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Red Auerbach
Red Auerbach
Auerbach giving a speech in 2006.
Personal information
Full name Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach
Born September 20, 1917
Brooklyn, New York
Died October 28, 2006 (aged 89)
Washington, D.C.
Career details
Titles Head coach
General manager
President and Vice President
Career information
Record 938–479
Championships 16 (NBA)
(9 as coach)
(7 as GM/VP/President)
Pro career 1941–2006 (25 years)
Career history
Years Team
1941–1943 St. Albans School
Roosevelt High School
(Washington D.C.)
1943–1945 Navy
1946–1949 Washington Capitols
1949–1950 Tri-Cities Blackhawks
1950–1966 Boston Celtics
1966–1984 Boston Celtics
(general manager)
1984–2006 Boston Celtics
(President and Vice President)
Career highlights and awards
Empty Star Member of the Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star
Inducted: 1969

Arnold Jacob "Red" Auerbach (September 20, 1917 – October 28, 2006) was an American entrepreneur, basketball coach and executive. Auerbach coached the Washington Capitols, the Tri-Cities Blackhawks and the Boston Celtics. After he retired from coaching, he served as president and front office executive of the Celtics until his death. As a coach, he won 938 games (a record at his retirement)[1] and 9 National Basketball Association (NBA) championships, a coaching record shared with Phil Jackson. As general manager and team president of the Celtics, he won an additional 7 NBA titles, for a grand total of 16 in a span of 29 years, making him one of the most successful team officials ever in the history of North American professional sports.[2]

Auerbach is remembered as a pioneer of modern basketball, redefining basketball as a game dominated by team play and tough defense rather than individual feats and high scoring and introducing the fastbreak as a potent offensive weapon.[2] He groomed many players who went on to be inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Additionally, Auerbach was vital in breaking down color barriers in the NBA. He made history by drafting the first African-American NBA player in Chuck Cooper (1950), and introduced the first fully black starting five in 1964.[3] Famous for his polarizing nature, he was well-known for smoking a cigar when he thought a victory was assured, a habit that became, for many, "the ultimate symbol of victory" during his Boston tenure.[2]

In 1967, the NBA Coach of the Year award, which he had won in 1965, was named the "Red Auerbach Trophy", and Auerbach was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1969.[1] In 1980, he was named the greatest coach in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America,[4] and was NBA Executive of the Year in 1981.[1] In addition, Auerbach was voted one of the NBA 10 Greatest Coaches in history, was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and is honored with a retired number-2 jersey in the TD Banknorth Garden, the home of the Boston Celtics.

Early years[]

Arnold Jacob Auerbach was born as one of four children of Marie and Hyman Auerbach. Hyman was a Russian Jewish immigrant from Minsk, and Marie Auerbach, née Thompson, was American-born. Auerbach Sr. had left Russia when he was 13,[5] and the couple owned a deli and later went into the dry cleaning business. Little Arnold spent his whole childhood in Williamsburg, Brooklyn playing basketball. Given his flaming red hair and fiery temper, he was soon nicknamed "Red".[2]

In the midst of the Great Depression, Auerbach Jr. played basketball at PS 122 and in the Eastern District High School, but with his relative diminutive height of 5-9 and his asthma, he never was really successful. His only achievement was being named "Second Team All-Brooklyn by the World-Telegram" in his senior year.[2] Upon graduating in 1935, Auerbach planned to go into basketball coaching. After several rejections due to relatively low academic scores, Bill Reinhart of George Washington University accepted Auerbach into his basketball program in Washington, D.C..[2] Auerbach became a standout basketball player and graduated with a M.A. in 1941.[5] In those years, Auerbach began to understand the importance of the fastbreak, appreciating how potent a quick attack with three charging attackers versus two back-pedalling defenders would be.[2]

First coaching years (1941–50)[]

In 1941, Auerbach began coaching basketball at the St. Albans School and Roosevelt High School.[5] Two years later, he joined the US Navy for three years, coaching the Navy basketball team in Norfolk. There, he caught the eye of Washington millionaire Mike Uline, who hired him to coach the Washington Capitols in the newly-founded Basketball Association of America (BAA), a predecessor of the NBA.[2]

In the 1946-47 BAA season, Auerbach led a fastbreak-oriented team built around early BAA star Bones McKinney and various ex-Navy players to a 49–11 win-loss record, including a standard-setting 17 game winning streak that stood as the league record until 1969. In the playoffs however, they were defeated by the Chicago Stags in six games.[5]

The next year the Capitols went 28–20[5] but were eliminated from the playoffs in a one-game Western Division tie-breaker.[2] In the 1948-49 BAA season, the Caps won their first 15 games (still a league record start) and finished the season at 38–22.[5] The team reached the BAA Finals, but were beaten by the Minneapolis Lakers, who were led by Hall-of-Fame center George Mikan. In the next season, the BAA and the rival league National Basketball League merged to become the NBA, and Auerbach felt he had to rebuild his squad. However, owner Uline declined his proposals, and Auerbach resigned.[2]

Auerbach was then approached by Ben Kerner, owner of the Tri-Cities Blackhawks. After getting a green light to rebuild the team from scratch, Auerbach traded more than two dozen players in just six weeks, and the revamped Blackhawks improved, but ended the 1949-50 NBA season with a losing record of 28–29. When Kerner traded Auerbach's favorite player John Mahnken, an angry Auerbach resigned again.[2]

Boston Celtics (1950–2006)[]

The early years (1950–56)[]

Prior to the 1950-51 NBA season, Auerbach was approached by Walter Brown, owner of the Boston Celtics. Brown was desperate to turn around his struggling and financially strapped franchise which was reeling from a terrible 22–46 record.[5] So, the still young but already seasoned Auerbach was made coach. In the 1950 NBA Draft, Auerbach made some notable moves. First, he famously snubbed Hall-of-Fame New England point guard Bob Cousy in the 1950 NBA Draft, infuriating the Boston crowd. He argued that the flashy Cousy was too air-headed to make his team, taunting him as a "local yokel."[2] Second, he drafted African-American Chuck Cooper, the first black player to be drafted by an NBA club.[6] With that, Auerbach effectively broke down the color barrier in professional basketball.[3]

In that year, the core of the Celtics consisted of Hall-of-Fame center Ed Macauley, Auerbach's old favorite McKinney and an unlikely addition, Bob Cousy. Cousy had refused to report to the club which drafted him (ironically, Auerbach's old club, the Blackhawks), and because his next team (the Chicago Stags) folded, he ended up with the Celtics. With Auerbach's fastbreak tactics, the Celtics scored a 39–30 record, but lost in the 1951 NBA Playoffs to the New York Knicks. However, the relationship between Auerbach and Cousy improved when the coach saw that the "Houdini of the Hardwood"—as the spectacular dribbler and flashy passer Cousy was lovingly called—became the first great playmaker of the NBA.[2]

In the following 1951-52 NBA season, Auerbach made a remarkable draft pick, namely future Hall-of-Fame guard Bill Sharman. With the high-scoring Macauley, elite passer Cousy and new prodigy Sharman, Auerbach had a core which provided high-octane fastbreak basketball. Other notable players who joined were forwards Frank Ramsey and Jim Loscutoff. In the next years until 1956, the Celtics would make the playoffs every year, but never won the title. In fact, the Celtics often choked in the playoffs, going a mere 10–17 in the postseason from 1951 through 1956.[5] As Cousy put it: "We would get tired in the end and could not get the ball."[7] As a result, Auerbach sought a defensive big man who could both get easy rebounds, initiate fastbreaks and close out games.[2]

The dynasty (1956–67)[]

Before the 1956 NBA Draft, Auerbach had already set his sights on defensive rebounding center Bill Russell. Via a draft-day trade that sent Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagan to the rival St. Louis Hawks, he finally acquired a center in Russell, who would go on to become a Hall-of-Famer. In the same draft, Auerbach also picked up forward Tom Heinsohn and guard K.C. Jones, two further Hall-of-Famers. Emphasizing team play rather than individual performances and stressing that defense was more important than offense, Auerbach drilled his players to play tough defense and force opposing turnovers for easy fastbreak points. Forward Tom Sanders recalled that the teams were also regularly among the best-conditioned and toughest squads.[7]

Anchored by defensive stalwart Russell, the tough Celtics forced their opponents to take low-percentage shots from farther distances; misses were then often grabbed by perennial rebounding champion Russell, who then either passed it on to elite fastbreak distributor Cousy or made the outlet pass himself, providing their sprinting colleagues opportunities for an easy slam dunk or layup.[2] Auerbach also emphasized the need for role players like Frank Ramsey and John Havlicek, who became one of the first legitimate sixth men in NBA history,[7] a role later succeeded by Don Nelson. Auerbach's recipe proved devastating for the opposition. From 1956 to 1966, the Celtics won nine of ten NBA championships. This included eight consecutive championships—which formed the longest championship streak in North American sports—and beating the Los Angeles Lakers of Hall-of-Famers Elgin Baylor and Jerry West six times in the NBA Finals. Perhaps most notably, this also included denying perennial scoring and rebounding champion Wilt Chamberlain any chance of winning a title during Auerbach's coaching reign.[8]

Flowing from Auerbach's emphasis on teamwork, what was also striking about his teams was that they never seemed to have a dominant scorer: in the 1960-61 NBA season for instance, the Celtics had six players who scored between 15 and 21 points, but none made the Top 10 scoring list.[7] Auerbach also firmly believed in breaking down color barriers in the NBA. In 1964, he sent out the first-ever NBA starting five consisting of an African-American quintet, namely Russell, Willie Naulls, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones and K. C. Jones. Auerbach would go a step further in the 1966-67 NBA season, when he stepped down after winning nine titles in 11 years, and made Bill Russell coach. Auerbach also popularized smoking a victory cigar whenever he thought a game was already decided, a habit that became cult in the Boston area.[7] Furthermore, having acquired a reputation as a fierce competitor, he often got into verbal altercations with officials, receiving more fines and getting ejected more often than any other coach in NBA history.[7]

All in all, Auerbach coached nine championship teams directly and mentored 4 players, Russell, Sharman, Heinsohn and K.C. Jones who would go on to win an additional 7 NBA championships as coaches (two each for Russell, Heinsohn and Jones, all with the Celtics and one for Sharman, with the Lakers). Nine players who played for Auerbach have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame namely Ramsey, Cousy, Sharman, Heinsohn, Russell, K. C. Jones, Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bailey Howell. Although Don Nelson only played for Auerbach's last year as coach, his influence is profound: Nelson would later join Auerbach as one of the 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history.[2] Sharman would become one of only three people to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Few, if any, coaches can match Auerbach's record of wins and successful mentorship of his players.

General manager (1967–1984)[]

Prior to the 1966-67 NBA season, Auerbach announced his retirement as a coach and named his successor, Bill Russell. Russell took over as a player-coach and so became the first African-American coach in the NBA.[2] While his pupil led the Celtics to two further titles in 1968 and 1969, Auerbach rebuilt the aging Celtics with shrewd draft picks, among them future Hall-of-Famers Dave Cowens, Jo Jo White, Paul Westphal and Don Chaney. With his ex-player Tom Heinsohn coaching the Celtics and led by former sixth man John Havlicek, Auerbach's new recruits won the Atlantic Division every year from 1972 to 1976, winning the NBA title in 1974 and 1976. Further notable Auerbach signings were veteran center Paul Silas and ex-ABA star Charlie Scott.[5]

However, Auerbach could not prevent the Celtics going into a slump at the end of the 1970s. When scoring champion Havlicek retired in 1978, the Celtics went 61–103 in two seasons.[5] But in 1979, Boston's fortunes changed when Auerbach set his eyes on talented college player Larry Bird. Despite knowing that Bird had a year of college eligibility remaining, he drafted him in the 1978 NBA Draft and waited for a year until the future Hall-of-Fame forward Bird finally arrived. Auerbach immediately sensed that the brilliant, hardworking Bird would be the cornerstone of a new Celtics generation.[2]

In 1980, Auerbach made another great coup. He convinced the Golden State Warriors to trade him a #3 overall pick and future Hall-of-Fame center Robert Parish in exchange for the #1 pick in the draft, namely Joe Barry Carroll, who went on to have an unremarkable career. With the #3 pick, Auerbach selected the player he most wanted in the draft, Kevin McHale, who would also join the Hall of Fame. The frontcourt of Parish-McHale-Bird became one of the greatest frontlines in NBA history. Other valuable role players were M.L. Carr, veteran point guard Nate Archibald and Gerald Henderson, and later Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge. Auerbach's hand-picked coach Bill Fitch led the revamped Celtics to the 1981 NBA title, and it was another Auerbach pupil, K.C. Jones, who continued with another title in 1984.[5]

President and vice chairman (1984–2006)[]

In 1984, Auerbach quit general managing duties and became president and later vice-chairman of the Boston Celtics.[5] When the Celtics took the 1986 title, it was Auerbach's 16th title, an unmatched feat in the NBA. However, in the next years, tragedy struck the Celtics. Sensing that the 1980s Celtics of Larry Bird needed fresh blood, Auerbach traded Henderson away for the second overall draft pick, and picked college prodigy Len Bias in the 1986 NBA Draft. But just two days later, Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Several years later, Celtics player Reggie Lewis died suddenly in 1993, and the Celtics would not make another NBA Finals until after Auerbach's death.[5]

In an interview, Auerbach confessed that he lost interest in big-time managing in the early 1990s, preferring to stay in the background and concentrating on his pastimes, racquetball and his beloved cigar-smoking. He would, however, stay on with the Celtics as president until 1997, as vice chairman until 2001, and then became president again, a position he held until his death.[7] although he grew visibly frail in his final years.[9]

Private life[]

Auerbach was one of four children of American-born Marie Auerbach and Russian Jewish immigrant Hyman Auerbach in Brooklyn. His brother Zang Auerbach, four years his junior, was a respected cartoonist and portraitist at the Washington Star.[8] He married Dorothy Lewis in the spring of 1941 and fathered two daughters, Nancy and Randy.[7]

Auerbach was known for his love for cigar smoking. Having made his victory cigars a cult in the 1960s, Boston restaurants would often say "no cigar or pipe smoking, except for Red Auerbach".[7] In addition, Auerbach was well-known for his love of Chinese food. In an interview shortly before his death, he explained that since the 1950s, Chinese takeaway was the most convenient nutrition: back then, NBA teams travelled on regular flights and had a tight time schedule, so filling up the stomach with heavier non-Chinese food, meant wasting time and risking travel-sickness. Over the years, Auerbach became so fond of this food that he even became a part-owner of a Chinese restaurant in Boston.[8]

Despite his fierce nature, Auerbach was popular among his players. He recalled that on his 75th birthday party, 45 of his ex-players showed up;[7] and when he became 80, his perennial 1960s victim Wilt Chamberlain showed up, a gesture which Auerbach dearly appreciated.[8]

In an interview with ESPN, Auerbach stated that his all-time team would consist of Bill Russell - who in the former's opinion was the ultimate player to start a franchise - as well as Bob Pettit, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, with John Havlicek as the sixth man. Regarding greatest basketballers of all time, Auerbach's candidates were Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Robertson."[7]


On October 28, 2006, Auerbach died of a heart attack. NBA commissioner David Stern said "the void caused by his death will never be filled" and ex-players Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, John Havlicek and Larry Bird as well as contemporaries like Jerry West, Pat Riley and Wayne Embry universally hailed Auerbach as one of the greatest personalities in NBA history.[9] Auerbach was survived by his two daughters, Nancy and Randy. Auerbach was buried in Falls Church, Virginia at the King David Memorial Gardens / National Memorial Park on October 31, 2006. Attendees included basketball dignitaries Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, and David Stern.

During the 2006–07 NBA season, Auerbach appeared posthumously in a series of NBA commercials where he breaks down formations like "3 on 2 situations" and "rebounding," and as a testament to his importance in the Boston sports world, 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. Boston won 7-6.

Prior to Boston's season opener against the Wizards, his signature was officially placed on the parquet floor near center court, thereby naming the court as "Red Auerbach Parquet Floor." The ceremony was attended by his daughter Randy and some of the Celtics legends. The signature replaced the Red Auerbach memorial logo used during the 2007 season.


Among Auerbach's accomplishments during his 20-year professional coaching career were eleven Eastern Division titles (including nine in a row from 1957-1965), eleven appearances in the finals (including ten in a row from 1957–1966), and nine NBA championships. With a total of 16 NBA championship rings in a span of 29 years (1957–1986) as the Celtics coach, general manager, and team president, Auerbach is the most successful official in NBA history.[2] He is credited with creating several generations of championship Boston Celtics teams, most notably the first Celtics dynasty with Bill Russell which won an unprecedented eight titles in a row (1959-1966). As Celtics general manager, he created championship-winning teams around Hall-of-Famers Dave Cowens in the 1970s and Larry Bird in the 1980s.[2]

In addition to coaching, Auerbach was a highly effective mentor; several players coached by Auerbach would become successful coaches themselves. Bill Russell won two titles as Auerbach's successor, Tom Heinsohn won a pair of championships as a Celtics coach in the 1970s, K.C. Jones led the Celtics to two further titles in the 1980s, and Bill Sharman coached the Los Angeles Lakers to their first title in 1972. In addition, prototypical sixth man Don Nelson had a highly successful coaching career and joined his mentor Auerbach as one of 10 Greatest Coaches in NBA history.

In Auerbach's honor, the Celtics have retired a number-2 jersey with the name "AUERBACH," memorializing his role as the second most important Celtic ever, behind founder Walter Brown, in whose honor the number-1 "BROWN" jersey is retired.

Coaching pioneer[]

From his early days, Auerbach was convinced that the fastbreak, in which a team used a quick outlet pass to fast guards who run downcourt and score before the opponent had re-established position, was a potent tactical weapon. This new strategy proved lethal for the opposition.[2] Further, Auerbach moved emphasis away from individual accolades and instilled the teamwork element into his players.[5] He also invented the concept of the role player and of the sixth man,[2] stating: "Individual honors are nice, but no Celtic has ever gone out of his way to achieve them. We have never had the league's top scorer. In fact, we won seven league championships without placing even one among the league's top 10 scorers. Our pride was never rooted in statistics."[5]

While Auerbach was not known for his tactical bandwidth, famously restricting his teams to just seven plays,[5] he was well-known for his psychological warfare, often provoking opposing players and officials with unabashed trash talk. For his fiery temper, he was ejected more often and received more fines than any other coach in NBA history.[7] Concerning his own team, Auerbach was softer. Earl Lloyd, the first black player to play in the NBA, said: "Red Auerbach convinced his players that he loved them [...] so all they wanted to do was please him."[7]

Color no barrier[]

Auerbach was known for choosing players for talent and motivation, with disregard for skin color or ethnicity. In 1950, he made NBA history by drafting the league's first African-American player, Chuck Cooper. He constantly added new black players to his squad, including Bill Russell, Tom Sanders, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and Willie Naulls. In 1964, these five players became the first African-American starting five in the NBA. When Auerbach gave up coaching to become the Celtics general manager in 1966, he appointed Bill Russell as his successor. Russell became not only the first black NBA coach, but the very first African-American coach of a professional sports organization.[3] Similarly, in the 1980s, as the Celtics GM, Auerbach fielded an earnest, hardworking team that was derided as being "too white."[10] While the 1980s Celts were, in actuality, neither predominantly white nor black, the NBA at the time was predominately black. White players like Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge and Bill Walton played alongside Tiny Archibald, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish, and Cedric Maxwell bringing three more championships in the '80s under coaches Bill Fitch (white) and K.C. Jones (black).

Arnold "Red" Auerbach Award[]

To honor Auerbach, the Celtics created the Arnold "Red" Auerbach award in 2006. It is an award given annually to the current Celtic player who "best exemplifies the spirit and meaning of what it is to be a Celtic. This award is named in honor of the legendary Coach, General Manager and President of the organization, Arnold 'Red' Auerbach."



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 best-selling basketball book in print.[2] His second book, co-authored with Paul Sann, was Winning the Hard Way. He also wrote a pair of books 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 last book, Let Me Tell You A Story, was co-authored with sports journalist John Feinstein.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 May, Peter. "Auerbach, pride of the Celtics, dies". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 "Red Auerbach biography". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Ryan, Bob. "Red was just full of color". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  4. ""Red Auerbach, Who Built Basketball Dynasty, Dies at 89"". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 Hilton, Lisette. "Auerbach's Celtics played as a team". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  6. "Chuck Cooper, one of the NBA's first Black players". The African American Registry. Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 Shouler, Ken. "The Consummate Coach". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Feinstein, Ron. "Red Auerbach: True Stories and NBA Legends". Retrieved 2007-07-10. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 "A Tribute to Red". Retrieved 2007-07-10.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "tribute" defined multiple times with different content
  10. Adande, J.A.. "The truth isn't always black and white for Celtics". Retrieved 2009-04-12. 


  • Obituary (January 19, 2007), Jewish Chronicle, p. 45

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