Sunday, 2 November 2014
RED AUERBACH Feature-RED
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
Footsteps walk into earshot down a classic corridor of a whole different type of class. Down the line of legendary lockers and sneakers hung to the ceiling higher than old Nike's thrown over telephone lines in Brooklyn and some purple and gold balloons that look like they'll never come down, there is a trophy cabinet that gleams in all its champagne popping gold. There's a record book in there and a signature from a Mr. Larry O'Brien and some guy named Naismith. There's a basket without the bottom cut out and a couple of peaches. Some Buddy Holly glasses. A stilt. Some Magic. A Bird. A whole lot of 23's and a place reserved for another, maybe a 6 and one more 24, coming soon. Mostly though in this freshly cleaned cabinet is a lot of green...and a cigar. An elderly gentleman can be seen in the clear reflection looking at this and smiling. He pulls his own stogie out of his suit breast pocket, pulls out a classic lighter like the type you see in the films, flips it open and lights. The orange light is mixed with rising smoke that engulfs his reflection in the glass. But kids this is no cigarette commercial. Don't smoke! Matter of fact a young man that cant be older than a student who is buffing the floor like Matt Damon in 'Good Will Hunting' calls to the man. 'Excuse me sir! There's no smoking here'. The man turns with a knowing grin and points to a framed photo in the cabinet of a guy that looks just like him. He winks at the shocked boy as he looks at the bottom of the photo. It reads, 'Red Auerbach'.
This is the Hall Of Fame kid and if it isn't green then Red is the colour. The blue collar work that made his team the best guys with the orange for the red, white and blue. The boy from Brooklyn who made that infamous dollar and change, four hour Greyhound ride from New York City to Boston became the classic Celtic coach. A man so iconic to this game with less shorts in his locker than hair on his head won more games than Wilt Chamberlain and more championships than Michael Jordan. The most dominant ever. The only one to match him was his own lord of eleven rings Bill Russell who is the greatest defensive player this association has ever seen, telling all that came his way that they too shall not pass. Sized like a Hobbit in comparison, Red had a basketball name, but not the game. How else could a man who finished the game with a victory cigar keep up with all these amazing athletes? Like a matador to a Bull before Jordan it was all over when people saw Red. Auerbach from the sidelines was the green keys greatest producer. The greatest on court director, Basketball Hitchcock. Psycho good. Basketball's Winston Churchill with two fingers to the opposition, cradling a victory cigar as he blew away any team free with Celtic envy and left them like smoke. Forget about LeBron throwing dust, when Red flicked ash it was all over. From Wilt to West and all the rest. Some came close but Auerbach was THE cigar. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.
Lets light one up! Before Arnold Jacob Auerbach reunited with Larry O'Brien 16 times in 29 years. The over 15 for almost 30, half a championship king began his life in the B.K. where he played ball with as much fire and passion as his ginger hair that he gained the obvious, infamous nickname. Brian Scalibraine be proud. A life from the blacktop to the hardwood, the asphalt to the parquet that would see him pioneer the fast break power play all whilst breaking through defences and breaking down barriers of colour and racism. He to fellow sport symbols of solidarity the Harlem Globetrotters and the 1966 Texas Western Miners in the entertainment industry was what J.F.K was to M.L.K. and Malcolm X in the political world. The Civil Rights Movement may have not begun on this type of court, but guys like Red helped keep it running in a support more unwavering then some die -hard Celtic fans. A fan based community that even back then would say and do a number of abhorrent awful, cruel and callous, unspeakable things to their superstar Bill Russell. THEIR superstar who was winning all those championships for them and the city. To them and done racists it wasn't enough because he was still black. But Red always had his back. Now just like the cigar, the defensive ring bearer Russell has his own statue in the centre of the beautiful city of Boston that now always greets him with open arms and ones around his bronze immortalized statue for a photo opportunity. Picture this back then. You couldn't and wouldn't now if it wasn't for his unconditional bravery and courage and Auerbach's unrelenting pride and solidarity.
That's how a great coach should be with players. From first to worst. And from the Bob Cousy original era to the Larry Bird golden one he was exactly that. No matter what. It's a legacy of legend that speaks more volumes than his almost 1000 coached wins (938) in the record books. No matter if Lenny Wilkens in wins and Phil Jackson in titles have passed him, no one at last is truly like him. This is the man who in giving a cap and contract to Chuck Cooper drafted the first African-American NBA player in as amazingly recently in terms of how racism was still alive in 1950. We should note too in Red's first year as a Celtic. A man that put on court the first ever all African-American starting five. Two years before Miners coach Don Haskins made 'Glory Road' history in the 1966 NCAA Final against Rupp's Kentucky. To begin with, although he was a promising player at George Washington university, Auerbach got into the dry-erase game early. Before the NBA was a penciled in idea, Red penned some time with the Washington Capitals of the Basketball Association Of America. 17 game win streaks ran columns on his coaching worth, but losses to the Chicago Stags and then Clark Kent original Laker Superman George Mikan and his Minneapolis original Laker team prevented a championship parade, complete with a box of Cubans. How sweet a dish revenge would eventually be, served with a side of tobacco. Spat out with 'Moneyball' stats over stars swagger.
As the NBA merged, Auerbach surged and split the opposition like Moses, like the defences making waves. Coming off a dismal 29 win season the lowly reputation Celtics needed a new identity and resurgence. Halfway through the 1900's it would come in the shape of a man who would mould them into the greatest team and franchise that defined the last century of basketball. One that would in fact become the National Basketball Associations most storied, successful and recognisable franchise and thing no matter how hard the Los Angeles Lakers have tried this side of Michael Jordan. Bill Sharman, players like Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek and of course Bill Russell, Red Auerbach brought them all in like Basketball's Nick Fury for an amazing Avenger assembling that won 9 out of 10 titles from 1957 to 1966 to pass the test with top marks. Only Stan Lee came up with better creations to marvel at back then when he was a young man. Bleeding green and smoking old Irish no wonder everyone was jealous and envious of the leprechaun and shamrock. This is the reason that the most dominant, big man of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, the man that recorded 100 points in a single game couldn't better Jordan. Red is the reason. Shaquille O'Neal didn't have to go through the Celtics for his dynasty. Kobe Bryant only had a few Rivers to deal with this side of the beautiful Back Bay. Jerry West may have been the logo, but the Celtics where the icon. No wonder Red Auerbach us now literally and figuratively the 'Coach Of The Year' trophy. He is the master of the sidelines. 'Bach conducted some of the best, classic compositions on court.
A number 2 belongs in the great Garden rafters in Boston, because all those retired numbers and big banners are there thanks to that one man. A man who saw the sixth man and role player as more to this game. A man that knew that champions weren't just stars...they where teams. A man that knew hard work and not big names were the cornerstone of real success. Even when this coaches coach moved upstairs like Pat Riley from General Manager to president he was still smoking. Smoking hot. Smoking victory cigars and sipping championship champagne. When Russell retired and the Celtics needed a new age and green lantern that was still Boston strong, blue collar work, Auerbach drafted some kid from French Lick that was sick from downtown all the way to the scheduled parade. The rest is Larry legend and Earvin Johnson, storied, golden era, Laker and Celtic matrimony history. You can even see Red's influence in Bird's coach to front office play for the Indiana Pacers. After that latest legacy, Red also gave a green cap to a future star in Len Bias. But Bias tragically died of a cocaine overdose on draft night before he ever played a game and became the star he was destined to be. Heartbroken Auerbach presented a Bias jersey to Len's mother like a folded flag. After another tragedy fell on Reggie Lewis, another future great who died prematurely it seemed like the Celtics where now cursed. Red would never see another championship for his remaining years. He died of a heart attack in 2006 at aged 89. One year off 90 and a couple more off watching his new favourite Paul Pierce bring in a big three with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen that would result in another championship finally and a Boston team that played Auerbach and the cities way, reminiscent of Red's roundball. Continuing the legacy of the most successful individual in hoops history who never himself but a ball in an NBA basket, but boy did he light them up. Thanks Red! This ones for you. We don't usually do this but for you even this Laker will smoke one. Your light will never burn out.