Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Legend is Gone: Red Auerbach dead at 89

Legendary Boston Celtics coach & executive Arnold "Red Auerbach died today at the age of 89 from an apparent heart attack.

Auerbach was elected to the Basketball hall of Fame in 1969 on the strength of his 9 championships as a coach (8 in a row from 1959-66) and 7 more as an executive, and for the way he revolutionized the game and made the Celtics into a basketball dynasty.

Famous for his ever-present stogie, which he began lighting up on the court at the end of Celtics wins, Auerbach was both deified by Celtics players & fans and vilified by opposing teams & coaches for his in-your-face, take-no-prisoners style which made the Celtics one of the most feared and respected teams in the NBA for over 4 decades. His 9 NBA titles is a record shared with Phil Jackson, and Red never made any secret about his dislike for Jackson's coaching style and his desire to keep that record for himself. His 938 wins was a league record that stood until Lenny Wilkins overtook him in 1994-95.
Auerbach either coached or drafted some of the greatest players the game has ever seen: Cousey, Russell, Heinsohn, Bird, Mchale, Parish, and DJ. His shoot-from-the-hip style was appreciated in the blue collar city of Boston, especially when it angered the opposing teams. His opinion of the 'dead spots' on the infamous parquet floor in the old Garden showed his true self: "The whole thing was a myth," Auerbach said. "People thought not only that there were dead spots, but that we knew where every one was and we could play accordingly.
"Now, did you ever watch a ballplayer go up and down the court at that speed and pick out a dead spot?" he asked. "If our players worried about that, thinking that's going to help them win, they're out of their cotton-picking mind. But if the other team thought that: Hey, good for us."

Growing up in Beantown I know that Red was seen as an almighty God, lording over the beloved C's and the Garden with an iron fist, a wry smile and a cloud of smoke. He was like Steinbrenner without the pompous bluster and hot-headed hair-trigger personality; when he walked in the Garden and went to his seat, people took notice and respected his presence like he was visiting royalty. There wasn't a soul in the Hub who didn't love, worship and respect him, and his visage at the games will be a sorely missed sight this upcoming season.

Rest in peace, Red. I'll light up a double-corona up in your honor.

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