the Celtics’ famous logo.

For almost all his adult life, Auerbach resided in Washington DC. Even while coaching the Celtics, he had only an apartment in Boston, and DC was his home.

Video NESN: Video

Boston Globe: Auerbach, pride of Celtics, dies
Boston Globe: Fans remember Red
Boston Globe: Red Auerbach timeline
Boston Globe: Tough man had a tender side
Boston Globe: For decades, he lit up our lives
Boston Herald: Celtics legend dead at 89
Boston Herald: A glowing tribute: Celts family recalls Red
Boston Herald: Auerbach’s pride, passion never faded
Boston Herald: Red was one for the ages Shouler: The Consummate Coach Vitale: Red will never be forgotten
New York Times: Auerbach built dynasty
Washington Post: Red ‘Invented Professional Basketball’
NBC Red on basketball, life and leadership
NBC Bob Pettit remembers Auerbach
The Salt Lake Tribune: Red’s impact on Jazz execs
Canadian Press: The green loved Red
New York Daily News: The man behind Celtics, cigars
Los Angeles Times: No one beat L.A. like Auerbach did


Anonymous said...

And let us not forget the fact that this hero of ours was Jewish, which was then and is now not something that is particularly popular.

Anonymous said...

Good point, I guess African American Political Pundit is not interested in a popularity contest on this one. As an African-American I have many hero's, mostly black and a few whites. But a hero is a hero, someone you respect and look up to, no matter if the person is jewish, white, black baptist, or whatever. Why is it that black men seem to look past race, and whites find it hard to have black heroos?

The Angry Independent said...

I never knew about the details of all of his accomplishments....but I was aware that he was a huge figure in basketball. He came along a little bit before my time.

He knocked down some of the race barriers in the Sport. To that end, many African American players (who are now reaping millions for putting a ball through a hoop) probably owe a special thanks to him.

It does seem as though Black Men (Black Americans in general) are often willing to look past race when considering "heroes".
Part of the reason could be perhaps there are (or were) a lack of African American heroes. That has been the part of the impact of media on us. Another reason could be that Black Americans are willing to look more into the actions of an individual rather than just the skin color. Unfortunately, it is hard for many Whites to see past race when considering heroes who are not Caucasion.

I personally don't have a lot of heroes (white, black or otherwise). To me, "hero" is a pretty big title....that I don't throw around easily. Outside of my grandmother...and perhaps my father... I don't have many of those.

However there are many folks who I admire...and a few happen to be white...

Astronaut Eileen Collins is one...
Joe Montana is another...
Amy Goodman
Mother Teresa
Rev. Michael L. Pfleger

And a handful of other folks including the Freedom Riders, past teachers, coaches, and college professors....

Race is no problem for me...especially in that respect.

It would be hard to go through life without acknowledging a few White Heroes or people you admire....