Red Auerbach

From New World Encyclopedia

Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach
Red Auerbach Lipofsky.jpg
Red Auerbach at Boston Garden by Steve Lipofsky
BornSeptember 20 1917
Brooklyn, New York, USA
OccupationHall of Fame NBA coach

Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach (September 20, 1917 – October 28, 2006) was both a highly successful head basketball coach and an influential front office executive for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

As coach of the Celtics from 1950 to 1966, Auerbach won nine NBA titles, including eight straight from 1959 to 1966 – the longest consecutive string of championships in the history of North American professional sports. After retiring from coaching, he continued to serve as the general manager or president of the Celtics from 1966 until 1997, and again as president from 2001 until his death. Auerbach's success rested not only with his shrewd basketball acumen, but the family atmosphere that he established on his team, and especially the bond of friendship between himself and his legendary center, Bill Russell.

Auerbach's support for Russell as a friend and mentor was unwavering. A pioneer in race relations, with Celtics owner Walter Brown, Auerbach supported the choice of Chuck Cooper as the first black player in an NBA draft and later, as general manager, elevated Russell as the first African American player/coach in professional sports.

In 1980 Auerbach was named the greatest coach in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America.[1]

Early years

Arnold "Red" Auerbach was born and raised in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, by his parents Hyman and Marie A. (Thompson). His father Hyman, left Russia at the age of 13, and migrated to Brooklyn, New York. At the time Auerbach was born, his parents owned and operated a deli on Sixth Avenue, across from Radio City Music Hall. Arnold coined the nickname "Red" from his fiery hair, just like fellow Brooklynite and NBA coach Red Holzman.

Auerbach began playing basketball as a youngster on the playgrounds of Brooklyn. He recalled that "In my area of Brooklyn (Williamsburg) there was no football, no baseball. They were too expensive. They didn't have the practice fields. We played basketball and handball and some softball in the street."[2]

He attended Eastern District High School, where he played guard and made the All-scholastic second team his senior year, in 1935. At first, Hyman wasn't thrilled with the idea of his son going into basketball, however once Red started, he didn't hold his son back from playing the sport he loved.

He then attended the Seth Low Junior College (part of Columbia University) for one year before transferring on a basketball scholarship to George Washington University in 1940. While at George Washington, Red was a standout basketball player by being the team's leading scorer and for his tenacious defense. He received a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1940, and a Master of Arts in Education from GW the following year.

The start of Red's historic coaching career started at Saint Albans Prep School and Roosevelt High School, where he coached basketball for three seasons. He also played professionally with the American Basketball League/Eastern Basketball League Harrisburg Senators for one season, in 1942-1943.

Auerbach enlisted in the U.S. Navy June 19, 1943. During his time in the Navy, Red developed friendships with many athletes including New York Yankees shortstop Phil Rizzuoto and Yogi Berra. He advanced to Chief Specialist and received a direct commission on July 20, 1944. He served most of his time at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland as Rehabilitation/Physical Training Officer. He was released from active duty as a Lieutenant junior grade October 11, 1946.


Pre-Celtics era

Auerbach's first professional coaching role was with the Washington Capitols, and led them to a division title with a league best 49-11 during his first regular season in 1947. The 1947 team's .817 winning percentage remained the NBA record for the next 20 years. The 1947 team also won 17 straight games at one point during the season — a streak that would remain a league record until 1969 (Auerbach later did tie the record in 1959 while coaching the Celtics). In his next two years with Washington the team compiled records of 28-20 and 38-22, the second year making it all the way to the NBA finals before losing to the Minneapolis Lakers in six games. The 1949 team's 15-0 start is still the best start to a season in NBA history, albeit tied in 1993-94 by the Houston Rockets. Following the season, rumors started over Red's discontent with his contract, and ended up leaving the franchise after only being offered a one-year extension.

After leaving Washington, Red accepted a $7,500 contract to be a Assisstant coach at Duke University, in Durham, North Carolina, for the (1949-1950) season. He was hired to be the eventual replacement for Gerry Gerald, who was terminally ill with cancer at the time of Red's hire. However, Auerbach only stayed at Duke for three months; he didn't want to get the job due to the passing of Gerard, who was a close friend of Red's.

Red returned to coach in the NBA by accepting a two-year, $17,00 contract to coach the Tri-City Blackhawks. In the 1950 season, he coached the Blackhawks to a 28-29 record, his only losing season as a coach. Auerbach left the team after the season after finding out that ownder Ben Kerner, traded away one of his starters without his knowledge.


In 1950, Celtics Owner Walter Brown was in the market for a new basketball coach after a tuburlant season when his team finished last in the standings while compiling a 22-46 record. His search ended when Red accepted a one-year, $10,00 deal to take over the reigns as the Celtic's coach, and it was the start of the a new era of Celtic basketball. The next season, Auerbach began coaching the Boston Celtics, where he achieved unparalleled success as a professional basketball coach. During his 20 years as a coach, Auerbach won 938 regular season games, a record that stood for nearly 30 years until Lenny Wilkens broke it in the 1994-95 season. Auerbach is tied with Phil Jackson for the most NBA championship rings as a coach with nine. Auerbach was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1965.

As a coach, Auerbach was a pioneer in race relations and was fortunate to work for an owner, Walter Brown, who was equally progressive in this area. In Auerbach's first season coaching the Celtics in 1950, Brown and Auerbach chose Chuck Cooper of Duquesne University as the first black player selected in an NBA Draft. This acquisition along with Bob Cousy and Ed "easy" Macauley, helped Red lead the Celtics to a 39-30 record during his first season. Bob Cousy, a local product, was known for his playmaking ability. In John Feinstein's book, Let me tell you a story, Red describes Cousy's ability: "I had seen Cousy play, he was very flashy. He wasn't the first guy to dribble behind his back, but he was the guy who made it popular."[3]

During the 1963-1964 season, Auerbach's starting lineup of Bill Russell, K. C. Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Sanders and Willie Naulls, made the Celtics the first team with five black starters. When Auerbach named Russell as his coaching successor in 1966, it was the first hiring of a black coach by a major American pro sports team. Over their careers, Rusell and Red developed a close relationship that continued all the way until Red's sudden death. The two were known for their close relationship during the team's roadtrips, and after they both retired often met to discuss their great run with the Celtics.

Coach Auerbach was not a great strategist; he believed in fast-break basketball; he knew that he needed at least one great rebounder and an outstanding point guard; and he knew the value of defense. But the Celtics ran very few offensive "plays" and Auerbach did not make any real strategic breakthroughs.

Red's expertise was his ability to recognize talent, and to know how to motivate and get the most out of all his players. He assembled a group of very talented basketball players and used his strengths to mold them into a cohesive unit. Winning was everything to Red Auerbach and he made his players see that everything he did was designed to win: "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser," [4] known as one of Red's many famous quotes, is an example of the competitive spirit the coach possessed. He could be callously cruel at times, or extremely generous depending on the situation or scenario. His obsession was with winning; all the tricks, all the goading and screaming were to support his goal, to win NBA championships. His trademark as a coach was his "victory cigar," which he would light up when he knew the game was well in hand. Like Alfred Hitchcock's appearance in his own movies, this tradition became one of his defining characteristics of which the fans and announcers would take note, to the annoyance of the other team.

In addition to an unparalleled coaching career of his own, Auerbach has the distinction of seeing three players whom he coached to championships, Bill Russell, Tommy Heinsohn and K.C. Jones each in their own time, coach the Celtics to championships. Don Nelson, who also played for Auerbach's championship team in the 1965-1966 season (Auerbach's last season), has also had a successful career as an NBA coach.


Although Auerbach stepped back from coaching in 1966, he remained as the Celtics' general manager until 1984 and served as the team's president from 1970 to 1997 and from 2001 until his death. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969.

His first move as General Manger, was naming Bill Russell as player-coach of the team. Russell led the team to two championships before retiring un-expectedly. Over the years, Auerbck and Russell developed a close relationship, a relationship so close, that Russell did not talk to the media after Red's death for several months. During a television documentry on the Red, Russell described their card game competitions: "We'd play a game someplace, and I'd see Red and he'd see me and say, 'Do you want to play gin tonight?' And we would stay up to 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning playing gin," Russell said. "I always lost. He was probably a better gin player than he was a coach, and that is saying something." [5]

Later in his career, Auerbach raised eyebrows around the league in 1978 when he drafted Larry Bird as a "junior eligible" and then had to wait a year while Bird finished playing at Indiana State University.[6] If Auerbach and Bird's representatives had not been able to come to an agreement, Bird would have been free to reenter the next year's draft, but Auerbach was confident he could sign Bird and he did. The next year, Larry Bird, and the Celtics had a 31-game turnaround, the largest at the time in NBA History, making it the signing of Bird one of Auerbach's most notable moves at General Manager.

In 1980, Auerbach made his last great coup — convincing NBA colleagues that he coveted guard Darrell Griffith, and coaxing the Golden State Warriors to trade him a #3 overall pick and center Robert Parish in exchange for the #1 pick in the draft. Parish ultimately became a Hall of Famer. With the #3 pick, Auerbach selected the player he most wanted in the draft, Kevin McHale, who would join Bird and Parish in the Hall of Fame and lead the Celtics to three NBA championships.

In 1986, in a move designed to further solidify the Celtics excellence, Auerbach signed University of Maryland standout Len Bias. Sadly, Bias' professional greatness would never be realized; he died of a cocaine-related heart attack less than two days after being drafted.[7]

Personal life

Auerbach speaking after being honored with the Lone Sailor Award on October 25th, 2006.

Auerbach was married to the former Dorothy Lewis from June 6, 1941 until her death in 2000. They had two children: Nancy and Randy.

In 1985, the Red Auerbach fund was introduced to promote youth activities throughout the Boston area. Later that year on (September 20, 1985), a life-size sculpture of the coach was unvailed at Faneuil Hill Marketplace.[8]

In his later years, Red Auerbach was still working with youngsters, coaching at the Red Auerbach Basketball School. He was also the chairman of the Red Auerbach Youth Foundation [9] He was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1979 and the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

Auerbach also had basketball season tickets at the George Washington University and his seat is colored red, in contrast to the rest of the seats which are blue. His alma mater also celebrated his 80th birthday on (June 9, 1998), by giving him a plaque in his honor.

In recent years, Auerbach had been in and out of hospitals for unspecified health problems. In the summer of 2005, he was unable to attend his own basketball camp and in September he was hospitalized again, but he was released from the hospital in October. Auerbach received the 2006 United States Navy Memorial Lone Sailor Award on October 25th. This was his last public appearance. He was last interviewed and photographed during this event by Lance Corporal Robert Durham of Navy/Marine Corps News.

Auerbach died after a heart attack in front of his home in Washington, D.C. on October 28, 2006, some five weeks after his 89th birthday. A private ceremony was held and attended by 150 close friends and family members. Legendary basketball dignitaries included David Stern, Bill Russell, John Thompson, Danny Ainge, Kevin McHale, Bill Mortimer and Larry Kennard (E.U.X.). During the Monday night visitation, Hall of Fame players Bob Cousy and Larry Bird were in attendance. In his honor, the George Washington mens basketball players wore red ribbons on their uniforms during the 2006-2007 Centennial Season of GW Colonials Basketball.

Red Auerbach was buried in Falls Church, Virginia at the King David Memorial Gardens / National Memorial Park on October 31, 2006.


Red Auerbach was a polarizing figure; many loved him–and many others couldn't stand him. Harry Gallatin, the former star of the New York Knicks once said "Nobody has to get me up to play the Celtics. All I have to do is look over at Auerbach, that bastard!"[10] Bill Russell remembered fondly: "I never knew anyone who played for Red who didn't like him .… Of course, I never knew anyone who played against him who did like him."

Auerbach is also famous (some say infamous) for lighting up a victory cigar (usually a Hoyo de Monterrey) before the final buzzer. The cigar was always lit when the scoreboard indicated the game was out of reach and was known as a ritual of Red's to the Boston fans. Opposing teams often loathed this spectacle as the height of disrespect, and even Auerbach's own players sometimes moaned that just the sight of the cigar incited opponents to compete more fiercely at the end of games. In spite of this, Celtics fans — and television producers — loved the gesture because of the drama and spirit it brought to the conclusion of the game. When the Celtics home arena, the FleetCenter, banned smoking, an exception was made for Red Auerbach.

Auerbach also won the NBA Executive of the Year Award with the Celtics in the 1979-80 season. He remained to his death the best-known NBA executive and was named the greatest coach in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America in 1980.

The Boston Red Sox honored Auerbach at their April 20th, 2007 game against the New York Yankees by wearing green uniforms and by hanging replicated Celtics championship banners on the "Green Monster" at Fenway Park.

In addition to his coaching honors, Red received seven honorary degrees for various institutions. According to his biography on the Celtics website: "Red valued such honors so much that he kept a previous commitment to American International College by delivering its commencement speech on (May 22, 1988), even though it prevented him from being a Boston Garden for the deciding game of the Celtics-Hawks' best-of-seven thriller."[11]

Auerbach was the author of seven books. His first, Basketball for the Player, the Fan and Coach, has been translated into seven languages and is the largest-selling basketball book in print. His second book, co-authored with Paul Sann, was Winning the Hard Way. He also wrote with Joe Fitzgerald: Red Auerbach: An Autobiography and Red Auerbach On and Off the Court. In October, 1991, M.B.A.: Management by Auerbach was co-authored with Ken Dooley. In 1994, Seeing Red was written with Dan Shaughnessy. In October 2004, his latest book, Let Me Tell You A Story, was co-authored with sports journalist John Feinstein.


  1. Richard Goldstein. "Red Auerbach, Who Built Basketball Dynasty, Dies at 89." October 29, 2006, "Red Auerbach, Who Built Basketball Dynasty, Dies at 89".The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  3. John Feinstein and Red Auerbach. Let me tell you a story: A Lifetime in the Game. (Boston: Brown Little, 2004.)
  4. Lisette Hilton. [1]ESPN Classics.Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  5. Elizabeth White, AP. "NBA Finals Notebook: Popovich takes charge, in every way. Spurs coach knocked over by Horry" [2].Seattle PI.Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  6. [3]
  7. Amy Goldstein and Susan Kinzie[4] "Bias Death Still Ripples Through Athletes' Academic Lives." Monday, June 19, 2006. The Washington Post.Retrieved March 11, 2008.
  8. [5] Boston - Faneuil Hall: Red Auerbach statue. March 11, 2008.
  9. Red Auerbach Youth Foundation.
  10. [6] March 11, 2008.
  11. [7] March 11, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Feinstein, J., and R. Auerbach. 2004. Let me tell you a story: A Lifetime in the Game. Brown Little. ISBN 0316738239
  • Klemash, C. 2007. How to Succeed in the Game of Life: 34 Interviews with the Worlds Greatest Coaches. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 0740760653
  • Auerbach, R. 1986. On and Off the Court. Mass Market Paperback. ISBN 0553261436
  • Obituary, Jewish Chronicle, Jan. 19 2007, 45

External links

All links retrieved December 7, 2022.

Preceded by:
Initial coach
Washington Capitols Head Coach
Succeeded by:
Bob Feerick
Preceded by:
Roger Potter
Tri-Cities Blackhawks Head Coach
Succeeded by:
Dave McMillan
Preceded by:
Doggie Julian
Boston Celtics Head Coach
Succeeded by:
Bill Russell
v  d  e
Top Ten Coaches in NBA History

Red Auerbach • Chuck Daly • Bill Fitch • Red Holzman • Phil Jackson • John Kundla • Don Nelson • Jack Ramsay • Pat Riley • Lenny Wilkens


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