Monday, October 30, 2006

Rest In Peace Arnold "Red" Aeurbach, and Thanks For The Memories

Look carefully at the following picture, and you will see a sports legacy that has no peer.

Every single championship banner in that picture is a direct result of the genius that was Arnold "Red" Auerbach. The embodiment of the Boston Celtics for nearly 57 years. 16 NBA World Championships (nine as head coach, with eight of them coming in a row). Responsible for drafting Bird, Cowens and Havlicek. Made unspeakably brilliant trades that resulted in the Celtics landing hall of famers like Russell, McHale and Parish. He was the reason for Celtic pride, and for anyone who grew up in Boston prior to the 90's, Celtic pride was all we had. Boston may always be the capital of Red Sox Nation, but it was the Celtics who were the heroes.

I still remember Johnny Most screaming "Bird Stole The BALL!!!!" during the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit like it was yesterday. I was but 15 at the time and the game had been played well past my bedtime. I went upstairs to listen to the rest of the game on my clock radio while my folks watched the game on TV downstairs. As soon as the play happened curfew went out the window and I raced back downstairs to watch the replay. That still remains one of my all-time favorite sports moments.

There have been many great things written about Red in the last couple of days. I'll list a few must reads here, with some of my favorite quotes about Red-

Memories of Red, By Bill Simmons

(after the Celtics win the title in '84) Everyone crams onto a makeshift podium so the commissioner can present the NBA trophy. He makes a little speech and hands the trophy to Red, who's sucking on a victory cigar, as always. And after hearing about the Lakers' "dynasty" from every broadcaster and writer for two weeks, good ol' Red can't resist rubbing it in.

"Everyone keeps talking about the Lakers dynasty!" Red yells at Brent Musburger. "Well, here's your dynasty, right here!!!!!!"

He holds the trophy up as the locker room explodes. He's holding it like a hunter would display a deer's head. Here's your dynasty. Right here.

Red Was Just Full of Color, By Bob Ryan

The Red Auerbach folklore is extensive: The seven basic plays, plus options. The victory cigar. The Chinese food. The legendarily bad driving. The way he protected the owner du jour's money even better than he did his own. The love of Asian art and furniture. The letter opener collection. The image of him with the rolled-up program battling such referee foils as Sid Borgia and Mendy Rudolph. The love of tennis and racquetball. The chutzpah to draft the NBA's first black player, Chuck Cooper, in 1950; the further chutzpah to start five black players in the 1964-65 season; and even more chutzpah to name Bill Russell his successor when he retired from coaching in 1966.

And more: The fact that during the Bird Era he was not to be disturbed between 4 and 5 in his office because that's when he watched "Hawaii 5-0." The cab driver who may have persuaded him not to leave Boston for the Knicks. The pioneering '50s and '60s State Department trips that spread the basketball gospel to Europe, Asia, and Africa. The ceaseless and touching devotion to George Washington University, his alma mater.

For you Titans fans out there, I'll relay a Celtics/Titans analogy that I think you'll appreciate.

Do you remember the glory days of McNair and Eddie when the Titans would run the ball 35 times a game, and still get over 100 yards on the ground despite the fact that the opposing team knew exactly what the titans were going to do? They would line nine guys in the box and Eddie would still rumble for 100 yards.

That's what Red did with the Celtics. Everyone knew all of the Celtics plays, but the beauty was they still couldn't stop them. In Red's own words-"An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise."

Thanks for the memories Red, and thank god you never had to see cheerleaders at a home Celtics game.

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