Boston Celtics' Red Auerbach, man with a championship touch
Throughout the dramatic 1984 National Basketball Association championship series that returns to Boston for Game 5 tonight, one of the most visible ''fans'' has been Arnold (Red) Auerbach.Skip to next paragraph
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Sitting in his box seat either in Boston Garden or the Los Angeles Forum, he's invariably surrounded by other celebrities and VIPs - but for all the attention he pays them they might as well not be there.
The former Celtics coach, now general manager and president of the team, leans forward, peering at the leaping, darting figures on the court below. It isn't that Red doesn't like his immediate company. He's just too busy keeping an eye on his passionate sports love - the five men in green and white.
In Boston, of course, he can also glance upward - to all those championship banners hanging from the rafters of the dowdy old arena - for an instant reminder of the glory he has wrought in his 34-year association with the team. As coach during most of the 1950s and '60s, he led the team to nine NBA titles, and since then he has over-seen the club from the front office as it won five more.
In this, Auerbach's last year as general manager before assuming a slightly reduced role, the team is hoping to hoist its 15th flag to the rafters by beating the Lakers. The prospects looked dim after a 33-point blowout in L.A. Sunday put the Lakers on top two games to one. But with the sort of pride and character that have been hallmarks of the team throughout the Auerbach era, the Celtics responded with a 129-125 overtime victory Wednesday night to bring the best-of-seven series back to their home court all even at 2-2.
What's behind Auerbach's success? Looking back, most observers agree that the booster rocket of his career was Bill Russell, arguably the best player in NBA history. To bring the University of San Francisco's center aboard in 1956, Auerbach exercised his virtuosity in acquiring talent in a history-making swap with St. Louis.
''The one single factor that tipped the scale in Red's favor was the arrival of Russell,'' says Alex Hannum, an opposing coach and now a California contractor. ''Red knew how to exploit Russell's talents. He was a complete coach who had a knack for figuring out the winning percentages and playing to the edge of the rules.''
As Hannum sees it, all Auerbach's antics - the courtside tirades, the ejections, the victory cigars - were simply parts of a colorful repertoire designed to manipulate crowds and referees to the Celtics' advantage.
And from Les Harrison, who had the first crack at drafting Russell for the old Rochester Royals, but picked all-but-forgotten Sihugo Green instead: ''Red probably thinks I'd be the last guy to praise him, but he deserves all the accolades he's received. He was from the old school of coaching - a guy who learned his trade well, was smart, and ate and slept basketball 24 hours a day. He understood players and how to fit them into a format.''
In addition to the talents of such stand-outs as Russell, the Celtics' winning ways can be traced to an intangible Auerbach summarizes as ''loyalty.'' He believes this quality helps set the team apart and lends a special aura to the organization, a mystique some call ''Celtic Pride.''